Review of the Short Strand by Gilles Peress
The Short Strand lies in East Belfast, across the bridge; the only Catholic enclave in a sea of Protestant neighbourhoods. It is like an island or a prison, depending on the mood you are in. At the end of the day, the Short Strand is like a compound made up of giant extended families living altogether, surrounded by its historical tribal enemies: guarded, patrolled, searched and arrested by its warden, the British Army (this relentlessness is enough to sharpen your alertness). Add to this the tantalising, jeering, beatings, and sometimes assassinations by the surrounding loyalists. As a result, the Short Strand is the most tightly knit community in Western Europe: not only everybody knows everybody, but everybody knows what everybody is doing, there are no secrets.
It is like no other place on Earth, it is special, unique. And yet in more ways than one, this community, this extended family instead of weighing heavily on the individuals to conform to a norm, has learned an air of tolerance to individual idiosyncrasies.
So each of the inhabitants of the Short Strand are very, but very much themselves, free individuals expanding their wings. They are tolerated, accepted, and cherished for who they are: special, each in his own way. And when they gather, like for the annual fancy dress party during the summer festival, it makes for an explosively hilarious, warm, funny, crazy fiesta. I have long maintained that the fancy dress party at the L.E.S.A. social club was the best party in Europe, exemplifying the true essence of the ‘craic’.
Actually the social life in the Short Strand has been until now one of the best in the world. All of us who have lived in or visited the Short Strand remember Kelly’s Bar, now gone, and its amazing collection of found objects hanging from the ceiling. Browned by the gooey substract from decades of tobacco smoke, laden with sweat, a patina no artist in this world could have matched.
Besides a Leica camera, it was with warmth and humour that Frankie set out to document the Short Strand. He did it with great sincerity, with great photographic skill and they have accepted him and his passion for photography, not only because he is one of them, but because they have a serious tendency to accept with an open heart anyone who is not trying harm them. A warm love comes from the knowledge of this womb that is the Short Strand. This is what Frankie is describing here so brilliantly. The womb with all its idiosyncratic children, free birds in a cage, but free because they are accepted fully for who they are.
Thank you Frankie for the most wonderful family album.
New York, March 1997.