The use of the community in identifying key information is a step in a different direction compared to how other established archives acquire their information. In many archives, they rely on the ‘professional’ researchers to . However in this situation the community who are integral to the creation of the work are valued in how the work is informed. What the professional does have, is their experience of an academic environment who have been trained in the process of documenting and studying social events and so this relationship extends the knowledge available in the archive.

One of the many interesting aspects pertaining to Belfast Exposed is the use of an archive and its inclusion of community. The community here is encouraged to assist in the identification of images by providing any information about the images; from dates, locations and where possible names of the people captured in the photograph. This archive is very much community driven whilst being overseen and moderated by Belfast Exposed. The photographs present in the archive have also been accumulated from a community of photographers living in Belfast.

The Belfast Exposed Archive consists of almost 2,000 digitalised images that are available to view on-site, with a smaller selection available directly through their website. Our interest in exploring the archive was to determine how or if the notion of queerness was represented. One of the challenges in interrogating any digital photographic archive is that the route to entry is through metadata, this metadata is usually assigned to images when the database is being initially compiled and is limited by the archivists prediction of possible database usage scenarios.  The database also provides the opportunity to supplement the metadata through ongoing keywording or tagging. Belfast Exposed have enhanced the richness of their archive by inviting members of the public, who may be more familiar with the image subject matter, to add metadata tags or keywords as they deem appropriate.

Tag Cloud from Blefast Exposed Website
Tag Cloud from Belfast Exposed Website

Our initial experience with the keywords used in the database left us with the impression that the vocabulary used related primarily to the conflict experienced by the Belfast community during the Troubles. This is not surprising considering the original motivation for starting the archive, however, it indicates the limitations of the archive when searching for material related to specific interest groups. It presents a particular problem when researching invisible or partially hidden communities. Although (Kitchin, 2002) remarks “gay life in Belfast was severely limited. This is not to say that subcultures and networks did not exist, but that they were highly hidden from view and strongly policed by state and wider society”. This is beginning to change, however, with Queen’s University planning to undertake significant ‘queer’ research within and through Belfast Exposed.