Another Year of Booze and Bruises at the Belfast Twelfth
July 12 is probably the biggest date in Northern Ireland’s political calendar. Each year, hundreds ofOrangemen and loyalist marching bands descend upon Belfast to parade around the city in commemoration of a Dutch Protestant defeating an English Catholic in a battle that took place over 300 years ago. As with everything that involves religion in Northern Ireland, the parade rout—and the Twelfth in general—is a deeply contentious issue. To the loyalists, it’s an important celebration of Protestant traditions; to the republicans it’s a bit like if the Afrikaans marched through the streets of Johannesburg celebrating apartheid.
The main parade travels from Belfast city center to a park on the outskirts of the city and back again. After that, various local bands split off into smaller parades to return to their respective communities. It is these return routes to the North and East of the city that have historically caused the most tension, as they involve the loyalist bands parading through republican areas. The largely republican Ardoyne district in the North has been a flashpoint for the past decade, with last year’s riots seeing police attacked with bricks, Molotov cocktails, and gunshots, leaving 20 officers injured.
Tensions have been running particularly high during the lead up to this year’s Twelfth. The Parades Commission, in an attempt to prevent a repeat of last year, banned the Orange Order from marching through Ardoyne after last-minute talks failed to produce a compromise. This is a huge source of contention for the loyalist community, who are already concerned about the “erosion of their culture” after the removal of the Union flag from City Hall last year and the ensuing riots.
Helpfully, the republican community has also been enraged recently, after a republican protest against the Orange Order’s Tour of the North resulted in Sinn Fein MLA Gerry Kelly being taken for a ride on the hood of a police Land Rover. Northern Ireland Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin was hospitalized after trying to come to the aid of her colleague.
So, with both sides on the verge of a fight and the PSNI more tooled up than they’ve ever been following last month’s G8 conference, I went to Belfast to see if everyone couldn’t just put centuries of animosity aside and get along.
Bands from all over Northern Ireland and Scotland assembled at Belfast City Hall, while a short service took place at the city’s war memorial. Once that was finished, it was time to begin the march.
The morning parade was very family-orientated; the streets were lined with people in deck chairs, nobody was drinking, and this guy went around handing out Union flags to children, like a chuckling loyalist Santa Claus.
As the parade moved along its designated route, things grew increasingly raucous. I met these two, who had come over from Scotland. I asked Cook, the one on the right, why the Twelfth was so important to him. “I’m just over for a party with my pals, really, that’s about it,” he said, working his way through a bottle of Buckfast at 11 AM.
After a two-hour march in the July heat everyone was pretty exhausted, so it was time for a rest on the grass. On the stage, various Orange Order officials gave speeches about the importance of the event, but most people seemed more interested in sunbathing than hearing about how great William of Orange was.
Which isn’t that surprising, I guess, given they’ve probably been hearing the same speech over and over since they were kids.
After exploring the park a bit more it became clear the Orangefest crowd was made up of two distinct factions. On the one side, you had the Presbyterian types who set up marquees and bunting and gave off a sort of Jubilee garden party vibe.
And the second was the younger crowd, who took their shirts off, got their faces painted, and gave off more of a Gathering of the Juggalos vibe. Like this guy, whose Buckfast and Carlsberg with a vodka-based chaser made me think he probably wasn’t an expert on the Twelfth.
There’s More to Stuart Franklin Than the Most Famous Photo of the 20th Century
Magnum is probably the most famous photo agency in the world. Even if you haven’t heard of it, chances are you’re familiar with its images, be they Robert Capa’s coverage of the Spanish Civil War or Martin Parr’s very British holiday-scapes. Unlike most agencies, Magnum’s members are selected by the other photographers on the agency, so becoming a member is a pretty grueling process. As part of an ongoing partnership with Magnum, we will be profiling some of their photographers over the coming weeks.
One-time Magnum president Stuart Franklin is probably best known for his photo of an average-looking man with some groceries defying a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. Yet, as I discovered when I spoke with Stuart, that photo was not the instant sensation people might expect it to be. He talked me through art school’s effect on his work, the difference between approach and style, what “news photography” really means, and getting caught up in the Heysel Stadium disaster.
VICE: Unlike some of the people we have spoken to in this series, you were classically trained in the arts.
Stuart Franklin: I studied drawing, painting, and photography on a degree course at what used to be called the West Surrey College of Art and Design.
Do you think that influenced the way you work?
In terms of photography, it gave me a better sense of lighting and urged me to not be afraid of anything—formats or technical hurdles. On the postproduction side, I was able to go straight into setting up my own darkroom in London, processing my films and functioning as an editorial photographer, which was quite useful.
Manchester, England. Moss Side Estate. 1986.
I feel that maybe your styles and subjects have been more varied compared to those of most other photographers. Do you attribute that at all to your lack of concern about formats and techniques?
I believe there are two things to consider: one is style and the other is approach. I think the approach I take to photography is quite consistent across the board. It’s a considered, gentle approach that I have to working in almost any context. The tools that I pack in my bag to take on different assignments or projects vary enormously. They become a localized and temporary style, but I think that underneath everything there is the thumping bassline of the work, which is about my approach attempting to be quite graceful, to be quiet. The tools are whatever I pick up on the day—it could be a pencil, it could be a camera.
