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To the Beat of the Drum comprises photographs of youthful members of Northern Ireland’s militaristic, Protestant marching bands, who McConnell carefully situates under the trippy magic of his super-chromatic, hedonistic lighting. These photographs and their mood-altering colours are compelling visual studies of youth and social identity – McConnell gives strong emphasis to how identity is subject to the variable relationships of the individual and the group. The book is accompanied by an essay by Sean O’Hagan (first published in The Observer’s New Review, 2021).
Much of the youth identity seen in McConnell’s previous work relates to outsider or misfit groups, which McConnell has documented with high sensibility. These include rave and dance culture, using and recovering addicts, and the nature of the allegiances formed through musical identity. In an unexpected reframing of his interests, McConnell’s attention in To the Beat of the Drum gives attention to young people’s participation in the militaristic, culturally complex, power assertions of Northern Ireland’s working class culture, in this case a Protestant one. During Northern Ireland’s ‘marching season’ thousands of Protestant parades take place, whose controversial war drums and flutes announce Protestant loyalism’s celebration of the military victory of King William of Orange over Catholic King James II in 1690. Catholics have their own strong versions of power assertion, and both Protestants and Catholics may each be seen as simultaneously an insider and an outsider group, within the context of historical group relativities on the island of Ireland.
McConnell is from Northern Ireland, and his religion influenced background, in combination with his own outsider life experiences, qualify his contemplation of what insider and outsider status might mean. It seems that McConnell is observing the great paradox of the human experience as both individual and social. This has been addressed by many; Kierkegaard, William James, and syncretism, and includes some areas that might be called those of disorganised (as opposed to organised) religion. In this way McConnell honours ideas and thoughts about the nature of crowds and the individual, and offers hints of something more universal. This universal something seems to be beyond just a local imagination, and might even be blissful and transcendent.
Neal Brown, 2022
Published by Sorika
Edition of 750
220 x 280 mm