Belfast Photo Festival returns with a host of timely exhibitions exploring the role of photography in imagining new visions of the future. From the climate crisis to government surveillance and capitalism, the projects are urgent and responsive – showing how the future is shaped by our actions right now. Discover five shows which offer speculative, imaginative glimpses into what might lie ahead.
In an attempt to preserve an ice-grotto tourist attraction at the Rhône Glacier, local Swiss entrepreneurs wrapped a significant section of the ice in a thermal blanket. Through dreamlike purple compositions, Simon Norfolk and Klaus Thymann capture the melting glacier in its “death shroud” – a reflection of humanity’s inadequate attempts to stop the effects of global warming. Across collaborative projects, the duo address the financial issues driving climate change. These images provoke us to consider the role of community actions in the face of environmental catastrophe.
We are living in an era of increased fake news, suspicion and surveillance; the pandemic has perhaps made this clearer than ever before. In I See You, Japanese artist Kensuke Koike and French photography collector Thomas Sauvin deconstruct and reinvent a 1980s photo album. It comprises original negatives, silver prints and comments from an anonymous professor – showing the student’s diligence in mastering the rules of conventional portraiture. Using a simple blade and adhesive tape, Koike respected one single formal rule: “nothing is removed, nothing is added”. A reflection of how easily truth can be manipulated.
By the end of this decade, it is estimated that 90% of the world’s coral reefs will be under threat. By 2050, they could all be in danger. The acidification of the oceans and rising water temperatures has resulted in bleached corals. They can stop growing and – if their damage is very serious – they will decay completely. Drawing attention to this issue is Polish photographer Alicja Wróblewska. She constructs “reefs of the future”: abstract objects made entirely of disposable plastic. Bottles, mugs and straws appear against pop-colour backdrops, bringing the problem of throwaway culture into focus.
Mandy Barker: SOUP
A mass of plastic waste exists in The North Pacific Ocean, accumulating in an area known as the Garbage Patch. Award-winning photographer Mandy Barker salvages this debris from beaches around the world, transforming it into visually striking compositions. Colourful footballs, bottles and food packages float in the darkness, creating aesthetically pleasing yet unsettling patterns. The compositions often resemble shoals of fish, and are a stark reminder of humanity’s devastating impact on the planet. Captions record the plastic ingredients found in each image, describing the shocking truth of what exists in the sea.
The ideal of the American Dream has long been explored in photography. But how does it apply to the rest of the postmodern world? In Arthur Crestani’s Bad City Dreams, shown above, idealised visions of cities are brought side-by-side with reality. The artist erects images of towering skyscrapers and glimmering palms within stark building sites, revealing the broken promises of commerce and capitalism. Jacob Burge’s Joy explores similar themes, presenting everyday contemporary life as a montage of both the mundane and the spectacular. It could be seen interesting take on social media feeds: where we scroll through edited, curated and reshaped versions of people’s lives.
3-30 June. See the full list of exhibitions and events here.
1&6. Mandy Barker, from SOUP
2. Simon Norfolk and Klaus Thymann, from Shroud
3. Kensuke Koike and Thomas Sauvin, from I See You
4&5. Alicja Wróblewska, from REEF
7. Arthur Crestani, from Bad City Dreams