mariusz smiejiek, runner up of the may 2017 edition

Scroll down to read the Project Statement and see the images.

A freelance Polish photojournalist and a proud father, Mariusz's work is dedicated to expose issues of post-conflict territories and societies. Mariusz lives in Belfast since 2010 and has been documenting a long term project about the transition and everyday life in Northern Ireland during the peace process. He was professionally trained as a photojournalist with the National Geographic in Poland.

His pictures were published in The British Journal of Photography, National Geographic, Time, BBC, The Guardian, Boston Review, Vision Project, Social, Open Democracy, and Foto Evidence, among many others.

Project Statement, The Bonfires of Belfast.

Although the conflict between Irish Catholics and British Protestants in Northern Ireland officially ended in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement, it – after nearly 20 years of this peace process – echoes back recurrently and significantly to this day. Even if the conflict’s amplitude has significantly weakened, it does continue to take a hard toll on the residents of the region. According to the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report of 2016, manifestations of paramilitary activity over the past 10 years (2006-2015) encompass: over 1,000 shootings and bombings; 22 paramilitary murders; nearly 800 punishment-style attacks; and 4,000 cases of people being forced out of their homes. Confiscated were 849 firearms and 495 kgs of explosives. According to PSNI statistics, the number of bombing incidents across the Northern Ireland increased by 44% last year, police are dealing with one bomb attack a week.

With time Belfast city center has taken on the look of most developing European capitals in which new office or university buildings lift the skyline and the urban horizon thickens with cranes reaching for the clouds. Yet at the same time, annually and for many a decade now, in the months leading up to the 11 th of July, colossal towers of wooden pallets arise amidst the modern towers of steel. These are the Loyalist bonfire structures of the working class, erected to commemorate a British victory over the Irish – the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The date – especially the 11 th of July on the current calendar – is a crucial element in Protestant identity, anchoring a belonging to Great Britain. The turrets, often surpassing 40 meters in height, are set alight during a portentous celebration culminating at midnight on the 11 th into the 12 th of July. This often leads to additional tensions between the Protestants and Catholics during the summer “marching season” of British Orangemen parades crossing the whole of Northern Ireland, a time already exceptionally overwrought with apprehension. For that reason the towers are often torn down by Irish Republicans as part of a perpetual war without end.