You became well-known after covering the famine in the Sahel in the mid-1980s, directly after you studied art. How did you transition into photojournalism?
In the beginning of the 1980s, I did a lot of work in Mexico City, supported by the Telegraph Magazine. I also did lots of work in the north of England looking at the decline of the manufacturing industry, as well as similar stuff in France, the Pas-de-Calais and areas around Metz. Those were my early bits of work. I joined Sigma in 1980, and over a period of five years they mainly sent me to cover breaking news. The first major story I covered was the 1983 bombing of the US barracks in Beirut, where I think 285 US soldiers were killed. [It was 241; a further 58 French servicemen were killed in a separate blast nearby two minutes later. Six civilians and the two bombers also lost their lives.] I covered the civil war in Lebanon in a wider context, too—those things all happened before I went to Sahel to cover the famine.
Beirut, Lebanon. 1983. American soldiers sift through rubble in the aftermath of a devastating truck bomb in Beirut.
How did those early assignments compare to the expectations you had? Was photography as a job something of a shock?
I remember one of the first assignments I had with Sigma was the IRA bombings in Hyde and Regent’s Parks in 1982, down near Horse Guards. Sigma rang from Paris and asked me to go and cover it. I got there to see police tape, miles from what had happened. I couldn’t really see anything, so I went back home. They rang me later furiously asking what I had got. I told them that it didn’t look very interesting. I learned then that, in a news situation, anything visual is valuable—even if it’s only a photo of the police tape with something blurry in the background a mile away.
The materiality of any war or news story overrode the aesthetic potential for a while, and that was quite a shock to me. I was expecting to make powerful, striking photographs and often I was actually just expected to photograph anything I could.
On the subject of striking photos, I was wondering about your photo of the man in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. First off, do you ever feel that one image overshadowed the rest of the work you did during the student protests there?
Well, it didn’t actually happen that way. When I got back from China, I went into Michael Rand’s office at theSunday Times Magazine. He was laying out one of my photos on the cover of the magazine, but it was another of the photos from my trip —a topless guy with his arms raised. That became equally well known for a while. The “Tank Man” picture grew in importance over time, but it didn’t actually stand out far from the body of work immediately after the event.
But yes, in more recent years people talk about that photo a lot. Does it annoy me? Well, you can’t really be annoyed about it. I am just glad I was there. All I know is that I did my job and I think I did it well.
World Peace Update
Last week’s World Peace Update looked at the riots engulfing Slovenia, the trigger-happy Tunisian policemen who tried to blind the citizens of Siliana, and the looming possibility of Bashar al-Assad gassing what remains of his population to death with nerve agents. But Christmas is fast approaching, so the world should be gearing up to take a quick break from all the skull-crushing, right?
Not so fast, friends. While the Christmas cheer is gradually taking over my apartment and driving me mad every time I walk into any shop in central London, the loyalists in Belfast (yes, again), a few Bangladeshi politicians, and some Chilean pigs have been vying to take Scrooge’s crown as the biggest festive downer.
If you thought the spontaneous violence that took over Belfast last week (people got really angry at the prospect of flying the Union Jack at City Hall, remember?) was a one-off, then you were very wrong. Since last Monday, barricades have been set up sporadically across Belfast, followed by clashes between citizens and police, resulting in about 29 injured cops and 38 arrests. Friday saw the frenzy climaxing in a 200-strong crowd gathering near the city center to set up roadblocks and be chased by police. Cars were hijacked and set alight, causing the PSNI to deploy their water cannon to deal with the rioters.
However, the weekend was relatively quiet. I guess the loyalists needed to gather some strength before attacking that unmarked police car on Monday. (The policewoman inside the vehicle fortunately managed to escape unharmed.) The car in question was monitoring the office of Alliance Party MP Naomi Long, who, along with other Alliance members, has faced death threats for siding with left-wing party Sinn Fein in the vote to take down the flag. Politicians from both sides have been vocal about putting an end to the violence, but their calls have so far gone unheeded, with more protests set for the rest of the week. Merry fucking Christmas, Belfast.
This column has been running for 29 weeks, which is seemingly enough time to cover every single possible way people can fuck each other up. We’ve seen political parties being shut down, MTV parties being taken over by riots, strikes, revolutions, people fighting over soccer and fish… even milk being used as a weapon.
I figured I’d seen it all, but this week people from the city of Freirina, Chile fought over pig shit. Local residents fought police over the planned reopening of a pig processing plant (“processing” means systematic slaughter, btw) because of the smell that comes from hundreds of thousands of pigs wallowing in their own poop.
The government closed down the site in May after fears of a potential health risk but decided this week that all was safe now. Residents who didn’t want to be subjected to the smell once again came out in protest, blocked the roads, clashed with police, and launched raids against the plant’s guards with explosives. So I’m guessing the smell must be pretty bad.