|In his introduction to this collection of photographs by John Duncan, David Brett states two propositions: first that a city is not a place, but a process, and secondly though we can see this process (the city) we rarely look at it. The value of this series of photographs by John Duncan is that it forces us to pay attention to a variety of scenes and locations we would normally not pay any attention to. The visual style of John Duncan's photographs creates in the viewer both recognition and distancing. Most places photographed are familiar, but the effects of the photographs is to render them unfamiliar. The photographs cover everything to residential locations old and new (like South Studios in Tates Avenue, Bell Towers Ormeau Road, Beechmount Avenue or Arosa Parade) to offices (Stewart Street), factories (Mackies in Springfield Road) or peace lines. There is nothing static to these photographs, everywhere there is motion. The photographs show the transition from the "Troubles" to the post-conflict situation, from the traditional manufacture to the knowledge based-economy. Everywhere, there is work, construction, building. The photographs show how central urban reconstruction integrates residential with all other kinds of land uses -office, retail, recreation, transport- and is also increasingly integrated with the global economy. But the real value of John Duncan's pictures is not so much that they show this process, but that they point the contradictory nature of this process. The "new Belfast" does not abolish the problems of the "old Belfast" but reproduces them under a new and sometimes intensified form. One of the best photographs in the collection is that of the South Studios, Tates Avenue. The luxury apartments, symbol of the "new Belfast" are side by side with a loyalist bonfire with a UVF flag in the working class area of the Village. The photograph shows how the two are internally related: the growth of violent loyalism since the 1994 ceasefires can partially be explained by the feeling of social dislocation felt by working class protestant communities destroyed by urban regeneration projects.
|By creating an effect of distancing and forcing us to look at those familiar places under a different angle, the photographs can make the viewer aware of what Henri Lefebvre called ideological "blind fields" (the ideology of 'urbanism' for example), that obscure constitutive sociospatial relations. Commodification of space very present in those photographs, something that we are not always aware of when walking past all those locations. In those photographs, there is something intimidating about those building, something David Brett notes in his introduction: "In the absence of extensive and intensive consultative procedures, the market economy will always produce buildings in which few people have any real say. In Belfast, the sense of not being consulted is of piece with the general problem of legitimacy that goes to the very heart of the state ... as a result there a buildings in this city that would have been permitted nowhere else in the UK." The consequences is that there is a foreclosure of space by bureaucrats, estates agents, speculators and the like. John Duncan's photographs are not intended to be political, but one cannot help to think that implicit to them is the conviction that space is radically open and the refusal of this "abstract space" imposed by landlords and property speculators. Perhaps what is lacking in the photographs is the recognition that alternative and revolutionary restructurations of institutionalised discourses of space and new modes of spatial praxis ('differential space') are possible. Nevertheless, the collection implicitly calls for a new mode of spatiality.