I am the only Reuters photographer in Ireland, so I cover everything from international sporting events, to the economic crisis, to civil unrest.
The annual Christmas portrait – that’s my earliest memory of photography. Growing up in the early eighties we didn’t have a lot of money and my parents would line us up on Christmas morning for a picture. Film was expensive to develop so they only took a couple of shots each year.
A family friend named Brendan Murphy, the then picture editor of the “Irish News”, was researching a book in Glens of Antrim where I lived. Brendan told me if I wanted to be a photographer I should ring him. The day after I got my GCSE results I called him and he told me to come in and start as an apprentice. I started right at the bottom, sweeping the floor in the dark room - probably quite a different experience from my colleagues who went to art college!
During my first weeks at the “Irish News” I got to go to riots and shootings but never unaccompanied, as I was only 16. After a year, Brendan gave me my first bit of responsibility - photographing the bottle of wine for the weekly wine column! Sounds easy, but Brendan was a hard taskmaster. I was sent back over and over again to retake the photo until he decided it was fit for publication. A lesson in patience!
One of my first solo assignments was the aftermath of the Omagh bombing. It was incredibly intense and the scale of the atrocity - 29 people died plus two unborn children - was hard to grasp. As a relative newcomer to the industry, I could see that even the older, hardened news photographers were deeply affected by what they were seeing. I took a simple black and white picture of a young boy at one of the funerals wiping away a tear. It was used as a wraparound in the paper I worked for and sparked a lot of debate and interest.
I enjoy anything where I am given a free reign to illustrate the subject matter. I enjoy the freedom and creativity.
I try to imagine what people will think in 20 years time when they look at my images. I want my pictures to still be relevant and stand the test of time.
Learning how to read situations and judge the mood of a crowd has been my biggest lesson. Covering civil unrest, it is vital to know when to take a step back or move into the middle of things.
I have great respect for my wife because she has to put up with the rollercoaster of emotions that is living with a photographer! Photography-wise, I have great admiration for my mentor Brendan Murphy. Some of the defining images of The Troubles in Northern Ireland are his.
I have realised that you don’t need to fly to exotic locations for months on end to find and take great pictures. Some of my favourite images have been taken within a few miles of my house. Pictures are all around us, every day, waiting to be photographed. We just need to open our eyes and minds to see them.