Community partnership exhibition, Belfast Room.

Over the past year, Intercomm has been delivering the Equip Culture + Arts programme in Carrickfergus and Larne. As part of the programme, it has worked with local groups and organisations on different cultural projects relating to communities across the area.  

To the Beat of the Drum has worked with young people in 5 marching bands from the towns, bringing them together with London-based photographer, Gareth McConnell, who has created a striking and unique set of images and video installation.

Gareth McConnell is a photographer and publisher living in London. He is the founder and Editor in Chief of SORIKA, an ongoing collaborative art project. He co-curated Smiler: Photographs of London by Mark Cawson at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 2015. His work is the subject of seven monographs and is held in art collections including UBS, British Council and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He is a long-term contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Dazed & Confused and AnOther Magazine.

The project has been supported by the Executive Office's Communities in Transition project. Intercomm would like to thank Ulster Grenadiers Flute Band, Carrickfergus Defenders Flute Band, Pride of Greenisland Flute Band, Constable Anderson Memorial Flute Band and Clyde Valley Flute Band. 

Sean O’Hagan feature writer for The Guardian and The Observer:

"In late March 2021, Gareth McConnell returned to Northern Ireland to shoot a series of portraits of young people in his home town, Carrickfergus and nearby Larne. The subjects aged between 7 and 26, were all members of local marching bands. His aim was “to transcend the cliched depictions of young people from Protestant working class communities by suggesting the more primal instincts underlying these communal rituals.” The resulting portraits bear his unmistakeable imprint, their vivid colour tones, atmospheric lighting and sometimes blurred outlines creating a sense of everyday otherworldliness. 

McConnell grew up in Woodburn, Carrickfergus close to the North Road area, where the majority of images were created in the local Glasgow Rangers FC supporters’ club. His instinct was to create single rather than group portraits, at once undercutting the communal spirit of brash confidence and swagger that Orange marching bands often exude. Instead, his young subjects’ engagement with the camera is tentative, uncertain. Bathed in soft light and colour, they stare enquiringly into its lens or off into the distance as if distracted. 

The performative aspect of the band ritual is muted, made almost dreamlike, whether in single portraits of young musicians with their instruments or in the mesmeric slow motion video loop of a boy beating a drum. Unmoored from their communal context, the band members exude a vulnerability not usually synonymous with Northern Ireland’s often strident marching rituals. 

McConnell’s heightened portraits are quietly subversive in their merging of the intimate and the imaginative, and their challenging of traditional representations of their subjects. While highlighting the instilled loyalties that are particular to working class Protestant culture in Northern Ireland, they also reflect a youthful need to belong – and to conform – that is universal."