Luxury, Peace and Photography in Northern Ireland

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [New York University]On: 05 October 2014, At: 22:55Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: MortimerHouse, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Visual Culture in BritainPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>Luxury, Peace and Photography in Northern IrelandColin GrahamPublished online: 24 Aug 2009.</p><p>To cite this article: Colin Graham (2009) Luxury, Peace and Photography in Northern Ireland, Visual Culture in Britain,10:2, 139-154, DOI: 10.1080/14714780902925077</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose ofthe Content. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors,and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be reliedupon and should be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shallnot be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and otherliabilities whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to orarising out of the use of the Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Colin Graham</p><p>Luxury, Peace and Photography in NorthernIreland</p><p>At the beginning of his biography of Ian Paisley, Ed Moloney describes avisit by Paisley, then First Minister of Northern Ireland, and MartinMcGuinness, Deputy First Minister, to New York in December 2007when they were photographed jointly bringing down the ceremonialgavel to start the days proceedings in the New York Stock Exchange.1</p><p>Moloney comments that:</p><p>to those unschooled in Wall Streets ways [it might have appeared that] they had something todo with that days trading session . . . [but] in fact the photo was staged, and had been taken 90minutes before the stock exchange opened for business.2</p><p>This supreme moment of photo-opportunism means that this image ofPaisley and McGuinness is really more like a tourists souvenir than therecord of a political event. It is the equivalent in global politics of havingyour photograph taken with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, or MichaelJackson in Madame Tussauds and it inadvertently captures the appar-ently important, but actually subservient and insignificant, role thatIreland, and the Northern Irish conflict, have in the immeasurably widerpolitical economy of the United States. Moloney goes on to describe thejoint opening of the NASDAQ (the acronym by which the NationalAssociation of Security Dealers Automatic Quotation System is betterknown) by Paisley and McGuinness two days later. This, Moloney writes:</p><p>was a much more mundane affair, although just as contrived. Staged in a Times Square TVstudio in front of a camera and a studio populated only by technicians, to the untutored eye itseemed as if an audience of eager brokers stood just yards away, watching and itching for thesignal to start another day of moneymaking. In fact the NASDAQ has no floor and deals aredone via anonymous computers. DUP and IRA dissidents could be forgiven for seeing in bothevents a metaphor for all the political artfulness and sleight of hand that made the two menspartnership possible.3</p><p>While ex-combatants might rage against the dual Lundyism4 (as politicaltreachery tends to be labelled in Northern Ireland) of the (now) ex-FirstMinister5 and his Deputy, there was an inevitability to this contrivance, inwhich men symbolizing the ideological past enter the hollow post-politicalworld that the Peace Process has been supposed to usher in and in whichthe image is it own substance.</p><p>The half-truths of these press photographs record very precisely theunderlying anxiety of the participants in this venture, a desire for it to beseen that real economic dividends flow from their political compromisesso that the new political consensus is maintained. As photographs they</p><p>Visual Culture in Britain ISSN 1471-4787 print/ISSN 1941-8361 online# 2009 Taylor &amp; Francis</p><p>DOI: 10.1080/14714780902925077</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>New</p><p> Yor</p><p>k U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 22:</p><p>55 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>inadvertently capture both the political trajectory of the new NorthernIreland (at least, at the moment when they were taken) and the widerphoto-journalistic frisson that has accompanied the Peace Process, suchthat the dominant media image of the PaisleyMcGuinness era drew onthe feel-good factor of both mens appearance side by side, and the atten-dant smoothing away of the historical ironies that their cohabitation ingovernment always recalled. A more local example of the ways in whichtheir tandem existence was made emblematic of the internecine, trans-formed to the normalized global experience, can be