Lightwriters: Crossword

Inaugural exhibition from Belfast-based LGBT photography collective, Lightwriters

On the second floor of the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, an exhibit of paintings. They stretch as far as the eye can see (or the gradient in the bending wall will allow), but they have nothing to do with the Outburst Queer Arts Festival. They’re colourful, and some of the chosen subjects are very well groomed, but that's where the similarities end.

On the ground floor, another selection of paintings, illustrations and graphic design pieces. 'Came before or after the chicken'The content looks promising. Bulging muscles, over-sexed mermaids, leather-bound cleavages and the odd light saber. But no rainbow colours. This is an exhibit of works by Northern Irish tattoo artists. It seems I'm to wander the corridors of the Waterfront for all eternity, lonely as a cloud, searching for the photos I've come here to see...

‘Excuse me, I’m looking for a photography exhibition. Something to do with the Outburst Queer Arts Festival. It’s supposed to be in the shape of a crossword puzzle?’

‘Oh yes, it’s round the side there. Up the stairs, turn to your left.’ Tucked away, out of sight, in a corridor… Oh well, got there in the end.

Crossword, the inaugural exhibition from Belfast-based photography collective Lightwriters, is arranged in the shape of a crossword on a window overlooking the Waterfront forecourt. Each of the photographs in the exhibit have been cropped into squares - decipher the hidden meaning of the content (with the help of a series of textual clues) and discover the themes behind the exhibit.

'At the end of this you'll find a pot of gold'The Lightwriters couldn't have asked for much more. It may take some finding, but the venue itself perhaps makes up for the unfortunate placing of their very first exhibition. Tonight is the launch of Crossword, and Lightwriters co-founder Ken Moffett is looking forward to his viewers' reactions.

'I could tell you what the words are,' Moffett grins. 'But then I'd have to kill you! No, we want people to decipher them for themselves. You take the first letter of each answer and make up the full word. Obviously they have a lot to do with LGBT life.'

LGBT, of course, stands for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender. All of the photographers who make up Lightwriters are part of the LGBT community, and Crossword, like the annual Gay Pride parade in Belfast, is geared toward promoting understanding and the appreciation of diversity in all aspects of modern life.

'All of our photographers are local, predominently from Belfast, but from all corners of the country,' says Moffett. 'They all have their own life experiences, and they bring those experiences to their work.

'Each photographer was given a letter that they had to represent in their photo. We want the viewer to at least try to work them out for themselves - but we could talk about one. The clue is 'Some people get them for Christmas, others throw theirs out of the pram'. The answer is toys, so that picture represents the letter T.'

As the opening night audience begins to gather, I attempt to work out some of the other hidden 'Some people get them for Christmas, others throw theirs out of the pram'meanings. There's a picture of two queens in drag, atop a float at the 2008 Gay Pride parade. The clue is: 'Unrestrained, especially with regard to feelings'. Another is a black and white picture of three youths, each wearing a striking rainbow armband, shown in colour (rainbow colours being a famous symbol of the LGBT community). The clue: 'At the end of this you'll find gold.'

Not so difficult that one, but they're not all so simple. Being cryptically challenged, I take my leave of the Lightwriters as wine is served and the networking begins. This exhibition is sure to be a highlight of the 2009 Outburst Queer Arts Festival, which brings the best in film, theatre, visual arts and discussion to Belfast until November 21.

I raise a glass before leaving, sharing a toast with Mr Moffett himself. Here's to the next Lightwriters outing - let's hope it's as inventive and thought-provocking as their first.

Lee Henry