The digital progression of community archives, from amateur production to artistic practice: A case study of Belfast Exposed

Patricia Prieto Blanco, Mirjami Schuppert, Jake Lange

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


‘Belfast Exposed is a small group of amateur photographers from all parts of the City, the vast majority unemployed’ (O’Reilly, 1985). ‘Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland’s principal gallery of contemporary photography, commissioning, publishing and showing work by artists and photographers from Northern Ireland and across the world’ (Belfast Exposed, 2013). In 2013, Belfast Exposed celebrated its 30th anniversary. As these quotes indicate, in this amount of time the ethos and focus of the organization has shifted considerably, from originating as a grass-roots, community-based photography initiative to becoming a significant international photographic art gallery. A key aspect of the change in its raison d’eˆtre was the gallery’s move from analogue to digital media. By 2005, over 3000 images from the analogue archive were digitized, with the aim of opening the archive to wider audiences, and by 2007 the gallery had launched two digital libraries, one offline and one online. This article seeks to explore the implications of this process of change for both the organization and its analogue and digital photographic archives, combining archival theory with psychoanalytic social theory. Interviews with staff members, content analysis of the digital libraries and a first-hand engagement with the process of re-housing the analogue archive have assisted the research process. Furthermore, several works of art based on the archive, and commissioned by Belfast Exposed in the last decade, have been analysed as examples of new modes of engagement with archive material. Acknowledging the political agendas and policy-making context to which both the organization and the archive are impacted by, a major trend is identified, that is, new cultural meanings of the post-peace process have replaced old interpretations influenced by artists’ responses to the archive.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2015


  • Archive
  • Photography
  • Belfast
  • Belfast Exposed
  • Community
  • Digitization
  • Northern Ireland


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