Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

When the Troubles broke out, local press photographers in Northern Ireland were thrust on to the front line of daily shootings, bombings and murders, becoming war correspondents in their home towns, writes Dan Buckley.

In January 1971, Trevor Dickson got a phone call from a contact in the Official IRA who told him to come to a bar near the Falls Road in Belfast. At the rear of the bar was a group of IRA men tying a boy to a lamp post and pouring a bucket of tar over him. They did the same to another young man and the photograph appeared in many newspapers around the world.
In January 1971, Trevor Dickson got a phone call from a contact in the Official IRA who told him to come to a bar near the Falls Road in Belfast. At the rear of the bar was a group of IRA men tying a boy to a lamp post and pouring a bucket of tar over him. They did the same to another young man and the photograph appeared in many newspapers around the world.

In ‘Shooting The Darkness’, Alan Lewis, Stanley Matchett, Trever Dickson, Hugh Rulless, Martin Nangle, Crispin Rodwell and Paul Faith reflect on their experiences.

Included are the stories behind iconic images such as Fr Edward Daly waving a blood-stained handkerchief on Bloody Sunday in 1972, Sean Downes being shot and killed by an RUC plastic bullet in 1984, and the brutal attack on Corporals Derek Wood and David Howes in March 1988.

Alan Lewis-Rosemary

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

Photographer Alan Lewis captured the horror and the heartache of the Troubles from 1971 to the ceasefire in 1997.

One of the seven contributors to Shooting The Darkness, he recalled, with searing honesty, a moment in his career when he feared he had become immune to the suffering of others.

“For a long time, I began to think that I’d almost lost my humanity. I was taking photographs and didn’t seem to care what I’d seen, and that worried me. I was wondering what I was becoming. I didn’t like it.

“Then one Monday in 1974, I was coming out of a building in High Street when I heard an explosion, and about a minute later, fire engines and ambulances started arriving into High Street and going around to Bridge Street. So I ran up that way, and as I ran, I heard another explosion.

There had been two bombs at two cafes in Rosemary Street and I was on the scene very quickly. There were a lot of injured people sitting about, wandering around, crying, bleeding, and I was shooting pictures everywhere I could go, looking around me, on autopilot.

“There were three kids who’d been in the explosions sitting on the steps of the Masonic Hall. I took a couple of frames there and went straight back down to the darkroom. I processed the film and got it into the developer.

“As the pictures were coming up, I stopped to look at what I had been taking. I saw the kids sitting there, on a day off school, caught up in a bomb through no fault of their own. I just started crying in the darkroom.

“Nobody saw me but I knew then that I was all right. I had been boxing stuff off —probably the only way to deal with it. I was relieved that I had had a release of emotion.

“Then I got on with the work again, knowing that I hadn’t lost the run of myself.”

■ From Shooting The Darkness — Iconic images of the Troubles and the stories of the photographers who took them. The Blackstaff Press, hb €22.99

Captured on camera

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

Photo of Trevor Dickson taken by Brian McMullan. Dickson and McMullan were friends as well as colleagues. The photograph, above, was taken during a major riot in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast during the 1970s.

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

Alan Lewis’s portrait of Gerry Fitt standing in the burnt out remains of his home on the Antrim Road in Belfast. He had just flown in from London to see the damage caused by a republican mob from the nearby New Lodge Road area.

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

Ballymurphy 1989. The squaddies were on edge — one in particular was crouching and looking right down the street into Ballymurphy with his SA80 pointed. A woman came up and shouted right down the barrel of the gun.

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

Stanley Matchett captures an image of Bishop Edward Daly carrying a blood-stained handkerchief ahead of the body of Jack Duddy, who was shot dead in Derry on Bloody Sunday —January 30, 1972.

Trevor Dickinson- 1986

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

The police station on the Lisburn Road in Belfast was bombed on December 16, 1986. Trevor Dickson rescued a mirror which, miraculously, had not been damaged, to make a graphic image of the immediate aftermath of the blast.

Hugh Russell-1985

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

The signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement at Hillsborough Castle, Belfast, on November 15, 1985. The agreement, signed by Taoisearch Garret FitzGerald and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave the Irish government a consultative role in Northern Ireland affairs.

Alan Lewis- Funeral of David Johnston, 1997

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

Louie Johnston, 7, in tears as he follows his dad’s coffin from the family church in Lisburn, Co Antrim. Constable David Johnston, 30, was one of two RUC community officers shot dead by the Provisional IRA in Lurgan, Co Armagh, on June 16, 1997, just a month before the IRA announced a renewal of its 1994 ceasefire

Cripsin Rodwell-1994

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

On the last day of August, 1994, Crispin Rodwell was working for the Reuters wire service when he got an early morning call from his pictures editor to illustrate the IRA’s ceasefire. His Time For Peace image has become an iconic symbol of the peace process

Trevor Dickinson- 1974

Shooting the darkness: The Troubles in pictures and the people who captured them

The aftermath of a 1,000lb bomb that detonated in Belfast city centre on March 28, 1974.

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