Frankie Quinn (b.1966) was born into the Short Strand/Ballymacarrett community, where he still lives. He began taking photographs in 1982, documenting his community including its role in the conflict in Ireland. He has covered other areas of conflict including Israel/Palestine, Turkish Kurdistan and the Balkans.
As well as his native Belfast, he has exhibited in Australia, United States, France, Italy and Britain. He has remained independent as a freelance photographer servicing newspapers, magazines and books. Quinn holds an MFA in photography from the University of Ulster, Belfast and is currently Director of the Belfast Archive Project.
Short Strand, Belfast
In 1982, a camera club was set up in the local community centre. The Mac Airt Camera Club was part of an initiative devised by the photojournalist Buzz Logan and others who had already established a successful community photographic workshop in the Shankill area of the city.
At great expense, my father bought me a camera – an old Praktica but with sharp 35mm and 50mm Zeiss lenses. This was my passage into the world of photography.
Quinn quickly became fascinated with photography and was eager to learn alchemy, mixing chemical potions and then watching the latent images gradually appearing to make a print. It all seemed like magic to me. I carried a camera everywhere.
After about two years the club closed, the British government deemed the place a hotbed of subversives and withdrew funding. His father again stepped in and built a darkroom under the pigeon coop in the yard of their tiny house in Clyde Street.
From the outset, Quinn was aware of the potential of the camera as the tool to capture the world around him, which by the early 1980s was changing rapidly due to housing re-development. The transformation taking place was to have a profound effect on the community, as streets that had stood for generations were levelled.
Quinn has a formidable body of work behind him, in terms of social documentary increasingly invaluable. His work is contemplative and full of enquiry. His photographs cover not only the period of re-development, showing the old streets just before they disappeared but also the new houses and streets that sprung up to replace them. They also contain many pictures of the characters, individuals and groups, young and old, enjoying themselves at play or during a night out while others reflect some of the experiences the community endured during periods of conflict in the 1980s and 1990s.
Frankie Quinn published Interface Images in 1994, his first book of ‘peaceline’ photography studies A Photographic report of the barricades put up by the opposing sides in Northern Ireland 1980. It was the year of the first paramilitary ceasefires in Northern Ireland. Four years later, the Good Friday Agreement attempted to divert conflict into the political process, with patchy success and conspicuous intransigence from many.
Frankie Quinn makes his world and his work look effortless, his social framing is intuitive and immersive and demonstrates extraordinary works of photojournalism.