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2023 in pictures: A snapshot of a volatile year

Laura Hutton, Dara MacDónaill, Alan Betson, Bryan O’Brien, Tom Honan, Nick Bradshaw and Brenda Fitzsimons share their favourite shots of the year

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Brenda Fitzsimons: ‘2023 at times had a fatalistic aura to it’

2023 was a volatile year which at times had a fatalistic aura to it with wars, earthquakes, storms, floods, and the tragic deaths of so many young people on our roads at home. Throughout the year, our photographers were out and about, documenting the highs and low of the news as it happened.

When rioters gathered on the streets of Dublin last month, it was disheartening to see our photojournalists and videographers harassed and intimidated. Some were filmed on mobile phones for circulation later on social media, accompanied by incendiary commentary.

This coarsening of debate, in addition to a general deepening of divisions by social media, has played a significant part in making the job of the photojournalist less safe today.

It has contributed greatly to the risks that go with these highly specialised jobs which have always meant that the person behind the camera must be close to the action.

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Within the pages of this magazine is a photograph that goes to the core of one of the stories of the year; the stabbings at Parnell Square and subsequent riots that evening.

Alan Betson’s picture of a father hugging his little daughter close to his chest on Parnell Square that day, powerfully illustrated the emotions of so many parents following the knife attack on small children emerging from school.

Another memorable photograph was Laura Hutton’s image of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee on walkabout in Dublin city centre last August. The Minister was attempting to show how safe the city centre was following an attack on American tourist Stephen Termini off Talbot Street. Her mission – ironically in the company of a Garda escort – was witnessed by the unimpressed, cigarette-smoking bystander in the doorway of a barber’s shop as she passed by.

On a similar theme of inner-city safety, Dara Mac Dónaill photographed Sarah Cullen and her friends in a relaxed moment during a protest at their vulnerable situation. Sarah Cullen is an older woman living in a senior citizens’ housing complex, where residents have been subjected to threats, intimidation, and antisocial behaviour.

Bryan O’Brien’s evocative photograph of Victor Edge (77) at his Fairview shop door marked the end of an era for a Dublin hardware business in October, which had been run by three generations of Edges. O’Brien’s video package tells the story. He is not the only one to feel a sadness at the shop’s closure, or “about the loss of yet another small family business from our streets”. Fairview’s loss is a loss for everyone who calls Dublin home.

In the midst of so much grit, a great photograph can lift spirits, as did Tom Maher’s photograph, above, of three-year-old Lucaz Adamus from Lucan, Co Dublin, with his cheeky grin at Leopardstown Races last February.

Nick Bradshaw’s full-on shot of a cormorant caught preening in the Grand Canal Dock in Dublin is a lesson in patience and awareness.

Bradshaw’s outstanding photo essay which featured some of the surviving 40 Irish people who were born with birth defects as a result of their mothers taking thalidomide during pregnancy, showcased with great dignity their individual personalities. His photo essay ran across several pages in the paper’s Saturday Magazine in print, and online.

Tom Honan’s standout portrait photograph of stylish Belfast hairdresser Paul Stafford on his way to a Dexy’s concert at Dublin’s 3Olympia Theatre is a masterclass in utilising available light and location.

Our cover photograph is a fiercely arresting image that represents in this one shot a much larger and more complex story: a man carrying an injured Palestinian child covered in dust and blood, after an air strike at Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City on October 31st.

Sadly, we would become far too familiar with similar images from the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

Farewell 2023. You won’t be missed.

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Alan Betson: ‘I escaped unscathed from the day, but many of my colleagues were assaulted’

Thursday, November 23rd was an ordinary Thursday until about 1.50pm. There was a phone call; children had been attacked by a person with a knife. Minutes later I was on Parnell Square trying to figure out what was happening. Distressed parents pleaded with gardaí to be allowed collect their children from school. The scale of the reaction indicated the severity of the situation: the entire street was filled with emergency response vehicles.

Other people verbally abused gardaí and threatened members of the media, and then members of the public order unit arrived to maintain the cordon. A nightmare scenario was unfolding.

