Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography by Colin Graham has been awarded the 2014 Michael J Durkan Prize for Books on Language and Culture by the American Conference for Irish Studies. Dr Graham is a senior lecturer in English and curator of the Illuminations Gallery at NUI Maynooth.
The book, published by Belfast Exposed and the MAC, takes a historical and thematic approach, bringing together significant works by more than 50 photographers to examine the phenomenon of new photographic practices in Northern Ireland. While presenting an analysis of its broad aesthetics, the book also questions the extent to which the theme of conflict has dominated our blinkered view of Northern Irish photography, and attempts to depart from the more prevalent documentary-style photography of the past.
Through the inclusion of work by photographers with a keen sense of trends and debates in the wider contexts of contemporary photography and art, Graham’s book considers photography from Northern Ireland as a reflection of place in the broadest possible sense.
It was published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same title, staged at Belfast Exposed and the MAC in June last year, and was chosen as The Observer’s Photography Book of the Month, its critic , Sean O’Hagan, calling it “ambitious … ahead of the game”.
Discussing the $500 award, Graham said: “I feel extremely proud and humbled to be recognised with this award by the American Conference for Irish Studies. Photography has always been one of the most accessible and compelling forms of storytelling and I feel particularly privileged to have been able to work with so many talented photographers in assembling this book, and to showcase the visionary photographic work they have made.
“From the outset of this project we wanted to show how art photography in Northern Ireland has challenged superficial perceptions of the place and its history. By defying the parameters of traditional photography the book reveals how the calm artistry of photography uncovers new ways of seeing the world. Northern Irish society has undergone dramatic changes over the past thirty years and its artistic community continues to grow and engage in parallel. We wanted to introduce our audience to a new history of the place and the many tensions and challenges it continues to overcome.”