Whilst I can’t speak with any authority on what it was like for individual police officers at the time of the changeover from RUC to PSNI I think it’s safe to say that there was a certain amount of unease at the time and perhaps even an understandable level of resentment within the force. Change that comes from the exterior or from above tends to cause friction particularly in volatile situations. It can be seen to trample over tradition and individual circumstance and sacrifice for ‘the greater good.’ I wanted in a sense capture this anxiety in the non RUC/PSNI images chosen for this exhibition. In Fergus Jordan’s photographs there is a sense of foreboding. We may not be afraid of the dark but we don’t know who or what lurks in it. Of course in the Northern Irish dark streets there was always the potential of people lurking with ill intent but these photos portray a psychological dispossession of the known, the sure. They remind us of the loneliness and disconnect of Magritte’s Empire of Light (supposedly the influence for the visuals of The Exorcist, ironically a tale of possession). Jordan creates using darkness and light, a city and a future that overwhelms our notions of certainty. We don’t know what the next five minutes will bring never mind the coming years. There is now a psychological distance between what we are and what and where we could be. With their fences, darkened roads, steps to where (certainly not heaven) Jordan’s work though completed long after the transformation from RUC to PSNI seem to sum up the uncertainty that accompanied it.
Exhibiting along with Fergus Jordan is Brendan Murphy. Murphy was one of the most respected press photographers working during and after The Troubles and his images show in a strange way the certainty of the conflict. Murders and funerals were daily occurrences as was sectarian violence between the traditions. Unlike Jordan’s landscapes (where the menace is only implied) Murphy’s photos show the police force in conflict situations something that was a daily and expected occurrence. The RUC though thought to be closer to the Protestant/Unionist community than the Catholic/Nationalist were in a sense a community themselves with their own internal eco-system so when evolution was required of them it had the potential to cause psychological trauma. Methodologies of operation and ways of thinking had to be altered and the landscape of a (mostly) post conflict society had to be travailed. This it is to be imagined wouldn’t be easy for every member of the force, particularly perhaps long-serving officers.
Both photographers therefore though a generation apart operate in the Northern Irish landscape, a landscape where certainties, even though apparently set in stone are evolving as the world changes. The once hermeneutically sealed terrain is now opening to new cultures and philosophies which brings with it positivity and negativity, light and darkness, often both at once.
Curator Gregory McCartney