It is a sunny, blustery Easter Monday evening and I sit with Tom Doherty at the back of the house he and his wife Frances are restoring in Borrisoleigh. I have known Tom and his work for several years now, and this renovation project is very fitting, I feel, for someone who has spent the last thirty years as a social observer – documenting stories through images; capturing events; observing life in all its permutations. The house is a listed building, steeped in material culture and this project clearly is a labour of love. No one could be better equipped to document and participate in the work, using his artistic eye and his photographic skills, than Tom Doherty.
Tom is member of the IPPVA – Irish Professional Photographers and Videographers Association. This is the governing body of professional photographers in Ireland and all those who are members are qualified registered and insured.
Tom explains to become a member you have to submit a panel of your work to be assessed – the photographer’s control of light and ability to focus the lens etc, among many other details, would have to be deemed of an acceptable high quality to be admitted as a member. This puts you on the first rung of the ladder, as it were, within the Association which is called your Licentiateship. Next then is the Associateship where a photographer would have proven him or herself to have achieved a higher level of professionalism. Finally then is the Fellowship which is the highest level you can go in the Association in Ireland.
Tom achieved his Fellowship from the Association in 2011. He did a series of photographs documenting the interiors on derelict houses in Tipperary primarily but also some in Italy where he regularly visits. These images were not staged in any way. Tom photographed what he found in the houses. The opening image above of the Sweet Afton cigarette box with a note hand written on it, is an excellent example from this series, as is the image below, taken from a house Tom lived in as a child after his Mother died. The rawness of life is captured on a dusty derelict floor – work, symbolized by the jeans; romance by the Mills and Boon novel, and the violence that sometimes sadly exists around us, by a child’s toy red gun.
Tom’s level of skill has also gained him Fellowship with the MPA (Master Photographers Association) in Britain and he is also a member of the Federation of European Photographers (FEP) and qualified for their European photographer award in 2011. Recently he was made one of their International Jury, a tremendous acknowledgement and recognition of the quality of Tom’s work over the years.
Tom grew up in Knockeen, one of seven children, he was the second oldest. Tragedy struck early in his life when his Mother died when he was only seven years old. Tom and his siblings were sent to live with different Aunts and Uncles so the family were split up at this difficult time. A few years later Tom’s Father remarried and Tom and 3 of his brothers eventually returned to live with their Father and step mother at Moykarkey, Thurles.
He attended the Vocational School in Thurles and was fortunate to have one very inspirational teacher there – Paul Reilly, who taught Tom art. Paul later went on to work in curatorship in Limerick. It never occurred to Tom to pursue an artistic career though he did well in honours art for his Leaving Certificate. He tells me ‘back in Ireland, in those days, a career in arts wasn’t a viable option’.
So after leaving school Tom got an apprenticeship as a refrigeration engineer in Thurles. Hard times were looming economically in the 1980s and people were losing jobs, so when Tom was made redundant he found another job in the same line of work, in Bailieborough Co. Cavan – servicing and installing agricultural refrigeration equipment for farmers.
He started to do photography as a hobby for his own enjoyment at this time.
Time in Co. Cavan
A job was advertised in the Cavan Leader for a press photographer and the owner of the paper, Captain Jim Kelly, hired Tom. For Tom the change of career allowed him to develop his creative skills and to document the turbulent society that was then around him, living in a border county. There was also the fact that, to use his own words, ‘in those days being a press photographer was a good earner. Press photography was valued then’, Tom explains. ‘I was never motivated by money but it was important to me to have my work respected’.
The Job was varied. For example he covered a visit to Cavan, by a descendant of the Sioux War Chief Sitting Bull (1831-1890) at the reputed birthplace of one of his greatest opponents – US General Philip Sheridan (1830-1888).
These were difficult and different times in the North, Tom explains. It was a very divided and divisive society to live and work in. The image below is of a Celtic reenactment event from those years. I comment it is not easy for us to understand the emotions of that time from this vantage point – though Brexit has reawakened some of the anxieties and tensions that existed in extreme then.
The paper closed after a few years so Tom then worked as a free lance press photographer, teaming up with local journalists when stories arose. He covered several amazing stories of the conflict in the border areas and had a few hair raising experiences. I comment he must have been terrified? But Tom says he always wanted to capture real life, to document events as they happen.
He often goes to Italy to festivals or demonstration and loves to be in the middle of these events. He traveled to Paris immediately in the aftermath of the terrorists attacks in 2015 to take photographs such as the one below. His interests have always been in this side of photographic work, as well as creating images that are akin to fine art pieces they are so visually beautiful.
Moving Back to Tipperary
Tom was back in Tipperary in the mid nineties and met Frances again, whom he had been dating before he left for Cavan years earlier. He was looking to develop other aspects of his photographic work because, he explains, press photography had become devalued. Tom was a member of the National Union of Journalist but journalists began taking photographs themselves so photographers rights were falling by the wayside. ‘The good days for press photography were over and the profession was devalued’ Tom explains.
