by Christopher Hill and Jill Jennings
Book Review by Jennifer Dempsey
Published by: Blackstaff
A photographer captures the sights he or she wants to show the rest of the world.
In Christopher Hill and Jill Jennings' new photographic book, Belfast, they show us a town that is bustling with cultural events, filled with flawless historical landmarks, and a city that is an internationally competitive force in sport, industry and business.
In other words, a European town in full social and economic health. Not a sign of trouble anywhere. Some natives of Belfast will find this depiction of their home town long overdue. Some natives will find it totally unrepresentative of the Belfast they experience. Whatever the case with the Belfast born and bred, I wonder about the statement on the book's inside cover sleeve. It reads "the smiling side of Belfast... comes as a pleasant revelation to the - understandably - cautious visitor."
I was a visitor once and I know most visitors don't come to Belfast to see its Victorian buildings, trendy nightclubs or its beautiful university campus. They can go to Cambridge or Edinburgh for that. Most visitors I know come (or came) to Belfast to see the Troubles. (But never mind those visitors. They probably won't come back now that the ceasefires have been declared).
In this book Hill, along with Jill Jennings, shows us happy people in Belfast, whether they are nurses working in City Hospital, students studying in the Linen Hall Library, or old men preaching the Gospel at Cornmarket. They show us a city that is pleasant, clean and well cared for, whether it's the Markets area or City Hall, the Shankill Road or Royal Avenue. They show us views of the Lagan and the Waterworks, Minnowburn and the Parliament Buildings, that are so stunning it prompts in the viewer a new appreciation for the area. In fact most of the photographs in this coffee-table book are so beautiful in colour and composition the viewer can't help but come round to Hill's and Jenning's way of looking at Belfast.
But hold on. I have lived in Belfast for six years and I have passed Yorkgate Shopping Centre more times than I can remember; never once has it looked to me anything like the glowing temple of shining light that it does on page 77 of this book.
So I don't swallow Hill's Yorkgate Shopping Centre. Other viewers might not accept the playful depiction of the Twelfth of July celebration. Or the sun-shining portrayal of street-life in West Belfast. Hill and Jennings show a very pleasant place in Belfast. Belfast can be a very pleasant place. I just don't recognise much of it in this book.