Moving pictures

Another Dock-related great day out: there’s a brilliant exhibition in grounds of the City Hall at the moment, showcasing the photography of Robert Welch.

Robert Welch is one of the great unsung heroes of the Titanic story.  He was employed by Harland and Wolff to take a photographic record of every ship built in the Belfast docks – which he did with flair, style and a brilliant eye for a well-composed shot.  Most of his photographs – and the ships they captured – are now forgotten, but the photos he took of Titanic under construction, although of course he wouldn’t have known it at the time, have been reprinted, pored-over and used to illustrate countless Titanic stories.

If you’ve ever seen a black-and-white photo of Titanic in Belfast, the chances are that Robert Welch was the photographer (and you can quite often see the ‘RW’ stencilled in to the corner of the print).  His shots of men at work in the shadow of gigantic propellers, or hanging precariously off the spiderweb of scaffolding surrounding the ship, deserve to be up there with iconic photos like the lunchbreak on the gantry of the Empire State Building. They’re a tremendous record of an almost unrecognisable Belfast, swarming with industry and pumping out ships which were the envy of the world.  One of his most famous shots shows the Queens Road heaving with thousands of dock workers heading home after a hard day’s work with a shadowy half-built Titanic looming over the scene in the background; a ‘moving picture’ indeed.

Some of Robert Welch’s photos are now getting the attention they deserve, blown up onto huge open-air display boards around the grounds of the City Hall.  In the sunshine today, with people picnicking on the grass and admiring the exhibition, it all felt very continental and cosmopolitan.  The exhibition only lasts till the end of April so it’s well worth making the time for a visit!