"The British Government
surrounded Ireland with a wall of silence in order to create the setting and the framing of the war."
"Widespread support for the Hunger Strikers remained hidden, as the media collaborated with the British Government in it's campaign to discredit the Republican Movement"
Extracts from an interview between CAMERAWORK and Christine Halsall from the Poster Collective 'Women Documentary Photographers in Northern Ireland'
How was your role different from the photographer taking pictures for the bourgeois media?
There is a tendency for photographers to attempt to capture a pre-determined spectacle type of image: the explosion, death, riot, soldier - civilian confrontation, - images that have ‘news value’. I wasn’t primarily interested in this process of photography. Kids on the street in riots is obviously a very important day to day struggle against the army, but through staying in the community I was able to see the other side of this. Parents’ constant fear for their kids’ safety and the levels of conflict that can arise out of it. I wouldn't really have understood this if I had remained simply the outsider photographer. Being a documentary photographer relies on the creation of a distance - becoming the ‘objective eye’. I found it was sometimes more important to listen than take pictures.
What do you think about the role of photography in the situation there?
One important role of photography is the use by the ‘security forces’. The systematic photographing of the country in order to gather information in order to control the Nationalist people plays a key role in their suppression.
The question is what our role should be: we feel it is central to the political struggle for the nationalist movement to get representations of how they see their struggle. Any dominated group has this problem: everything comes from the top downwards. This is particularly heightened in the six counties after centuries of colonial domination.
In any war, a main battleground is information control and propaganda and the British Army is especially conscious of this process. They attempt to surround Ireland with a wall of silence and as long as they can create the setting and the framing of the war – ie, army as peacemakers, IRA as terrorists they can maintain support here for their role. That’s why the struggle over political status has assumed such importance, for as long as they can brand the Nationalist army as criminals, the colonial nature of the war will remain hidden. The recent developments of the hunger strike in the jails of Armagh and Long Kesh, has shown how the media was used to throw confusion at every stage.
Photography and film plays an important part in this process.- which is of course the reason for all the censorship. It is vital that the people who are part of any struggle should have the means to represent themselves.