Friday, 18 September 2009

ARDOYNE - THE AFTERMATH at The Red Barn Gallery

© Joe ÓNéill 2009
In July of this year, Belfast's Red Barn Gallery exhibited a collection of eye witness photography documenting the after effects of the burning of Bombay Street on 14 – 15 August 1969.

Marking a tragic turning point in the history of Northern Ireland, the burnings were the culmination of catastrophic and widespread failures of communications, and were to herald the arrival of the British Army onto the streets of Belfast and the birth of the Provisional I R A.

The pictures displayed in Bombay Street – Taken From the Ashes were shot by gifted amateur photographer Gerry Collins, and the effect of their first collective public viewing were sensational.

Gallery Director, Frankie Quinn, (himself a highly respected photographer) says "I knew when I first presented these images that they were something special, but even I wasn't prepared for the overwhelming reaction they promoted from the public."

"Their most significant effect, perhaps, has been to bring to light the photographic collection of the late Hugh McKeown, who, while helping evacuate his family, captured the impact of the burning of Ardoyne on its people and its streets."

"Hugh, like Gerry, was a remarkably talented amateur. His images express an instinctively artistic version and an extraordinary empathy, which makes themas emotionally compelling as they are historically valuable."

The exhibition features British soldiers enjoying and impromptu tea party (complete with cups and saucers) on a demolished street, Hugh shows us groups of people regarding their streets with stupefied disbelief, he shows us buildings which, only hours before were family homes, reduced to scorched ruins. In one image, two children pose at the wheel of a burned out bus. The bus's destination – Falls via Ardoyne – forges a striking ironic link between the two collections of photographs. As Ardoyne burned so did Bombay Street on the Falls Road.

Hugh's exceptional photographs are to be seen in public for the first time thanks to his widow, Terry McKeown, who was encouraged, after seeing the Bombay Street exhibition, to unearth his collection and show them to Frankie.

Frankie says: "Hugh was an amazing and truly gifted photographer. He had an amazing ability to capture ordinary people struggling to cope in extraordinary circumstances. This is a vital piece of photographic history which everyone deserves to see. It's a fitting tribute to a fully inspired photographer."

Bombay Street - Taken From the Ashes
Ardoyne - The Aftermath
September 18 - October 22

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