Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

23 October 2003 Edition

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Poignant shots from a war zone


A relative is pictured at the 1993 funeral of two Catholic workers shot dead by loyalists

Poignant shots from a war zone

Eyewitness Four Decades of Northern Life

By Brendan Murphy with text by Séamus Kelters

O'Brien Press

€42/£30 (hardback)

Brendan Murphy's book, Eyewitness Four Decades of Northern Life, bears witness to the last four decades of life in the North.

It shows us the human cost of 35 years of conflict but this is not just a 'Troubles' book. Nor is it just a 'book of photographs'. It is map of the North, outlining the highs and lows of life here.

What is evident from this book is that Murphy, who retired last year as the picture editor of the Irish News, used his camera to tell people's stories; his humanity infuses his work. Each chapter has an introduction provided by former Irish News journalist Séamus Kelters: "I've been to too many funerals."

Like all photojournalists, Murphy was always looking out for the best shot and it would be fair to say that in more cases than not he got the best shot. Sometimes at press events Murphy would be seen stalking his subject, always searching out the different idea. But he never seemed to lose sight of the person or people he was photographing; whether it was their joy or in too many cases their grief, as they buried a loved one.

Another constant of the book is Murphy's honesty; his admission of alcoholism is courage indeed. As the owner of a bar in Albert Street off the Falls Road, he ended up drinking more of the profits than he should. On the advice of his doctor he got rid of the bar and went into photography.

I suppose one could quote the old cliché, 'and the rest is history'. In Brendan's case, however, the cliché would be changed to 'and the rest is about recording history'.

He was also honest about the scrapes he got himself into while covering events; such as the fear he felt caught in the middle of a gun battle involving the IRA on the one side and the British Army and loyalists on the other.

Murphy also raises the core question about the relationship the media has with those it is reporting on.

People want the media to record the events and issues they are involved in yet the lines of engagement between the two can sometimes become obscured.

People regard the media, particular photographers, as parasites when they get too close, seeing them as being concerned only about the image and not the event they are recording, especially if that event is a funeral.

What Brendan Murphy has shown is that a photographer can ask the question and answer it in the image he/she produces.

A photographer can tell someone's story without being exploitative and if that is the hallmark of a good photographer, then Brendan Murphy is a good photographer. This book attests to his skill at his craft and his honesty as a human being.

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