Photographs have a curious power to stir the imagination; there is nothing quite like them for communicating a sense of the past. Acclaimed photographer John Minihan aspires to this, and each of his iconic photographs, from his shots of Samuel Beckett to his Athy collection are mirrors with a memory.
The Leader meet the Kildare artist himself at the final weekend of his exhibition at the Kildare Village.
The exhibition featured iconic photographic works from the world of fashion, art and film, from Andy Warhol to Yves Saint Laurent. Spanning more than 50 years, John’s portraits capture each individual’s character and are all the more poignant because of the universal appeal of many of the people photographed.
He was born in Dublin in 1946 and raised in Athy. After moving to London in his youth he worked as an apprentice photographer and by the age of 21 he had become the youngest staff photographer for the Evening Standard.
Working in Fleet Street, John captured life in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
His friendship with Samuel Beckett produced some of the most remarkable photographs ever taken of the writer.
“I have always been interested in the collaboration between scripture and photographer,” Minihan says. “It is lovely to have had that relationship with Sam.
@I first met him in 1980, and he asked me to take his photograph in Paris five years later. I have only ever been awe-struck once and that was with Beckett. He was such a genius and such a human. For me as a photographer I just felt I was in the presence of greatness.”
Many of John’s pieces have become iconic images synonymous with figures such as Al Pacino, Andy Warhol and Jimi Hendrix. He also took the famous photograph of a young Lady Diana Spencer which showed her legs silhouetted as the sunlight streamed through her skirt.
Now in his sixties, John has eschewed the evolving medium of digital technology. “Film photography is a skill, that sense in the organic process of buying the film, processing it and printing it.
“Film photography is an alchemy. A lot of young photographers don’t know that, in that some are completely digitalised in many respects, in particularly photojournalism. Nobody has a film camera any more. Sometimes people are not really looking at the content they are just taking photos.
“For me when you are using a film camera and are taking photographs, you have to design the picture, you have to think about the subject matter of the photograph. Then of course it’s there forever.”
Minihan says his favourite and best work is his Book of Photographs of Athy, a chronicle of life and tradition of the rural town in the 1970s. Indeed this is why Beckett sought him out, with the wake of Katy Tyrrell pivotal in the fledgling friendship between the two.
“I was very privileged to live for short while in Athy. Privileged to go to school in Athy, to know many of the people in those photographs. And it was through the ordinariness of these photographs that one meets the extraordinary writer Samuel Beckett.
“In Beckett’s work and writings, the people in the Athy collection were very much characters he wrote about. So the reason I got to photograph Sam is because of my photographs from Athy and my favourite and best work is the Athy collection. We live in a celebrity driven show biz world so I love social documents that tells a story of who we were, the journey, the spirituality of it.
“The funeral of Katy Tyrrell was photographed over two nights and three days. To me they still remain the most poignant set of photographs I’ve ever taken in my life...And all the reason all these other photographs are here on the wall in the Kildare Village is because of my Athy collection. Athy is my favourite and best work by far.”
Minihan is now living with his partner in Lisheen, West Cork. His recent pieces include Patti Smith and Shane McGowan, and work is underway for his directorial debut.
“I am directing Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, which is starring the actor Ronan Wilmot, in November 2013 in the New Theatre in Dublin, so that is exciting.”
- Lisa Deeney