seen in the pressphotographs of their joint opening of the IKEA store in east Belfast, andespecially the shots of Paisley and McGuinness seated together on an IKEAsofa with the IKEA logo Home is the most important place in the worldhovering, with no sense of its own resonance, on the wall behind them.6</p><p>Post-Peace Process Northern Ireland is visualized, for itself, its sponsorsin other governments, and a wider world, through images that stress thenormalization that occurs through the provinces joining of the economicsystem by which the rest of the world lives, and at the same time furthereroding its regrettable past. Such questionable trajectories, embedded inpopular visual media, have become the replacements for a previous gen-eration of photo-journalistic conventions concerning Northern Irelandfrom the period of the Troubles, and, like their predecessors, they neces-sarily collapse complexity into an unthinking visual shorthand.</p><p>This article discusses recent exhibitions by Victor Sloan and JohnDuncan and the way in which they react to the new economic imperativesof Peace Process Northern Ireland. Both Sloan and Duncan ground theirnewer work in the aesthetic they have individually developed over pre-vious years, and in the wider context of Northern Irish photographic andvisual responses to the Troubles and the aftermath of the Troubles. Yet,this essay suggests, the most recent unfolding of the Peace Process, whichsees the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein in government togetherfor the first time, means that the turn to normal issues of governanceraises the deeply problematic question of what a normal NorthernIreland would look like. Sloan and Duncan separately produce work thatholds in tension the memory of the past and the rhetoric of the politicalfuture, a rhetoric that tends to replace the political with the economic.Sloans Luxus and Duncans Bonfires differently configure this moment,when the past seems to meet the future.</p><p>In as much as a tradition, or at least a discernible set of aestheticconventions, has been established over at least two overlapping genera-tions of photographers in Northern Ireland, there was a common, reactivesource for a version of art photography that made sense of itself through itsambivalent relationship to photo-journalism. Photographers such asVictor Sloan, Paul Seawright and Willie Doherty, amongst others, differentas they are, can be understood as having constructed a photographicpractice that consciously counteracted photo-journalisms misrepresenta-tion, or hyper-representation, of Northern Ireland through stereotypicalTroubles imagery. The kind of art photography that emerged in NorthernIreland during the 1980s, in particular, was in part dependent on a photo-journalistic, or more accurately documentary mode (in that it also</p><p>140 luxury, peace and photography</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>New</p><p> Yor</p><p>k U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 22:</p><p>55 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>photographed the North as a site of conflict), but simultaneously set itselfagainst the easy shock tactics of transient photo-journalism by taking alonger, or more detailed, or implicated look at the Troubles and the societywhich they produced. The years of the Peace Process have seen the litheshifting of photographers modes, themes and techniques, responding tothe uncertainty of the Process by, for example, thinking about the ways inwhich the past was being archived as a way of preparing for the future, orlooking at the border as the last, anomalous outpost of the Troubles.7</p><p>With the imagery of the Troubles apparently assigned to mere nostalgia,and the Peace Process having entered a new stage of governance, howmight we respond to the new imagery of political consensus that hasrapidly replaced the hoary old images of the Troubled North? On thesurface, this new iconography is a continual source of wonder for thosewho marvel at the political amnesia encapsulated in the political andphotographic bringing together of Paisley and McGuinness. But the phan-tasmal nature of the gavel-banging economics here is more a sign ofpolitical anaemia (brought on by a certain irony deficiency). The nervouslycomic uncanniness of Paisley and McGuinness together, which was cap-tured in so many press photographs, seems dependent on the irreconcil-ability of their past and present positions and that paradox is solved, inimage and ideology, by the no-less-surprising common cause provided byinternational finance and the ideology of entrepreneurialism. The twospecific photographic projects discussed in this essay demonstrate thatthere is less of a contradiction than there might first appear to be in thatwondrous overwriting of the past by the present. This superficial disjunc-tion, which glazes the surface of those images of the opening of the NewYork Stock Exchange and the NASDAQ, perhaps even before we appre-ciated their stagedness, is underwritten by a clearly signalled future thathas been in the making throughout the Peace Process. It is a future investedin the virtual ebb and flow of the NASDAQ, and in which the atavism ofsectarian conflict serves as the silent, but dependent, counterpoint to itsseeming opposite, the potential, post-political, economically focusedNorthern Ireland.