Shooting the Darkness

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(452)

This book of photographs is linked to a documentary of the same name. It tells some of the stories of the Troubles in Northern Ireland using the photographs and memories of seven photographers: Stanley Matchett, Trevor Dickson, Alan Lewis, Martin Nangle, Crispin Rodwell and Paul Faith.

They each have their own chapter where they explain something of their own professional lives before providing a commentary on their photographs, which span from the 1960s until the early noughties.

Tom Burke, the film director, explains in the introduction that some of the photographs are pre-the Troubles: “These local photographers…unwittingly became war correspondents…the war began around them. They were working the streets of their own home towns.”

Some of the photographs are among the most famous from the Troubles, such as Matchett’s haunting series of 17 year old Jackie Duddy being carried by Father Edward Daly, who is waving a white handkerchief, after Duddy had been fatally wounded during the Bloody Sunday killings by the British army on 30 January 1972.

From these extraordinary black and white and colour photographs of funerals, bombings, shootings, riots and their aftermath the huge personal cost of the Troubles is revealed: a seven year old boy framed by pallbearers sobbing behind his dad’s coffin; a woman clasping her hands as she prays over the covered body of a man shot dead while he washed his car; a police officer fighting with a man in a crowd as a dispute raged over the route of a funeral; and a young girl peering from her front door, marked with bullet holes.

This fascinating book works on a number of levels. For anyone interested in the period it acts as a partial but important record of the political developments, violence and suffering experienced during The Troubles. It’s also a great insight into the lives and experiences of photojournalists who have recorded times of great distress over a prolonged period and the impact it had on them.

Lewis comments that “I began to think that I’d almost lost my humanity”, and Rodwell reveals he covered 70 funerals in just one year during the period. The circumstances of how many of these photographs were captured and an insight into the techniques used would be of interest to other photographers.

The book is politically unaligned and Burke hopes that, in addition to the film, it will “further reveal the value of these photographers’ contributions to the historical record of Northern Ireland”.

Rightly the majority of the book is given over to the photographs, and having a basic knowledge of the chronology and politics of The Troubles beforehand made this a more enjoyable read for me.

I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the politics of this complex conflict and period, but it provides an excellent insight into the terrible human suffering endured during The Troubles, and of the role photojournalism played in shaping and sharing the details of the conflict around the world.