Picture Perfect: Lorraine O'Sullivan - 'I spotted a man with something sitting on his shoulder'

Lorraine O’Sullivan shares the story behind her favourite photograph.
Picture Perfect: Lorraine O'Sullivan - 'I spotted a man with something sitting on his shoulder'
Pat Gibbons with Gráinne the fox watch a stage of the 2017 An Post Rás na mBan in Kilkenny. Picture: Lorraine O'Sullivan
Pat Gibbons with Gráinne the fox watch a stage of the 2017 An Post Rás na mBan in Kilkenny. Picture: Lorraine O'Sullivan

My favourite picture

Being asked to select this picture is like being asked to pick your favourite child - but after a bit of discussion with some friends, this is the one which gets the vote.

This image was taken during a stage of the 2017 Rás na mBan, which is an event that I have really enjoyed working on. Cycling is my favourite sport to cover and I’ve been so fortunate to have had such wonderful experiences over the years.

When covering cycling, I spend most of my days on the back of a motorcycle. We usually try to get well ahead of the field and find a spot to set up. On this day we were just zooming along and out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a man on the side of the road with something sitting on his shoulder. I tapped the motorbike rider and signalled to turn round and go back.

The field was only about a mile behind us so it was a bit of a risk as it meant that we would then be chasing them and would have to find an alternate route to get clear once again. So back we came and that is how I found myself meeting Pat Gibbons along with Gráinne the fox.

As the stage was only 30 seconds behind there was no time for chit-chat, so I just asked for permission and started to shoot. Pat was more interested in watching the race but Gráinne was widely alert and was happy to pose for me!

Lorraine O'Sullivan
Lorraine O'Sullivan

I had a good chat with Pat afterwards and he explained that he had taken her in as a cub; she was effectively a pet but there was still a streak of wildness in her which you can see in her eyes in the picture above. Given that this happened early in the stage I still had a day’s work ahead of me so I didn't realise who special the picture was until later that evening.

It is typically Irish in a way that no one would pass much notice of a man watching a cycling race in the middle of the week with a fox sitting on his shoulder.

It reminded me of another photograph I got a few years before of an old man on his old bike watching all these elite cyclists on their top of the range equipment whizzing past.

The Irish Examiner used the picture on that back page the next day and the race organizers were thrilled as well given the struggle that women's sports has for coverage.

I’ve been a photographer for just over 20 years and thankfully I still get the same buzz. Yes, there are times when you are on the back of a bike in a downpour and the joy goes out of it. But those are rare: the good days outweigh the bad.

"It is a job that still beats working in the office.”

Interview: Colm O'Connor

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