</p><p>Managing the peace</p><p>The attempt to forge an economic dividend out of the reconstitution of theAssembly government has been a fragile one, with few solid achieve-ments. In April 2008 a newly formed company, Emerald InfrastructureDevelopment Fund LP, announced that it is to invest $150 million inNorthern Ireland. The money is derived from the pension funds of NewYork public workers (such as firefighters) and will be directed towardsventures in property, roads and renewable energy projects. DavidSimpson, Democratic Unionist Party MP for Upper Bann, showed thatthe Norths political parties have absorbed the language as well as theiconography of Wall Street when he said that the Emerald Infrastructurecapital would help Northern Ireland PLC achieve its full and maximumpotential in a competitive global marketplace,8 implying that the solutionto the national question is a share issue, floating the province on an</p><p>Colin Graham 141</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>New</p><p> Yor</p><p>k U</p><p>nive</p><p>rsity</p><p>] at</p><p> 22:</p><p>55 0</p><p>5 O</p><p>ctob</p><p>er 2</p><p>014 </p></li><li><p>international stock exchange. Simpsons revealing assumption is thatthinking in business terms will be the seed out of which a new polity willgrow. Similarly, in May 2008 the advertising for the US-Northern IrelandInvestment Conference, organized by Invest Northern Ireland, noted that:The new, stable Northern Ireland is open for business9 - again replayingthat historical shift from old to new, from Northern Ireland in conflict toNorthern Ireland in business. The photographic projects by Victor Sloanand John Duncan, discussed below, question the neo-liberal teleologyupon which this thinking relies.</p><p>If economic regeneration is to be the dynamo for normality, then there ismuch to do. The 2003 balance of trade between Northern Ireland and the restof the world was 10.3 billion.10 Northern Irish workers work the longestaverage hours per week in the United Kingdom and yet are among the leastproductive.11 Despite having low business costs and a relatively skilled andeducated workforce, Northern Ireland ranks lowest on the CompetitiveSub-Index compiled by the Norths Department of Enterprise, Trade andInvestment in 2007.</p><p>There are obvious practical reasons why events such as thePaisley-McGuinness New York trip, the Emerald investment and theMay 2008 investment conference have become the focus of the adminis-tration, although the discourse surrounding this search for an economicpay-off runs deeper than an interest in job and wealth creation, since itcreates a politics fervent in its fetishization of the concepts of stability andpeace for business as the target of new governance in the North. DavidSimpson, in belatedly echoing the Blairite rhetoric of UK PLC,12 catcheson to a profound proposition at the heart of the new global economics intowhich Northern Ireland is casting itself. The idea that the new, stableNorthern Ireland is open for business reveals that the new political gov-ernance in Northern Ireland was achieved via the implementation of thevery structures of global capitalism. It is effectively this modelling ofnegotiation on corporatism, which leads naturally to the notion ofNorthern Ireland PLC.</p><p>In his book The Shield of Achilles, Philip Bobbit embarks on a dystopianreverie on future global governance by what he calls market-states, whichare successful because they embed corporate structures and businessleadership into their governance. Bobbitts vision is kick-started by busi-ness leadership guru Joseph Jaworski who claimed in 2004 (as quoted byBobbit):</p><p>Today . . . there is only one entity whose effort to create stability in the world matches its self-interest. That entity is a corporation acting globally. In the increasingly borderless worldcreated by the microchip, politicians and bureaucrats will not be the ones to turn to forguidance. It is in the nature of politicians and bureaucrats to serve one country. But globalcorporations can only do business in a peaceful and stable world.13</p><p>The interweaving of peace, capital and governa...</p></li></ul>


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