Joining us at October’s Nicer Tuesdays was Irish documentary photographer Enda Bowe, who lit up the room with his cinematic portraits of Belfast’s youth culture: segregated by walls, but unified by “the emotional journeys that bind us all.”
Enda grew up in the middle of Ireland, in what he called “a pretty grey town”, amidst a time of violence and hostility. He became interested in photography from a young age, documenting the subtleties of places – and the people within them – that sparked beauty. His viewpoint is poetic and empathetic, saying that it’s a: “search for hope in our everyday lives, in the everyday places we live.”
Looking back on his early years, Enda’s talk touched on his shyness and how he felt he lacked the vocabulary to express his feelings. He began to notice the quietness of others too, their expressions and complexities, and wanted to capture them within images. In turn, his work became about “going past what’s on the outside and trying to get to the heart of the person – the subtleties that they’re carrying, not having any judgements and maybe not knowing too much information,” he told the audience. Leaving home at 18, Enda looked to explore other worlds and communities. But in order to be true to himself, he realised he’d have to return to Ireland as “the only language that makes you different is the one that you know”.
Leading the audience onto Love’s Fire Song, Enda’s project on the segregated city: split by the “peace walls” that run between the loyalist and republican communities of Shankill and Falls. Rejecting labels and premonitions, he used his camera as a tool for entering a community that would otherwise have been closed off from him, “the camera is such a gift, such a blessing,” he said. Citing inspiration from This is England, Enda formed lifelong friendships within both communities, allowing him to capture deeper narratives that would otherwise go undocumented.
To sum up his project in one sentence, Enda concluded: “This is a journey of young people’s emotions in Belfast, around a fire, sharing times, sharing – and hopefully not judging each other”. Ending his talk, he concluded by quoting Human Rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume, who said: “difference is of the essence of humanity.”