Scott Gallagher captures Northern Eire's 100th birthday murals

"Filming in Northern Ireland, which has been between London and Belfast for a number of years, has always felt instinctual, ”says photographer Scott Gallagher. "I think if you move away from your hometown and go back, you will see the place differently and it is natural that you want to stand up for where you are from."

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Northern Ireland marks 100 years since Northern Ireland was founded when the six counties of Ulster joined the United Kingdom. In response, Gallagher wanted to offer a different perspective of the place he calls home. The result is symbols, a series of images that are captured the murals across Belfast that still "serve as one of the greatest political symbols in Europe and as a tribute to those killed in The Troubles".

All images: Symbols by Scott Gallagher

"People and portraits have always been my go-to, so it was kind of a liberation to photograph something without real people," says Gallagher. "I wanted to photograph Northern Ireland the way it is. No frills, just rooms I came across that define Ulster's identity. "

The most common symbols captured by the photographer are the red, white, and blue colors of the Union Jack, which Gallagher says are common in unionized parts of the country. “I wanted to show how dedicated some areas of the Union are, right down to their decoration choices,” he says.

Gallagher's starting point was research into the murals and their meaning last winter. After mapping locations, he toured Belfast with his camera and slowly put the series together.

“Northern Ireland is famous for its grayness. Whenever I got the pictures back from the laboratory, my favorite pictures were those in sunlight, ”says the photographer. “You were optimistic. So I had to be very patient for the sunlight to come. I also started shooting at the beginning of the third lockdown, so there was only a limited distance to where to shoot. "

The 100th anniversary is a full anniversary, and Gallagher says the churches in Northern Ireland are divided over its celebration. "They have union communities that want to celebrate because it's part of their heritage," explains the photographer. "Then you have Republican communities that don't believe Ireland should be split in two at all. And then there are communities that feel lost after Brexit and are abandoned by the British government."

Regardless of the background, Gallagher sees the centenary in giving the people of Northern Ireland an opportunity to reflect on the country's brief history and its progress since the problems. "I think it's also about saying we were here, where we are, and asking how we manage the future in ways that benefit everyone," he says. “Whether this is part of the UK or part of a new unified Ireland. After 100 years it is definitely an interesting arch. "

Symbols feel particularly timely across the country after Brexit and the recent riots in March and April. “I think after Brexit Northern Ireland felt like Britain had turned its back. Especially when it comes to controls as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol, ”explains Gallagher.

For the photographer, Symbols was about capturing the identity of Northern Ireland, which for Gallagher is a land between Great Britain and Ireland. "I think now it's about determining who really has the best interests of the country in their hearts," he says. "For me personally, it is a moment in time to document NI as it is and the places and spaces that make up the identity of the country."