Firefights, fox and flower shows: a stunning new view of trouble | Photography

WWhen someone asks me what it was like growing up during the Troubles, I always find myself at a loss for an answer. Armagh’s daily life was turbulent and anxious, but at times surreal and often repetitive. There were bombs and bomb fears, there was gunfire at night, early morning raids by security forces, a grueling presence and constant scrutiny of the British Army’s foot patrols. But there were also countless days when there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.

It’s all on my mind as I wrestle with it Whatever you say, don’t say anythingAnd Terribly ambitious picture book Jill Pierce, a photographer whose reporting from Iran, Rwanda and the Balkans has redefined the model. Nothing has been published yet, though, that comes close to the epic scale of Guysan’s attempt to almost “describe it all” about life as it unfolded during the long years of violence in Northern Ireland. Over 30 years of work, it consists of two massive volumes of images and an accompanying calendar of contextual material, entitled Annals of the North.. Weighing in at 14kg and spanning 2,000 pages, that’s, to say the least, a great statement.

As such, the book constantly pushes the boundaries of photographic representation in its attempts to convey the totality of what Pierce, now 74, experienced during his two extended stays in northern Ireland In the early seventies and early eighties. There are sequences of people drinking in crowded bars, chatting in the streets and tending their gardens, as well as people protesting, building barricades, and throwing Molotov cocktails. Pearce even takes a separate look at the fun activities of the upper middle classes: fox hunting and flower shows, bowling tournaments and cricket matches, it all seems to take place in a parallel universe of violence and turmoil. However, what ever happened was his point of view – normality continued alongside and amid conflict and massacres.

The story centers around 22 semi-fictional “days”: days of struggle, days of murder, days of mourning, and also normal and event-free days. This disruption of chronology and context can be confusing, perhaps on purpose, images unfolding in a kind of turbulent flow, alternating, visceral, quiet, unsettling, intimate and startling. His goal is to show the “nature and structure of time” during a period of constant conflict.

From the season of roses.
All life is here… Pictures from the Rose Day class. Photography: Jill Peiris

“Time in Northern Ireland,” Pearce told his publisher, Gerhard Staedel, in a recent interview, “It is the same time in Palestine. It does not move in a linear fashion – today, tomorrow, last year, etc. Because of the cycle of marches and protests, today is today, but it is also on the same day as it was a year ago.”

This sense of time measured in cyclical and recurring rituals is central to the conceptualization of the book, the ebb and flow of the narration into its own inner rhythm, the turbulence that gives way to serenity, and the shift of journalistic reporting from the front lines of riots and protest to sequences that are quietly committed or atmospheric. the dark. An extended series, shot at night, features deserted back streets and urban alleys, and limited spaces fraught with uncertainty. Lee brought back the eerie silence that fell over Northern Ireland’s towns and villages after dark during the worst years of turmoil. When a lone figure emerges from the shadows, standing still and staring straight into Peres’ camera, the sense of danger is palpable.

There may, inevitably, be one or two contradictory moments. A series of lovable screenshots from detective, John Ford’s 1935 film about betrayal in the early years of the Irish War of Independence, is a grotesquely episodic prelude to a segment in which Pierce poses death Dennis Donaldson, his close friend and travel companion during his time in the North. In 2006, Donaldson, an IRA member, was revealed as a spy for MI5 and executed. His double life was unknown to Pearce at the time, which explains the book’s title, Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, in reference to a warning printed on IRA posters that were widely distributed in Republican areas of Belfast in the 1970s. (Perhaps better known as Seamus Heaney’s famous poem of secrecy and silence during turmoil.)

part of Annals of the North The title “Betrayals” provides much-needed context here, and indeed, for most of the events depicted by Pierce. They can also be purchased independently, and in their merging of text and images, which are opinion and grant, are themselves often bold in the face of turmoil.

Pierce’s rebellious approach to iconography works best when applied to the larger tribal rituals of protest, resistance, and mourning, and the scenes he captures at different times acquire a kind of bleak familiarity when put together. He has an unerring ability to capture small human interactions within larger societal dramas. In one stunning photo, he isolates two young men in masks standing on a street corner, petrol bombs in hand. One of them’s eyes close as he presses the shutter and you can’t help but wonder what words were exchanged in the moments that followed. In another, he rested two cemetery workers at an IRA funeral, one standing, lost in thought, over an open grave, while the other peered in from its depths.

It's getting dark... from last night's chapter.
It’s getting dark… from last night’s chapter. Photography: Jill Peiris

It seems unsurprising, then, that Pierce began to see the turmoil as a kind of theatrical drama played out endlessly by the same archetypal characters in recurring scenes of violence and flight, bravado and mourning. Inevitably, the dead of turmoil haunt these pages: young men in dark glasses and hats stand guard over open coffins; Crowds line the paths of funeral processions and gather among crosses and tombstones at the cemeteries. But it is the faces of the mourners who are afflicted that record the shock.

Peres seems to have acted according to Robert Capa’s saying, “If your pictures are not good enough, you are not close enough,” no more than when he found himself amid the carnage of what became known as Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972. His photos from that day were used as evidence in Savile Inquiry, which found murder unlawful, and they remain one of the most profound invocations of horror. He filmed a local man, Paddy Doherty, crawling along a street near the Rossville Flats seconds before he was killed by a paratrooper’s bullet. His graphic portrait of another local, Barney McGuigan, lying dead in a pool of blood while shocked spectators stand above him in a daze, the horrors of the day dripping into one frame.

“I know at one point I was shooting and crying at the same time,” Peres said years later. “I think it must have been when I saw Barney McGuigan dead. By the time I got there, people were still gathering near the phone box, protecting themselves from the shooting.”

In a book that evokes the passage of time in a spiraling, repetitive, and erratic manner, these still moments seem most resonant, the unsettling power of their direct testimony unaffected by years past. A decade later, Pierce finds himself recording the fallout from the deaths of 10 hunger strikers in the IRA, the days of mourning, grief, protest and violence recurring and escalating, his images of herself filled with familiar connotations, but their atmosphere darker and more claustrophobic. . Turning these pages, you’ll feel the full weight of Pierce’s Helicopter time: history repeats, violence fuels violence, and the death of one generation inspires another.

In his elaborate aspiration, Pierce’s book constantly pushes the limitations of the picture book, yet, in doing so, he also highlights them. More than once I found myself imagining these narratives unfolding and overlapping in a multi-screen installation of an ambient soundtrack of protests, riots, marching bands, and fiery speeches. Against this immersive approach, the book, however elaborately structured, appears to be a strangely static medium that reflects the escalating nature of the problems.

Its exorbitant cost – around £250 – will also be a problem for many of the people to whom it will mean the most. Having said that, it is undoubtedly a singular achievement, alternating raw and tender, a reflection of softly and emotionally painfully. All human life is here as lived during the Troubles. This is what reality looks like during an unreal time.

Whatever you say, say nothing is posted before Stedel.

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