Photographing youth culture on either side of Belfast’s peace walls
Enda Bowe celebrates 'the myriad joys and sorrows' of being young in modern Belfast with his award-winning new series.
The ‘peace lines’ that divide up Belfast run, in some areas, higher than the Berlin Wall. Constructed during the late 60s and early 70s, the barriers were designed to reduce flashpoints of violent conflict between Catholic republicans and unionist Protestants during The Troubles. To this day the walls remain a contentious feature of the city’s landscape; considered by some to be of vital importance and to others a relic of a different era in Northern Ireland’s history. For Irish photographer Enda Bowe, these long winding lines of corrugated metal sheeting and wire fencing are enmeshed in what it means to be from Belfast.
“For Love’s Fire Song, l photographed youth culture on either side of the peace walls, choosing the symbolic bonfires of the 12th July and 8th August as the starting point,” Enda writes. “Rather than the expected images, laden with political and religious imagery, l concentrated on the ordinary, the everyday, with only subtle symbolism and without reference to the specific locations they were taken.” The resulting images -- free from the conventional political and geographical context of such stories -- speak to the many different many tensions and conflicts of being a young person in Belfast today. “Their longings, yearnings, aspirations and vulnerabilities; their myriad joys and sorrows; lingering on the moments that can resonate with us all, independent of our individual backgrounds and inherited place and beliefs.”
There are a number of striking images throughout Enda's series. Silhouettes against a backdrop of fire, kids assembled 25 metres high on wooden pallets. But the image that caught the attention of the prestigious Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize last year is a little quieter, more reflective. Taken of a young kid named Neil, this portrait -- the last image of this piece -- to Enda embodies all of his intentions for Love’s Fire Song. “To make this portrait, l was lifted by a cherry picker that Neil and his friends had used to construct the pyre [top image]. This was a magical moment, high in the sky with a breeze blowing, no judgement. Neil looking out across Belfast, looking forward to his life yet to unfold. The portrait is a celebration of the good people of Belfast from either side of the peace wall.”
Perhaps the ultimate reason why Enda enjoys taking pictures lies here, in the “rich and varied emotional depth” of his subject's lives. “To everyone’s life no matter how ordinary, a life just as beautiful and dramatic as everybody else’s. All the joy, stillness, subtleties of emotion and sadness in the everyday which links us all is what l am honing in on,” he writes. “People like to be acknowledged, they want to have an identity and presence in a world where they maybe feel they are not seen nor heard. The emotional narrative of everyone’s life is interesting, and that is what l'm drawn to.”
Love’s Fire Song will be shown at the Gallery of Photography Dublin date tbc.
All images courtesy Enda Bowe