Street photography is all about capturing what people see when they’re out and about. If archived and shared, it creates a photographic record - a social history - that can be revisited years later to interpret the changes to buildings’ architecture and usage as well as the fashion of passers-by.
The camera clubs that captured footage of events in towns across Northern Ireland back in the 1950s and 1960s left the legacy of Super-8 material that was more recently re-examined in the nostalgic BBC NI programmes.
Having snapped a couple of Belfast buskers and a hotel nativity scene over lunch two years ago, the next logical step seemed to be to blitz the city centre on a specific day and capture the colour of what was happening on the pavements with a larger group of people. But the idea faded and never happened.
The good news is that some folk are getting together this weekend to pull off a much more ambitious and better organised project that I could have imagined. Belfast Spendmas will document the Saturday afternoon scenes on the streets (and shopping centres) of Belfast this weekend.
Kicked off on Twitter, Belfast Spendmas is encouraging photographers to meet up in front of the City Hall at 2pm on Saturday 19 December.
“Venues we will be visiting will be the Continental Market, Victoria Square, Castlecourt, Donegal Place, Spires Shopping Centre, and the general surrounding streets. Plan to continue until 5/6, to get the best of the light and the evening/Christmas lights, as well as the shoppers. Wrap up warm, it'll be a cold one!”
Photographers can upload their photos to the Belfast Spendmas group on Flickr to create their shared record of the afternoon. You don’t need to be a tweeter to take part. And you don’t even need a fancy camera!
Talking to Radio Ulster, the event’s organiser Rob Elkin explained:
“It’s really to capture the difference between what Christmas used to be, and what Christmas has become. People are going to take what they want from the photos that we take anyway, we’re there just to document, we're not there to comment.”
Over the past 20 or 30 years, there’s been a a creeping - perhaps, rampant - commercialisation of Christmas. This is a chance to document what 2009 is like in the centre of Belfast, leaving a record behind for social historians in years to come to examine.
Over that time there’s also been an increasing disapproval of street photography, with security concerns being cited. Anyone participating should remember that it’s rarely an offence to take a photograph in a public place (ie, on a pavement or street) and that permission does not have to be sought from people or buildings being captured - though you may feel it’s polite to ask! If you’re inside a shop, shopping centre, or even the grounds of Belfast City Hall, then the owners are free to impose restrictions. You shouldn’t take this as formal legal advice … though a printout of the handy UK Photogtraphers Rights pamphlet should fit snugly in your camera bag.