Over the years people who have more interest than in just iPhone photography ask me how I started out. There are the obvious moments where I took the first step by buying a camera. Then there’s the less obvious. I’d bought the camera to photograph my graffiti on local tunnels and the general hip-hop scene in the 80’s. I can’t remember any of those images being ‘cool’ or ground breaking. Maybe if I can find them in the depths of my old darkroom back in the UK, I might find something. The pursuit of spray was discontinued by the influence of the boys in blue. Naturally, I grasped to the photography and at some time later when I was seventeen years old, I walked into Insight Photographers. It was a small group of well accomplished, award winning reportage photographers who worked out of their office on Coronet Street in Hoxton London. Check out the hair... Yikes.
There’s a part to my story that precedes those big steps into the world of photography. I’d like to go further back; back to recognizing my grandfather Nicholas McConville born 10th Dec. 1913. He grew up in Kilkeel, Co Down, a small town which once boasted the largest fishing fleet in Ireland. Grandad was a barber, just like his father. To boost his income he was also the local town photographer. He had a wife and four kids to support. It’s said he was one of the first news photographers in County Down and surely the first person to influence my path to being a photographer.
The rest of the story is a little cloudy. I’ve asked family about the finer details of Grandad being a photographer. When he started, the equipment he used? No one’s quite sure. I know he shot passport images in his little studio at the back of the barbershop. The rest of what I know is from what I witnessed while I was growing up, hanging out with him. As a family, we visited my grandparents once or twice a year during the school holidays. When Grandad wasn’t snipping away at the heads of the town’s gents, he would take me on his assignments for the Belfast Telegraph and the Mourne Observer. These commissions were to photograph the usual activities of a small town such as weddings, Golf tournament winners, the town show, a large catch of fish at the harbor. However, most of what I find interesting seemed to have happened before I was born. I say that because I found these glass plates in his loft shortly before he died. Grandad made his own plates, mixing up the orthochromatic material, painting the mixture onto little 3x4 glass plates. Apparently there were hundreds. Unfortunately, many had been damaged by damp or just thrown out not realizing the historic value, even if was just for this small towns records.
Once I began showing an interest in photography Grandad advised me that I should only do it as a hobby. I guess It’s been a full time hobby ever since.