THIRTY years ago, one amateur and one professional photographer in Limerick sat down trying to think of a name for their new business. They had settled on the word ‘Press’ and just needed an appendage.
Incidentally, they both had read Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 around the same time, and one of them then resided at 22 Bengal Terrace.
On April 1, 1984, Press 22 was born from the cumulative efforts of Noel Gavin, from Janesboro, and Liam Burke, from Shelbourne Park.
Today, the photographic agency employs Brian Gavin, Marie McCallan, Don Moloney and Brian Arthur, has over 300 commercial clients, supplies images to all the national news desks, and has over two million images in their negative and digital libraries. Now based on Nicholas Street in the city, Press 22’s early years began at 51 O’Connell Street, which they bought from a liquidator for £10,000.
“We hadn’t two pence to rub together,” reflected Liam, 58. In the three decades since, which have passed as quickly as the time it takes to change a shutter speed, they have kept apace with the changing world of photography, and the constant demands of print and online news. “In the early days we used to sit outside the fire station until 2 or 3am waiting for something to happen. The thing about this business is you have to be available 24/7 if a news story breaks, but if you love what you do it’s not work,” said Liam.
“The move from black and white negatives to colour to digital transformed the business. Back in the 1980s, you would have to drive back to Limerick from a job, process a film, put it on the train to Dublin, and a courier would be sent by one of the papers to collect it. The whole job could take six to 10 hours. Now, you could be back in your car and after 10 minutes, the picture could be sent anywhere in the world.”
In the intervening years, several of Ireland’s best known photographers have come up the ranks through Press 22, including Sean Curtin, Alan Place, Cathal Noonan, Eamon Ward, Emma Jervis, Kenneth O’Halloran, and Dylan Vaughan. Both Liam and Noel have volunteered with Concern and Trocaire respectively for over 20 years, travelling to all corners of the globe to capture images of “hurt, violence, poverty, illness and famine.”
This week, 20 years after the Rwandan genocide, Liam’s image again graced The Irish Times, proving that inspite of all the threats to the business by amateurs on iPhones, the power of a great image never dies. “I do find it difficult making money off the backs of other people’s hardship, but you don’t do this job for the money. You have to chase the occupation that you love rather than the one that will pay the bills.”