SLIDESHOW: Ex heavy machinery driver now allows camera to do ‘heavy lifting’

Donal O'Regan


Donal O'Regan


“CAN you think of any better way of making a living?” asks John Hickey, a well-known wedding photographer.

“You get to get to spend time with couples, week after week, on the happiest day of their lives and you get the buzz that comes as part and parcel of it,” he says.

Like many in this series, photography might have been John’s first love but it was not his first career.

Born and reared in the Old Abbey, on Sir Harry's Mall, he attended CBS Sexton Street.

“I was never interested in the normal mainstream subjects and college was never going to be the path I was going to take. The only subject I excelled in school was art and that was always going to be the path for me. When I left school I dabbled in mainstream traditional art, painting in oils and watercolours and I was tipping away with sales and commissions but it became apparent that there wasn't a full living to be earned from it, well for me at least.”

In John’s next employment, he also used his hands but very differently.

“I got a job working in the quarrying industry, ending up driving heavy machinery. The work was hard, the h

ours were long but the wages were very good. This was in the middle of the Celtic Tiger and there was a boom in the country.”
John always had an interest in photography and was slowly picking up tips and tricks from hobbyist magazines and the internet. In 2004, he purchased his first SLR camera and in 2005 made the next step by joining Limerick Camera Club.

“I remember the first night I walked in the door in Mary I. It was a competition night so all the other members' work was on display. I nearly fell over when I saw the high standard that was being produced. I can say with my hand on my heart that was the night I fell head over heels with photography.”

John was helped by members that had years of experience and were only too happy to share it with newcomers. Two names that stand out for him were Sean Reidy and Dom Moloney.

“Two superb photographers with a lifetime of experience and natural born teachers who just wanted to help new members.”
As his photography skills improved he became more and more competitive and progressed through the grades - beginner, intermediate and lastly advanced. John then entered regional and national competitions where he won medals.

In 2014 he had an image selected to represent Ireland in the FIAP Biennial - The International Federation of Photographic Art. It scored well and helped Ireland finish fifth in the world with his image selected for a silver medal.

“Looking back on it, I probably put far too much focus on competitions and in retrospect I was guilty of changing my style to try and second guess what judges would like and what was in vogue.”

At this time, John’s appetite for landscape photography was insatiable.

“In the summer months I would finish in the quarry at 6pm, eat a quick bite and myself and Dave Hunt, fellow photographer, would be gone in the car to the coast for sunset. We could do this four nights a week when the weather was good. Home for midnight and up again for work for 6am. Looking back on it I don't know how our wives put up with it!”

After the economy crashed John lost his job with no hope of getting heavy machinery work.

“I had no other qualification to fall back on except my photography. I had been dabbling in the mainstream side of the business - family, christenings and parties etc but the big step for me was when my sister-in-law Dawn asked me to shoot her wedding. In hindsight she must have been mad but the same girl is as cool as the breeze so I agreed.

“When I look back on it now I was really lucky in that the light was really soft - it was a cloudy day. If it had been harsh, contrasty light my lack of experience coupled with my lack of a flash would have sunk me. That was when I started on my journey as a wedding photographer. In the following months I started putting myself out there and I was covering parties and christening. Slowly but surely wedding booking started to come in.”

John was on the live register and through this was placed on a CE scheme in St Munchin’s Community Centre where he worked 19 hours a week.

“This allowed me to take on photography work without breaking any social welfare rules. This was an ideal situation as I was not in a position to give up my payment to take up photography full-time. It was here I met Linda Ledger, the manager of St Munchin’s.

“At the time I was happy I was back earning money but Linda saw the bigger picture and wouldn’t rest until she had me set-up. She set up meetings for me with Paul Partnership and within weeks I was set up fully legal as John Hickey Photography. Linda gave me studio space in the centre and seven years later I'm still working out of the same studio.”

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