Director of Belfast Photo Festival
The best time to get up at the weekend is…
Somewhere between 10am and 11am. I like to get a bit of a lie in over the weekend after the ‘busyness’ of managing the festival during the week. We’re now in our 10th year and I’ve definitely gotten better at switching off from work mode at the weekend.
Breakfast or brunch? What would you have?
It’s got to be brunch. It fits really well with my schedule. I get up after breakfast-time and I’m out and about before lunch, so brunch offers the best of both. I’m spoiled for choice with so many great eateries right on my doorstep; General Merchants being a personal favourite. I do a lot of travelling around the city, seeking out interesting and unique spaces to exhibit works, so I’m always stopping into local cafes. Brunch is my litmus test!
Are you a weekend cleaner?
Sunday for cleaning and tending to the plants, if I remember (poor things). I house share with two others and I’m very keen on recycling so on a Sunday I sort through the mound of recyclables — glass, plastics, organics — that has amassed during the week. Seeing the waste we generate is one of the reasons we’re exploring issues such as climate change in the festival this year.
What does an ideal Saturday look like?
If the weather is on my side, I’d go for a cycle. I’m often found on the Comber Greenway on the bike. If I was making a day of it, I’d maybe cycle to Holywood, visit The Dirty Duck and enjoy a beer and some crab claws. A stroll along Seapark too for good measure.
When we’re in festival season, an ideal Saturday is doing the rounds to see visitors engaging with the exhibitions. On those days I get to meet people from all over the world. We present a diverse international programme, so it’s always a bonus if I can direct them to an exhibition relating to their home or culture.
Do you prefer to be indoors or outdoors?
As a photographer I’m very into my lighting. I love being indoors at night, setting the lighting to create a calm, peaceful ambience. During the day I prefer to be outdoors, unless it’s raining. In that case, indoors. Always.
How have weekends changed as you have gotten older?
I’ve started to have my weekends again. During the early years of the festival, I found myself working a lot of weekends, but as it has grown, I’ve reclaimed Saturday and Sunday for myself, friends and family. Pre-Covid, I spent a lot of time travelling around the world researching. As restrictions ease, I’m reconnecting with people.
If you could eat out anywhere in NI tonight, where would you go and why?
It would have to be The Muddlers Club. I’ve eaten many great meals in many great restaurants — and we’re spoiled for choice in Belfast — but consistency is key, and I’ve never had a meal from Muddlers that was anything short of superb.
And you’d have…
Definitely the taster menu. When your meal is being prepared by some of the best, I highly encourage you to let the chef decide.
At weekends you’ll always make time to…
Sunday from 6pm will always be sacred family time. I’m so focused on work on weekdays that by the time the weekend comes around family and friends often remark that I’ve emerged from my cave.
Do you sometimes work at weekends?
I try not to, unless it’s research related. Belfast Photo Festival has a local presence, but an international reach. Every year we present some of the best contemporary photography from artists around the world and our open submission contest attracts tens of thousands of entries. When we can travel again I’m looking forward to visiting other countries and international festivals to find the best works to bring back to Belfast.
Who would you most like to go for a drink with and why?
It depends on where we’re having the drink, really. If we’re pulling up a stool to have a pint in a quiet bar, I want someone that can hold a conversation, a deep thinker. If we’re heading somewhere a bit more lively, then I want someone with energy.
I would have loved to have met Stanley Kubrick to try and better understand the man and his films. His filmography is genre-defining, but first and foremost he was a photographer, so we have that in common.
If it’s dinner time and you’re staying in — what are you ordering from the takeaway?
Falafel is my go-to order. I eat takeaway every day so it doesn’t have the same sense of occasion it might for someone that orders in as a treat. I do try mix it up though to balance my diet with healthier options like sushi and salads.
You’re at home — what films are you watching and why?
I really enjoy films related to space. It’s uncharted territory and a topic that interests me. I’m fascinated by the unknown and it’s a great leveller. It’s one of my personal interests that has found its way into the festival through our theme of ‘Future(s)’. Even when I’m watching films, I’m researching for our Capture Conference which focuses on the power of photography and its role in the creative industries.
What TV programmes are on the menu?
I prefer historical TV shows. A recent favourite would be Roman Empire on Netflix. I studied history so have an appreciation of it and seek to understand its influence on the present. I also enjoy anime because I love Japanese culture. We always have a very strong Japanese presence in the festival. The largest installation in the festival this year is a building wrap over Carroll’s Irish giftshop in Belfast by Japanese artist Kensuke Koike.
What are you reading?
I’m fascinated by physics and its future. I’ve reads numerous books by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku on the topic. I’m currently reading Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari, the follow-up to their book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
I’m a bit of a night owl and bedtime can be into the small hours. A nightcap — Cosmopolitan — and some time to decompress with my cat Suki, after a long day, is ideal.