EOY Mag Pics 2023

As a photojournalist this was a time for treading very carefully. Not knowing all the facts means one must assume the worst, but even this fell short of the events that unfolded. An overheard conversation led me to the back lane, where parents were finally getting to collect their children from school. For me another dilemma arose: how to capture the unfolding scene without intruding or inflaming a difficult situation. The fear among parents was palpable. Among the sea of faces my eyes connected with those of one dad. He was holding his daughter high, squeezing, hugging and reassuring while at the same time barely holding back the tears and shielding her from his fear. He mentioned one word as he passed me “Relieved!”.

I met him minutes later on another street: his daughter was now safely delivered from harm, and he was okay with pictures.

As we all know now it spiralled into chaos from here. Strangely, the rioting was taking place in the same location as the 2006 Love Ulster riot, the last riot I covered, only this time it was in the darkness of night and the threat to media was greater. There was something very unsettling about the thud of bus and Luas windows shattering repeatedly, yet the burning wheels of the O’Connell Bridge bus exploding thunderously seemed only to excite a baying crowd. A brief face-to- face encounter with a rioter who had his face painted in distinct lines for anti-facial recognition made me realise just how prepared some of them really were. I escaped unscathed from the day, but many of my colleagues were assaulted.

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Bryan O’Brien: ‘I spent two hours in Edge’s shop and didn’t want to leave’

Edge’s hardware shop in Dublin – a much-loved fixture of Fairview – closed its doors to the public in October. The shop had passed down three generations of the Edge family. It closed when Victor Edge, grandson of original owner Elias, retired at the age of 77, more than six decades since he joined his father, Victor Snr, to work full time in the business.

After Victor announced his plans to retire I visited him early one morning in late summer, to shoot a video package and some photographs. I had driven past the shop many times so it was a treat to finally venture inside the doors.

EOY Mag Pics 2023

It was the kind of hardware shop I grew up with and love: deceptively small from the outside, but opening to a huge interior packed with all sorts. Bright green and red watering cans hung from the ceiling like a contemporary art installation. Brushes and mops of every shape and size were stacked against a shelf laden with cleaning agents, cement bags, weedkiller, cutlery and paint cans. Victor was cutting keys when I arrived. I liked this gentle, soft-spoken man straight away, as well as his passion for the shop and its place in the community. We chatted as I photographed him. He was comfortable with the camera and as interested in speaking to me as I was to him: Where was I from? Did I like working in photography?

For him it was all about the customer, the engagement, the chat: “There’s children coming in to me now; I know their parents, their grandparents, and in an awful lot of cases I would know their great- grandparents as well. All the regulars I had all through the years: you couldn’t really call them customers any more, I call them friends.” Our filming stopped every few minutes as shoppers came and went. Victor greeted most by name and patiently helped them find whatever they needed for some DIY or home maintenance. Even though I hadn’t been a customer, I felt a sadness about its closure; about the loss of yet another small family business from our streets; the absence of another shopkeeper overseeing their locality from their shop doorway. I spent two hours in Edge’s shop and didn’t want to leave. Wishing you well in retirement, Victor.

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Dara Mac Dónaill: ‘The tenants of Robinson’s Court have endured threats, intimidation, demands for money and drug dealing’

For one brief moment Sarah Cullen looks happy and at ease as she leans her head on the shoulder of local shopkeeper Noel Fleming. He is holding a card with the words ‘S.O.S. – Save Our Sarah’. Noel had come out to join a small protest organised in support of the older residents of a senior citizens’ housing complex in Robinson’s Court, just off Cork Street in Dublin 8. Residents there were calling on Dublin City Council to install security gates.

For several years, the tenants of Robinson’s Court have endured threats, intimidation, demands for money and drug dealing in their small block.

EOY Mag Pics 2023

Over the past 17 years there have been three murders in the complex. Two years ago, 76-year-old Kwok Ping Cheng, known to his neighbours as George, was murdered with an axe. In 2016, 61-year-old Anthony Rogers, a wheelchair user, was found by neighbours with fatal stab wounds, and in 2006, Vincent Plunkett (80) was found with his throat slit in his flat in Robinson’s Court.

