Decorated photo-journalist Paul Daly talks Irish ties, ‘plastic paddys’, and the lost art of photography
What does a photograph mean? Is it honesty? Deception? Perhaps it’s all of those things, or none, or simply a snapshot in time.
The art of photography cannot be quantified in subheads or pull quotes. Some of the greatest moments of our history, both good and incredibly vile, have been forever captured in film by photographers and photo journalists, and all stand the test of time.
Yet today, something is lost in the art of the photo. The dark room techs and subtle assurances of artistry at work replaced by iPhone panoramic snaps and digitized and diluted photos you can organize online and have printed and processed overseas, delivered right to your door in as close to living colour as a photo could be.
Paul Daly is as good an authority on the power of photography as anyone.
A Celebrated Career
A native of Dublin who has been living in St. John’s for some 17 years, Daly cut his teeth with the likes of the Sunday Tribune and as a stringer for the Sunday Times in London.
At only 22 years old he won a Professional Press Photographers Association of Ireland Award, and in 2007, he was a finalist for the Canadian Association of Journalist Photojournalist of the Year. But how did it all start?
“I actually picked up a camera one time and felt that power and it felt as if I had come home. That this is what I want to do,” Daly recalled in a sitdown with The Herald.
From those earliest of days, Daly was hooked, his career path was pre-destined and entirely out of his control.
“I got a job at a newspaper as a copy boy. I always hung out with the photo master. They finally got sick of me hanging out there and put me into the dark room for a bit and I spent more time there and then became a junior photographer,” he explains. “That was a dream job. It wasn’t even a job at that point, it was a lifestyle for me,” he adds.
Daly would marry a Newfoundlander and move to St. John’s to raise a family some 17 years past, where he would become Picture Editor of the then flourishing Independent.
“I left for a cold and more wetter place than Ireland that I couldn’t wait to get away from,” Daly joked, touching on how the island has changed over the years.
Dealing with Changes
“It’s amazing how things have changed in the last 10 years, for good and bad. I remember coming to Newfoundland and watching the lead story on the news. The lead story was a man, drunk, exposing himself on the street. That was the lead story and I remember thinking how things change. In my brief 17 years here, now there’s guys up for murder. What amazes me was how innocent St. John’s was at the time, and how things change, and how quickly things change.”
There are natural comparisons to draw between ‘The Rock’ and ‘Emerald Isle’. From our music and food, our twang and right down to our cultural backbone, we find more similarities with our Irish brethren than near any other group on either side of the Atlantic.
“When my mom and dad first started coming over here, my dad said that it reminded him of Dublin in the ’60s,” Daly explains. “Dublin was a town, now it’s a city. I sort of visualize seeing the change in front of me. From away looking in you can see things changing. When things were booming it was great, and now it’s on the down-slide. I’m sure it will be on the back-swing. It seems to mirror the Irish economy. The Irish economy was doing so well and then it fell completely on its face where people were moving away, house prices collapsed and you couldn’t get jobs. Now it is back on the upswing where it’s gone on a complete 180. I’m sure the Newfoundland economy will do the same thing.”
With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, it was hard to resist opening a dialogue on the March 17th celebration that has become a global phenomenon, particularly here in St. John’s where Paddy’s Day has grown into Paddy’s Week, in all its splendor and revelry.
“I heard someone say this expression; that Dublin is overrun by plastic Paddys,” he laughs. “But it’s great, it brings tourists in from all over the world. It’s a weekend now, our biggest weekend.
“When I grew up, St. Patrick’s Day was like our Independence Day. We’d go to the parade as kids with Mom and Dad. The St. Paddy’s Day party in the evening was for the adults. I remember being a kid in my parents’ house and my mom’s uncles being there and my mom’s brothers and sisters would be there and they’d be all singing. Just after supper they’d all go to the pub for a drink and end up back at my parents’ house. The guitars would be out and it was just one rebel song after the other … Now it has turned into this big St. Patrick’s Day weekend.”
From Dublin to St. John’s and hundreds of excursions in between, Daly has accumulated a portfolio that is near priceless. He’s shot the likes of Frank Sinatra, Mother Theresa, Bono and Mikhail Gorbachev. From political shakeups to social movements, to sports, entertainment and most everything in the middle, Daly doesn’t discriminate when it comes to his work, rather allowing the photo to do the talking.
In discussing the transitioning role of the photo-journalist in mainstream media, Daly reflects that the times are indeed a-changin’.
“At one time you had to shoot something different. Now no one really cares,” he says honestly. “I remember a guy turning to me and saying we must have the only recession proof job in the world. Newspapers need pictures. We’re not like that anymore. Everyone has an iPhone and everyone is prepared to give their work away. Before you had amateur photographers and professional photographers, and now you don’t have either.”
The art of photography is fading, replaced by tech-toys that can turn a novice into a relative maestro. There is little left to the imagination. Little to separate the cream of the crop. Work is devalued and mass communication, at the trigger point mercy of a phone or high end sim-card-carrying camera, has replaced the artists in the dark room and the photo-journalists with boots on the ground in times of celebration and/or crisis.
“I always said the guys in the dark room never got the credit they deserve, the dark room technicians … Now everything is on a computer,” laments Daly. “One time you would have seven photographers on the one job and each of them could be using different cameras, different lenses and film and makes of film and each of them would have a different look. Then they take the different film and take it to the dark room technician, who puts their spin on it – put the art to it.
“You could have seven pictures on seven front pages and every one would look different. That’s amazing. Now we’re shooting with flash cards, shooting with the same two degrees of cameras, more or less; Nikon or Canon.”
Any advice to aspiring photographers? Keep the faith, push forward and do your best, but be sure to hedge your bets.
“Go to trade school and become an electrician or a plumber. Then you’ll have something to do on your downtime, because this is not an easy racket anymore.”
For a detailed portfolio and more information on Paul Daly visit pauldaly.net