Belfast Exposed Photography

Mervyn Smyth Community Engagement Manager at Belfast Exposed.

“Belfast Exposed has over 30 years’ experience delivering photography projects with communities across Northern Ireland. Whether building new skills or community capacity, we design our projects side by side with community partners to enable creativity and critical thinking, where the camera becomes a tool for driving and documenting change”. (Belfast Exposed,

An Introduction to Mervyn Smyth:

“I am the Community Engagement Manager at Belfast Exposed developing, designing and delivering Photograph workshops within a Socially Engaged Practice framework.

Over the past 5 years specializing on Mental Health as a method of distraction and disruption enable participants to engage with photography as a Therapeutic Practice. I am working at present with 3 groups from Statutory Forensic Mental Heath, taking the participants outside the institutional care environment to aid recovery and integrating one group into a mainstream  community workshop programmer with other individuals who have no mental heath issues, all pilot programme.

I have over 35 years experience as  photographer documenting the Troubles in Northern Ireland helping to build Belfast Exposed Archive to over 1 million images of both the Social and Political History of Northern Ireland.”

20181031_170620.jpgBlack and white blurred pic

This is a self portrait of the artist he says it shows how he feels we were given a quick background that one day he just said that’s it i have had enough and walked out of work he was having a break down when things got too much for him he used to bang his head of a wall to try and release the pressure and this picture portrays how he feels.

The series of photos was of a 2 year journey for this person from a hospital setting moving through the phases to supported living and shows the difference in the spaces.

Mervyn took his client out to different places and they got to photograph what they wanted  he has worked with people that have been in car crashes, have eating disorders, have experience repeated trauma in their jobs.

Mervyn got us to do an icebreaker exercise that he would facilitate with some groups.


  • Get into groups of 2 or 3 and find out 2 things from each other that you don’t know.
  • Take 2 photos that introduce that person from the information that you have gathered.
  • Join as one group and you have to introduce each other.

Me- i was photographed with another photo of birds on a cliff as this represent my link to nature and the fact that i like to be alone in nature and am happy in large spaces with no people around.

  • My other photo is of me sitting in a cardboard box pretending to paddle a boat this presents my love for sea kayaking and love of adventure.

Staci- photoed herself with the little man on the fire exit sign as she can’t sit still she has to be doing something if she is watching TV she is also doing something to keep her body entertained.

  • Her 2nd photo we took in a corner as static told us she doesn’t like to be in small spaces and does even like people talking about them as she start to feel restricted and finds in hard to breath.

Mary-  The 1 was of a ladder and Mary id afraid of heights.

  • 2nd is of Mary standing behind a pole you can see she is there but cant see her face this is because Mary just likes to chill out in the background.

What i found interesting as Mary told us that she doesn’t like to to be the center of attention and likes to stay in the background but when it came to introducing each other she done both me and Staci and just kept talking so maybe people fed back that it was out of their comfort zone using a camera I quite enjoyed it i liked having a camera in my hands as i usually use my phone as it is more portable for some places that I be.

We thought the ice breaker was about getting the photos but it was about communication and being with a group we talked and listened and we put our own interpretation of the person on them we chose the image to represent them we put what we thought about them into the photo could the person have done it differently most likely it was a good eye opener that we will have to refrain from doing this when we are taking groups for therapy all judgement will have to be left at the door.

Things that were mentioned about taking sessions with clients:-

  • You ask the questions.
  • Have good posture.
  • People that are silent can cause the most harm as they will take you off guard.
  • When asking questions they need to be open ended.
  • There will be a leader in every group address the leader and you have the rest of the group.
  • Be aware what you share you are the facilitator and do not need to disclose personal details to clients.

When Mervyn works with clients he has a disruption and distraction method.


“Disrupt” and “Distract” Techniques, by Mervyn Smyth, Belfast Exposed 

“We look at our thoughts and how we fall back into the same thoughts like railway tracks that take the train on the same journey over and over again without change without seeing new scenery on the journey”. Mervyn Smyth

“We explore how photographs evoke thoughts, why we keep photographs and the relationship we have with our photographs. As a photograph freezes a moment in time we can take time out of our busy mind to pause, freeze our mind in the moment to center ourselves. Perhaps as the photograph we have chosen centers us to a moment in time—or a place in our lives that brings meaning to us—we look at this”. Mervyn Smyth

This are coping mechanism for the person to overcome their feeling in that moment.

Images above or my example of a negative image and positive these would be different for every person

Disrupt a photo in folder this photo has been brought by the client it is usually up setting to them and carries a lot of meaning to them the person will look at this photos they will the close this folder and open the next.

Distract this is a positive photo that has been taken with Don they will go out together and take this photo it is positive. The person will look at this positive photo and if they need to go back to the other they can but they always have to come back to the positive and end on the positive image.

This is usually done when a client is not coping in a workshop they will be taken aside and sat with while they work through this process they are free to talk about it if they want and there is no time limit.


There is a physical process going on there of opening and closing. Closing and letting go and opening up the new door/ chapter.

Would i use this technique with a client yes if i felt it was appropriate and suitable for the client i would have to work closely with the client to make it would work but then on the other hand we would be doing art therapy and maybe a different option could arise that would be more beneficial to the client I can see the potential but also feel that with time i  will a bigger tool box of tasks to work with someone it really depends on the client and how they want to process there thought and feels. it is a coping strategy that could be used by them outside the therapy session but they would need someone there to support them encase it gets too much and to feel held and safe to look at what they are facing.


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