The week before this photograph was taken, Sarah had her door open to get some air. A man walked in and demanded money. She told him she had no money and to get away from the door and stay away. Sarah said she was terrified.

In this picture Sarah displays very different emotions; she is smiling, relaxed and at ease in the company of Noel, her local shopkeeper, and her neighbour Mary Byrne, with her dog Victor. After this photograph was taken they joined the protest group on Cork Street, where they held banners aloft. Passing motorists blew their car horns in support, while residents responded with waves and even broke into song, singing Molly Malone/In Dublin’s Fair City.

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Laura Hutton: ‘Politicians know that images have the power to make or break reputations’

Politicians know that images have the power to make or break reputations. Spontaneous moments, especially any that involve members of the public, are seen as potentially dangerous and are generally avoided if at all possible ... until the campaign trail. As such, all media engagements are now highly choreographed affairs, where capturing a real moment becomes the Holy Grail for a photojournalist.

Two days after American tourist Stephen Termini was assaulted just off Talbot Street in Dublin city centre, on July 19th, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee met senior gardaí in the area and gave a press conference at Store Street Garda station declaring that Dublin was a “safe city”. This was despite the American embassy having issued a warning to their citizens travelling here, advising them not to walk alone.

EOY Mag Pics 2023

The assembled press were made aware that the Minister would be walking past the scene of the attack, so we knew that would be the picture to get. It was a simple shot: shoot it on the long lens as they approached and drop to the wide angle lens as they got closer. The expectation was that the Minister would stop at the exact location of the assault and be talked through what happened by the gardaí, but they kept walking. I subscribe to the old adage, “I’d rather be lucky than good”, which was never truer than on this occasion. I got lucky that I swapped to the wide a few frames earlier than the other photographers and managed to capture a bystander in the doorway of a barber’s shop.

The reaction and body language of everyone in the frame became a talking point and the Minister was heavily criticised for the optics. The hypocrisy of receiving a garda escort on her way to tell the public they were safe to walk alone was not lost on the public and prompted dozens of angry emails to the Department of Justice

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Tom Honan: ‘The role of a press photographer is a privilege’

The role of a press photographer is a privilege as it gives you the freedom to strike up conversation with a complete stranger and take some wonderful photographs. Most people are delighted and will happily pose.

So while I was waiting to cover the Dexys concert at 3Olympia Theatre I noticed a very stylish man attending the concert. I could see he would make an excellent subject. I explained who I was and he was more than agreeable for me to take his portrait.

EOY Mag Pics 2023

Working fast is key in these situations, as is finding a good location. I noticed an alleyway that ran alongside the theatre and I could see it would catch a little more light and create an atmosphere.

The lights from a local shop lit the subject and the whole interaction took maybe five minutes. As I always do, I took his name and email address and promised to send a copy of the photo.

The wonderful gentleman was Belfast hairdresser Paul Stafford. He very kindly emailed me to thank me for his photo and the great memory of his evening at the Dexys concert.

Photos of 2023 - Irish Times Photographers for Feature display article

Nick Bradshaw: ‘I enjoy the days when I’m given the space to roam and see what the city may have in store for me’

Some days good news, some days bad: that’s the varied life of a press photographer. In fact, there are plenty of days when you deal with both. Just stopping and taking a beat allows you to recharge and re-energise yourself. I’m no nature photographer, but I do have an interest in the natural world, and enjoy the days when I’m given the space to roam and see what the city may have in store for me.

EOY Mag Pics 2023

I relish the chance to visit a few of the city’s nature hot spots: public parks, the canals, the docks, the Liffey or the banks of the Dodder all hold a remarkable amount of wildlife.

Time and patience are needed, but most important is probably awareness. This chap was caught mid-preening at Grand Canal Dock; it’s unusual to see a cormorant anything other than ready to fish. I found the image captivating, even amusing, as did my editor.