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Street Photography Interview: @andrewj.98

Updated: May 2, 2019

Street Photography Interview: @andrewj.98

Next up I speak with @andrewj.98 giving us his visual take on Belfast, Northern Ireland. Andrew captures the community, the characters of Belfast, whilst documenting the changes that are coming in time. Andrew's images stand able to tell their own story, and they do, however he goes on to tell us the important stories behind his images. Many of the photos look unusual to us non-locals, maybe even from another era. There's a complicated history behind Northern Ireland with Andrew doing his best to document to add to that story.

1. I think it's important we begin by finding out who you are, where you're from, and what got you in to photography?

Hi, I'm Andrew Johnston(@andrewj.98), twenty years old and currently on a gap year working as a classroom assistant in a local high school in East Belfast. The goal is to study photography and video next year in Belfast Art College....That's the plan anyway! I'm proud to say that i'm born and bred in Belfast. I love the place. It's not a big city. You can walk from East to West in half an hour. It sometimes feels like we all know each other. 

I've always had a fascination with photography. I was that kid that always wanted to look through the family photo albums. I find Irish society, politics and history very interesting. I suppose that's why I began researching photography from the Troubles. I came across photographers such as Frankie Quinn, Bill Kirk and Sean McKernan who were documenting their communities at a time when the only thing that was being photographed was the bombings, street violence and protests. Instead they used their talent and skill to capture the softer side of Belfast such as the kids, the old biddies and the community spirit. 

2.  Judging by your work and the feeling I get from your answers to the first question, in part, play a big role in the reasoning behind your photography?

Yes, I was inspired by those photographers. They made me want to get out on the street with the camera and start documenting Belfast as it is today. Although saying that, most of my work still focuses on the nitty-gritty side of Belfast. These include areas, people and events that the media don't want to see. I'm well aware that today's media outlets want to showcase Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole in a new light. It falls into their 'story'. Whilst this is fine, i'm a realist and believe that the key to documentary photography is telling the truth! 

3. Sharing the community of Belfast is evident in your photograph. In some cases you're up-close and personal, sometimes even in the subject's home. To your benefit you're able to get closer and more personal with your subjects. The people in your photos clearly trust you. How have you managed to find that comfort zone and be accepted in to the community?

I'm not going to lie. At first this was incredibly difficult but one day I decided I needed to get closer to the characters I'd been photographing from afar. Since then, I haven't looked back. Some days I don't feel like going up close to people, other days I do. It depends on my mood I suppose. One place that I spend the majority of my time is the Shankill Road in West Belfast. It feels like I've photographed everyone on that road. It's such an interesting place, with their unwavering display of Loyalism and the fact it's packed with characters. The vast majority of people that I stop want to talk. I explain what i'm doing, they ask questions and next thing they've given me permission to photograph them up close. 

4. Although Belfast is trying to move away from the past there is still a lot of tension underlying. I know that in some circumstances you've had to ask permission to photograph the murals. You also document the marches, the bonfires as well as other things within the important within community. Have you faced any awkward moments while out shooting, or in most cases are people OK with you doing so?

I become a tourist when I document these areas in Belfast. You may laugh but it's no joke. You're looked upon more if you're from Belfast and photographing Belfast. I play stupid a lot of the time. Everyone's much kinder to tourists. I do a cracking Scottish accent, haha. Sometimes I ask about the murals even though I walk past them most days. It just makes people less suspicious. I've been approached a few times for photographing people's houses, even though I was really trying to capture the 'peace wall' behind.

It's no game photographing some people in Belfast. As a result of doing so, I've a good few stories to tell such as the drunk I photographed in South Belfast who was telling me his best friend had been shot dead the day before over a drugs dispute or the old woman from the Shankill who's brother was found dead in Ardoyne. One of the bonfire builders I photographed was later lifted for stealing pallets. I suppose the story is an important part of documentary photography. 

5. Documenting the Glassmullin Green campaign is an ongoing a small local project you've been working on. What's that all about?

In August of this year, I was contacted by a work colleague who wanted me to photograph her campaign. She's actually the one in-charge. The community up there want to try and stop a local school building a 3G pitch on their green space. If it gets the go ahead, then local people can't use the space.I went up there and documented some of the people behind the campaign. It seems worthwhile. It was a refreshing project to do! 

6. Have you any other projects ongoing? I know day-to-day you tell your story through posts on Instagram but I'm sure there is a huge potential for a bigger series.

I'd love to publish a book one day but I don't know how to go about it. Organisationally, I've never been great. At the moment I just go out and take photos with a rough idea in my mind.Whilst the weather has been so bleak over the last couple of months, I resorted to working on a little project closer to home, documenting some of the older members of my family. I'm also working on a small exhibition in a local cafe. That's taking up most of my time. 

7. Where can we keep up to date with and see more of your work?

At the moment it's just Instagram(@andrewj.98). Maybe one day i'll get a website. Who knows? 

Huge thanks to Andrew(@andrewj.98) for being willing to answer a few questions and give us a bit more background behind his work. I couldn't decide which photos would be usable on the blog because there's just too many great shots with stories to match. Make sure to check out his Instagram page, follow him, meet the characters of Shankhill and hear the story of Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Jordan Murray

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