A photographic ambassador in Drogheda's Jimmy Weldon
REVIEW: PAUL MURPHY
In these fast-moving days of the internet, and Covid-19, the only journalistic practitioner on a regional newspaper the average reader is likely to meet is the photographer.
Many reporters have long since disappeared behind their computer screens in the office and only communicate by phone, email or text. The upside of this from the newspaper and editor’s point of view is that s/he will get copy into the system faster, and the downside is that the reporter will be inclined to deal mainly with regular contacts for the “quick quotes” and lose out on the face-to-face contact with real people who might be more inclined to part with the distinctive “scoop” which is always the aim of the intrepid reporter.
Because of the immediacy of the internet – and particularly Facebook – it is difficult to come up with real exclusives. Facebook, and its pal Twitter, have their downsides – in one recent case the mother of a victim of a tragedy learned about her son’s death through social media before authorities could tell her properly and with some sensitivity. Facebook users are unlikely to ponder on the effects this terrible intrusion can mean.
I’ve always regarded photographers, especially those on local newspapers, as the true “public face” of their newspapers. If they have the right personality and the right approach, they can often win hearts and minds of readers far easier and faster than any other method. They have greater access to many more people than the average reporter, they are looking real people in the eye, able to win their confidence and perhaps part with an engaging story or two. For these and other reasons, I’ve thought of them as real ambassadors for their papers.
If many local newspaper photographers were totally honest they would admit that in most cases they don’t have to dwell on the finer points of photography, or at least not as much as photographers on national newspapers. The local guys are not required to produce works of art – their art lies in getting as many people as possible lined up in neat rows and shooting off their images. We in the trade have two titles for this type of photography – “grip and grin” (in which the photographer grips people by the elbow and manoeuvres them into position for the shot) or “firing squad pictures” (possibly misnamed because who would stand grinning widely in front of the guns?!)
Jimmy Weldon, a Drogheda-based photographer, is someone who typifies the local photographer although not in the sense referred to in the above. He is someone who is known far and wide through his “beat”, which is Drogheda, South Louth, East Meath and very often beyond and because he is that friendly face familiar to all, he has little difficulty winning hearts and minds. His informal shots of ordinary people on the streets of his native town, encapsulated in a series 'Jimmy’s People' are a warm reflection of the community in which is mingles. Everyone knows Jimmy and Jimmy knows everyone.
In his latest book – 'Jimmy’s Times as a Photographer' (ably assisted by writer Harry O’Reilly) – his work stands out as a great example of local journalism. The opening pages carry images of the advent of the new millennium – a firework starburst over Drogheda (carried on the front page of the Drogheda Independent) and another 'A New Dawn' of the sun rising taken at Queensboro near Baltray on the opening of 2000. Some are very obviously of Drogheda content including the visit to the town of Prince Albert of Monaco; the granting of the Freedom of Drogheda to Oliver Murphy (a founder of the Irish Wheelchair Association) by Mayor Micheal O’Dowd; footballer Gary Kelly; with other themes including St Patrick’s Day in New York; sports clubs Drogheda United and Holy Family Boxing Club; double Fleadh Cheoil festivals; the Martin McGuinness funeral in Derry; and the racing festivals at Bellewstown and Laytown.
This is a book that will provide many hours of worthwhile perusal over the Christmas period.