This was the lead up to the next big economic crash of the Naughties. Provincial papers were letting go of photographers so it was a race between free lance photographers to have their images selected for publication and the one who charged the least usually got selected. Certainly a time to move to some other area of his photographic work.
He opened a shop in Nenagh framing and printing photographs. He explains he wanted to establish himself in Tipperary as a photographer and felt this was a way to do so. He found this phase of his life challenging – it was hard to make ends meet paying rent for the shop and all the other bills that arise with rental premises. The shop was open for about six years before he decided to close it.
Tom never stopped engaging with the world around him – the image below, taken in Nenagh on December 21st 2018, the shortest day of the year, depicts a vigil held by people affected by suicide locally. The image is called ‘Light up the Darkest Day’ and is another wonderful example of how Tom’s work captures both the joys and the sorrows of real life.
Tom called into my shop one day in Nenagh and introduced himself and left his business card. So I hired Tom to take the images for an upcoming piece for Image Magazine.
That was the first of many photo shoots we did together during ‘The Business’ years and in the years afterwards. I always knew he would do a superb job.
The image below is of a model wearing one of my designs – a red organza dress, and the image was used as a post card in the shop.
Tom photographed our wedding on December 22nd 2007. He tells me he enjoys wedding photography where he can bring his skilled eye for documenting a story to bear. He explains there is a perception of wedding photography as staid and boring but with the years of experience Tom has in press photography, he can really bring his imagination to capturing ‘behind the scenes’ moments, of a couple’s special day.
The image below is one he took the morning of our wedding here at Greenville, while Valerie Patterson was doing my hair and makeup .
One of the images Tom took in 2009, when we did the Kilmainham installation at the Hilton Hotel, won an award for him at the IPPVA . ‘Stormy Sky’ was an image taken at the St. Jude’s Spire in Kilmainham.
Photography as Art
We chat then, sitting in the evening sun, about the perception of a photograph as an art image. It is unfair, I suggest, that some brilliant pieces of photographic art are dismissed, as ‘mere photographs’. ‘Think of Andy Warhol for example’, I mention and how he used photography to create art pieces which sold for millions of dollars. Tom suggests different cultures have different understanding and appreciation of what is art or not and the Eastern States in America , Australia – newer western countries were ahead of others in respecting photography as an art genre.
Take for example the two images below – one taken at ‘The Business’ where I am wearing a mask for a Halloween event we were advertising. The photograph has many features of a painting.
The other, below, was taken here at Greenville of a chair reupholstered using the rose motif which often featured in my designs.
Photography and Art History
I mention that I was fascinated to read, in Donald Preziosi’s book on Art History, about the link between photography and the discipline of anthropology – and the role photography played in the emergence of Art History as an academic discipline.
Preziosi writes: ‘...art history is in a very real sense the child of photography, which has been equally enabling of the discipline’s fraternal nineteenth century siblings, anthropology and ethnography. It was photography which made it possible not only for professional art historians but for whole populations to – think art historically- in a sustained and systematic fashion…. thereby setting in motion the stage machinery of an orderly and systematic university discipline’. (Preziosi, 2009 pp 500).
Technological progress, and the emergence of photography therefore, has facilitated the growth of the press; emergence of museums and galleries; even the study of art as a professional discipline within the Academy. One could say that photography and the development of these institutions – made it possible to imagine the concept of the Nation-State. But that is taking my blog off in another direction and it is not my interest to engage in political analysis here. Yet in a sense, to go back to my opening title for this blog, a quote from Tom, the emergence of photography really did make it possible ‘to make something out of nothing, to see something in that nothing’.
There may be ‘no such thing as a rich photographer in Ireland’ as Tom tells me, but there is a much richer artistic culture, because of photographers such as Tom Doherty. I look forward to continuing our creative collaboration in the year’s to come.
Tom Doherty F.I.P.P.A.Cr./F.M.P.A./Q.E.P.
Qualified European Photographer Award 2011
Awarded Fellowship from the Irish Professional Photographers Association
Awarded Fellowship from the Master Photographers Association (U.K.)
I.P.P.A. Open Art and Creativity Category Winner 2011
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde Wedding Image of the Year 2011
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2011
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2010
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde Wedding Image of the Year 2010
I.P.P.A. Award of Excellence 2009
I.P.P.A. Reportage Wedding Image of the Year 2009
I.P.P.A. Pictorial Category Winner 2008
I.P.P.A. Reportage Wedding Image of the Year 2008
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Landscape/Travel 2008
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Avant Garde Wedding 2007
I.P.P.A. Craftsman Award 2007
I.P.P.A. Avant Garde wedding Image of the Year 2007
M.P.A. Award of Excellence Overseas Pictorial / Illustrative 2006
I.P.P.A. Pictorial Category Winner 2006
I.P.P.A. Reportage Category Winner 2006
MEMBER OF THE IRISH PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION & MASTER
PHOTOGRAPHERS ASSOCIATION (U.K.)
QUALIFIED, REGISTERED AND INSURED