Interesting parallels between the industrial, economic and social histories of Newcastle and Belfast can be drawn and both cities and regions have a rich photographic history and a strong tradition of photographers developing relationships with the city and its inhabitants. In 2012, NEPN in partnership with Belfast Exposed, offered a research residency opportunity for a photographic artist from the NE of England to develop work in Northern Ireland.
‘From my time in Belfast I have began to develop the beginnings of a continuing, broad and possibly large-scale project.
My thoughts for this residency were always to allow myself the freedom to explore, to reduce the fear of not knowing, to risk the faith within ones own methods and to develop further my own personal practice/ritual.
I wanted to use my time initially as a way to begin an investigation of my own terms of investigation. My methods and work previously have mostly been made alone and at pace. Usually having only a limited time frame within which to question, capture and produce. I wanted to begin to explore my own mix of opposites. Between my fast paced working methods and slow considered aesthetic found within the my work/ final images and how these methods, thoughts and concepts could/ would be altered over an expended period of time in one place. Allowing for a period of acclimatisation leading hopefully to a deeper immersion in terms of place, but also more importantly within the relationships to ones own work and with the people I have met.
During this period of research I walked, I became interested in how I could begin. Immediately struck by the city’s sense of energy, regeneration and its perceived desire to move on and to recreate. I wanted to navigate and be navigated by a city, its boundary lines and territories, allowing myself the time to find my way into things. Meeting with people, picking up on threads of story and feeling, following roads and paths. Finding an incredible depth of history, anecdote and myth, both accepted, hidden and my own personally created. From black mountain watching (still unclimbed) to bog meadows, linen fields, the underground rivers, the falls and painted faces, boxing in the Ulster hall, an air of the coast blowing in, a new building for an old boat, rain, City Cemetery and the hidden wall, chlorine and botanics, and finally into limbo and the little graveyards.
I came upon the subject for my continued research via a morning walk and a separate conversation regarding Bog Meadows. I was initially led here to look at its placement as a nature reserve within the bounds of a city but upon investigation found it to be a dark and deeply troubled site. Through further reading and visual research I found that the reserve was actually a burial site for thousands of children. Children who because they were either still born or had passed away before christening could not be buried within the consecrated grounds of the Catholic Cemetery ‘Milltown’ immediately adjacent. I was immediately appalled and then fascinated with the history and concept of this site and its continued use as a reserve. I contacted and met with a local archeologist ‘Toni Maguire’ who introduced me to the horrifying notion of ‘The Limbo of lost Children’. A state/place where the unbaptised souls of these babies are said go after death. Neither heaven or hell, it is the same limbo state reserved for murderers, suicides and those that wash up on the shore.
Toni has met with and campaigned alongside the families of these babies to force the Church to accept that their children are buried here and to allow for a proper burial and acknowledged marker. These sites are known as Cilini or little burial grounds and Toni’s research has found roots of this ‘tradition’ as far back as the medieval period that can be traced through northern Europe, across the UK via a cross pollination and mix of pagan/Christian belief, folk religion, folklore, superstition and a fear of the undead and the unknown. Toni is keen for this largely hidden and oral history to be recorded and presented before it is lost between generations.’