The last time I was moved to tears by something beautiful was during a visit to a photography exhibition in an art gallery in the center of Belfast on a Sunday. I had been out the night before and was still in the same clothes and hung-over. I was feeling reckless, sort of mad fer it, which made for an unusually eventful day by my standards. It helped that I loved the outfit I was wearing. Before walking to the gallery I stopped at a cheap chain pub for a pint of lager. I sat by the windows onto the street and drank it while fiddling with my phone. In a wilfully dreamy, gawky way I became fixed on a man standing on the street a few feet from me. He was a wholesome well fed looking guy wearing an outdoor jacket and hiking shoes. He had thick freshly washed hair and a bit of a tan. He was leaning against a post and chewing gum with a reflective look on his face. He looked like he was waiting for something.
I spoke to him outside and it turned out he was waiting for a tour group. He was driving their coach and possibly also conducting the tour. I liked his functional look and tried to tell him so. “You’re so… unhip, I love it” was more or less what I said. I had meant something more like ‘you seem so resolutely unhip’, but I couldn’t find the words in the heat of the moment. “OK, that’s quite offensive” was his reply. He explained that they were his work clothes. The rest of the exchange was tense after that and I was also disappointed that he wasn’t who I imagined. I tried to back-peddle and talk to him about something else but it was a losing battle and he was soon replying to me with his head turned away, at which point I departed with a ‘Well, nice talking to you’.
I had decided on visiting the gallery not knowing what would be on. When I arrived I was happy to see that it was a photography exhibition- Northern Ireland: 30 years of photography. Typically, the photos were mostly of urban decay, violence and disadvantaged people looking miserable. Something had been done right though as I found myself in a trance in front of photo after photo. I hadn’t seen Northern Ireland in an ‘art photography’ light before. Here are some I managed to find online:
There was an impressive couple, in their early 40’s I’d say, wandering about. The man was a big tall formidable looking guy with a bald head and stubble, a bomber jacket… and wire framed spectacles. The woman had red in her hair and was wearing an overcoat and colourful Nike trainers. They were snorting and giggling at everything and I started to worry that I was one of the objects of their piss-taking. I was sure I heard them pass remark of some kind behind me. I became conscious of my outfit- my perfect little jeans and impractical green plimsolls. I entered another room and stopped in front of the first photo. The couple entered after me and the woman said ‘oh, I like that one’ as they passed.
The whole thing, real or imagined, started to piss me off. My buzz had been killed. I moved further into the room and on a walk from one wall to another I aimed myself directly at them. I kept my gaze on the floor and walked towards them with one foot in front of the other, as if I was walking along a plank leading to them. ‘Don’t fuck with me, I might surprise you’ was the message I hoped to convey. I raised my head when I’d reached a point pretty close to them, just before I changed direction. It wasn’t them but rather a different couple, with the woman wearing a similar dark coat. She looked puzzled. I wasn’t too embarrassed- I thought there was the possibility she had taken me for some free spirit and was impressed!
The tears, or welling up anyway, occurred just before all this, while I was still completely engrossed by the stuff on the walls. It was in front of this photo:
I was willing it a little bit. Full blown crying would have been a great release, but it didn’t come to that. I’m not sure how much credit I should give the photographer (Hannah Starkey) or myself as I welled up several times in front of Titanic on a hangover a month before!