Artist, 73, revisits zoo photos which helped to launch his career

Photographer Victor Sloan
Photographer Victor Sloan

Victor Sloan has a gift for being in the right place at the right time ... or at least through his striking photographic images he makes it look that way.

Victor, who was born in Dungannon and is now based in Portadown, started out as an abstract painter.

One of Victor's iconic images taken during a visit to Belfast Zoo in the 1980s

One of Victor's iconic images taken during a visit to Belfast Zoo in the 1980s

In 1969, at the age of 24 he became a lecturer at Lurgan Tech, a school he served for more than 40 years.

He always had an interest in photography, but said that back in the sixties it was not recognised as an art form.

Now 73 – having transfixed art critics around the world with his works commenting on political, social and cultural aspects of Northern Ireland – Victor is one of the Province’s most important visual artists.

Not only are Victor’s original compositions a thing of beauty, but his additions to those photos by way of dye, paint and bleach elevate them further in almost every instance.

He recalled: “At home underneath the stairs I set up my own darkroom when I was 12 or 13. My mother was a fantastic photographer. Anyone who came to the house she would photograph them.

“Back then most families would have bought a film, maybe a 36 exposure, and it would have done Christmas, Easter, a birthday, a Christening, maybe a whole year before you took it to be developed. You had to really consider everything you took.

“Now you can take as many photos as you like on your phone and most never get looked at. They never get printed.”

Of his own knack for finding the perfect image, he said: “When you start out things like lighting, angles, composition go through your mind, but as the years go on it becomes second nature and you don’t think about it.”

His painting background encouraged him to supplement his photos: “I ended up with a technique of doing black and white photographs and putting dyes and bleaches and paint on them so the photographs became more like a painting.”

One of Victor’s most iconic works of art will be available as a limited edition reproduction on Thursday, December 6 at Belfast Exposed Gallery from 7pm to 9pm.

Fifty signed prints will be for sale of an image taken during a visit to Belfast Zoo in 1983 of a chimpanzee trapped behind a pane of scratched, scarred and battered perspex, its surface smeared with ice cream and marked by graffiti.

Victor recalled: “When I looked at my negatives it looked like there was nothing there.

“The flash had reflected off the perspex and everything else looked black.

“I nearly threw them away, but thankfully I didn’t. When I started to work at them these images came through. There’s a bit of magic to them.

“The chimpanzees are haunting, trapped. At that time the zoo was not a happy place to visit.”