"I was born after the conflict, so my personal experience is not of war, but how people negotiate their lives through the aftermath of a civil war," says the Belfast-born photographer
From the dimly-lit back alleys of Belfast, right into the interiors of its inhabitants’ homes, Chad Alexander’s graduation project Entries takes us on a reflective journey through the streets where he grew up. The 27-year-old first picked up a camera after seeing an exhibition that combined scenes of the Northern Ireland conflict with vignettes of daily life; he has since been developing his own take on documentary photography at Belfast School of Art, from which he recently graduated.
Entries is a project that Alexander has been building up to over the course of his degree and is still ongoing. “It was work that I had always wanted to make, but until that point I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach it,” he explains. After spending a year abroad, studying on an Erasmus exchange programme at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, he felt an urgency to make work about his hometown.
“I’m very interested in the way that where one comes from often affects and shapes identity and existence, for better or worse,” says Alexander. “I’m also fascinated by the everyday and how people fill their time, how we choose – or often don’t have the chance to choose – how we lead our lives.”
Signalling a departure from his earlier work, which was often focused on his own family dynamics, Entries reaches out of his close surroundings and into the neighbourhoods and houses of others. “Initially it was more focused on repressive architecture and areas that have been disregarded, but since then the focus has shifted to the collective and individual lives that are led here,” he says.
The result is a collection of quiet landscapes, portraits and interiors of people’s homes and places that he knows intimately: a personal vision that bridges the past and present of a city indelibly marked by three decades of conflict. “Obviously Belfast has a notoriously well-known history and there has been much said of the time during The Troubles,” he says.
“However, I was born after the conflict, so my personal experience is not of war, but how people negotiate their lives through the aftermath of a civil war. Belfast’s history is inescapable, one is continuously reminded of it by its politics, segregated schools and communities, architecture and even painted kerbstones.”
Combining formal portraiture with hallucinatory double exposures, Alexander shot the project on a second-hand camera that turned out to be faulty. Embracing these elements of chance and unpredictability added a conceptual dimension to the work, allowing him to embed the fragmentation and violence of Northern Ireland’s recent past in the very form of the photographs.