John White was born in the Ballymacarrett/Short Strand district in 1930. Before his death in 1992, he captured the dramatic changes in this small industrial enclave of Belfast. White’s photography is notable for revealing the everyday lives and practices of those with whom he lived and worked.
White began taking photographsof his young family and neighbours around Saul and Vulcan Streets in the early 1960s. Neighbours would often see him carrying both a still camera and an 8mm cine camera around the streets as he made a record of their daily minutiae. When the “Troubles” began again in the late 1960’s, John was there to capture the unfolding political situation. He photographed the barricades between the Falls and Shankill, the arrival of the British Army in August 1969, riots following internment in 1971 and the growing human toll in these early days of a conflict that was to last all too long. In his photographs, you can trace the changes in the very faces of his neighbours as the world around them became upturned. His work displays a keen eye for the “decisive moment” of humans interacting with one another — moments that reveal the fleeting and vulnerable instances of happiness, anxiety and sorrow.
White’s aesthetic was shaped by his own working-class background.
He was an active trade unionist and worked for the Transport & General Workers Union at their offices in Transport House in the city. Like most non-professional, working-class photographers, White used the income from weddings and portraits to supplement his appetite for documentary work. He left as his legacy over 2,000 negatives in both colour and monochrome.
White’s photographs are one of the finest examples of “community photography” anywhere in the world. They are important social, historical and artistic documents he left for future generations to learn from.
The following link is to a PDF file of the John White catalogue that accompanied an exhibition carried out by the project in late 2016. It showcases the restoration work carried out on Whites negatives.
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