Produced over three years, John Duncan’s new series of photographs, Bonfires, documents a long-standing tradition of bonfire building by Protestant communities in Belfast. The bonfires are built in preparation for the annual 12 July celebrations, which commemorate the defeat of James Stuart at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Their imposing structures are a powerful provocation with which Protestant identity is asserted and a sense of solidarity and continuity is re-affirmed.
Duncan’s photographs frame and measure the structures against their various social settings, revealing both a sense of Belfast’s changing urban landscape and the deep divisions that, despite political progress, still affect Northern Ireland long after the ceasefires. The bonfires have recently been challenged from a number of quarters: from within the Protestant community for damage caused to property and surrounding areas; from developers who covet the wasteland they are built on and from environmentalists who express concerns about the pollution they cause. Seen against this backdrop of competing agendas, the bonfires come to express a form of resistance, and their building a kind of raw ingenuity.