Out of the Darkness

Press photographers' exhibition sheds light on a troubled past

Out of the Darkness
is a landmark exhibition of some of the most memorable and affecting images taken in Northern Ireland over the past forty years.

Assembled from the portfolios of 63 of NI's most accomplished press photographers, the exhibition presents a chronological overview of the province’s complex history, from the very first day of the outbreak of the Troubles to the present day.

Organised by the Northern Ireland Press Photographers' Association (NIPPA) in conjunction with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Out of the Darkness will run from March 8 to March 24 in Belfast’s historic Ormeau Baths Gallery.

The exhibition will also travel to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Press Club from March 14 to March 28 as a key feature of the Rediscover NI programme. 

Out of the Darkness comprises 130 black and white and colour photographs documenting 40 years of socio-political upheaval from the streets of Derry’s Bogside to the rotating doors of Stormont’s Parliament Buildings.

Conveying a sense of intimacy that puts the viewer right in the frame, it is evident that only the bravest and most compassionate of photographers could have captured these images.

Out of the Darkness is as much a testament to the ability and veracity of NI's press photographers as it is to the progress the society as a whole.

NIPPA was founded in 1982 to represent the many press photographers working throughout the province at the time, often in dangerous circumstances.

Uncompromising in their willingness to present an accurate picture of what life was like in NI during the Troubles, through this exhibition NIPPA have also managed to reflect a society in transition, finally finding its feet after thirty years of conflict and division.

From Trevor McBride’s harrowing image of a group of Civil Rights activists under water cannon attack on Belfast’s Duke Street in 1968, to Martin Wright’s tender After the Ceasefire - in which a young boy from West Belfast shares an embrace with a member of the armed forces - Out of the Darkness takes the viewer on a journey through the decades, from darkness to light.

NIPPA Vice Chairman Alan Lewis - three times winner of the Northern Ireland Photographer of the year award - is one of NI's leading press photographers, and many of his own photographs are included in the exhibition.

‘We’re all very proud of this exhibition, especially when you consider that some of the older images have been hidden away for years.

'It gives a new generation a chance to see where we have been, where we are and hopefully where we’ll continue to go.

‘A lot of the photographs are hard hitting and might be quite challenging and disturbing for a lot of people to look at. But at the same time there are other images here that are very, very funny. They show all facets of life here over the past forty years. I’d recommend anyone to come along and see it.’

Out of the Darkness also celebrates sporting and cultural events that have stood out in the past 40 years, from the rapturous reception that Barry McGuigan received in Belfast following his successful world title bout with Eusebio Pedroza in 1985, to David Healey’s wonder goal against the English at Windsor Park.

Noreen McKinney, Director of Arts Development with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, played a central role in bringing Out of the Darkness to fruition.

‘The Arts Council and NIPPA have worked in tandem for over a year trying to get this exhibition to the people,’ McKinney disclosed. ‘We’re delighted with how successful our collaboration has been.

‘The strength of photography as an art form is that it gives us time to reflect and look back on our collective history with a fresh eye. I think that this exhibition is quite significant in that regard. Some of the more contemporary images are important in reminding us that, whilst we should never forget our past, we must continue to find common ground and to push the political process forward.’

Peter Richards of Belfast’s Golden Thread Gallery acted as independent curator for the exhibition, selecting the 130 images from a collection of 700 and devising a DVD of a further 270 images that didn’t make the walls.

The resulting slideshow will be shown alongside the exhibition in the Ormeau Baths Gallery. There is also a book Out of the darkness - 40 years of Northern Ireland Photography which is on sale to accompany the exhibition.