IT TAKES a lot of ingredients to be a good photographer but that’s no problem for former baker Damien Storan.
Born in Rosbrien, educated at An Mhodhscoil and Crescent College Comprehensive, he was fascinated by news from a very young age. While other kids were coming home from school in the late 90s to watch football on TV, Damien instead ran home to watch news channels.
“Much to the confusion of my friends,” he smiles.
Even at break time in school he and a close friend, who is now a journalist, would discuss the previous night’s TV news content while classmates talked about who they were dating or planning their next trip to the cinema.
“I quickly realised as I grew older into Leaving Cert years that I was in love with the idea of visual journalism and more particularly the dramatic world of breaking news images and video. The unedited rawness of the image can tell the story far better than the reporter’s narration over a nightly report.
“It was the projections of the powerful leader standing at the podium or the dramatic images from the Iraq War of 2003 that captivated me. ‘Imagine having to take those photos or be that camera man,’ I’d wonder in awe to myself.”
Damien bought his first camera when he was 21, set up his own news blog and started going to news events in Limerick city. “You got to start local,” veteran snappers told him. With no car he had to be driven everywhere.
“‘Hey dad, want to drive me into the city? There’s been an incident on Mallow Street’,” I’d ask. I wouldn’t sell them or anything. I just wanted to feel like I was covering the story and ‘witnessing history’ in my own city.
“As I left college and with circumstances beyond my control, namely the 2007 financial crisis, I found myself as a baker where I built my career at Limerick’s famous Wild Onion. It was a creative outlet for me but I kept taking photos in my time off. I especially liked taking photos at the festivals in Limerick such as St Patrick’s Day and Riverfest.”
While still baking, Damien bought more camera gear and started applying to national papers for some odd Saturday shifts.
“By 2018, I found myself coming home from the bakery early morning and heading straight out again in Dublin city news hunting, hoping to sell to the red tops or broadsheets. I landed a few shifts covering anything from airshows to presidential debates at RTE. I learned what it was like to have my photos printed in the national papers and then got to grips with the less glamorous invoicing and chasing payment side of the job.”
Damien’s love for baking was fading and his need to be involved in the news business was rising.
“It came to a head only last year when I was lucky enough to become friends with, in my opinion, Ireland’s best news photographer, Niall Carson of the Press Association. He took me under his wing and has since guided me to a better work ethic and more professional approach to my freelancing. I spent one day shooting with him and quit the bakery life for good the next day. I was that sure that this is the life for me.”
He quickly found his niche in breaking news.
“I’ve become obsessed with capturing moments. I spend my days working contacts around the city and tracking news that’s happening right now. My belief is that the initial moments of a story as it unfolds can be the most vivid, dramatic and most storytelling. If I can capture that then the picture editors will be happy.
“This self-imposed ethos has landed me on the front pages of the Irish Times, Irish Examiner and many of the tabloids in more recent months as I continue to prove myself in a field full of competitive photographers. Seeing is believing and it’s my to job capture the moment for the viewer to see.”
His fast response at any hour has garnered Damien the nickname ‘nightcrawler’ from contemporaries.
“I jokingly reply, ‘It’s easy when you sleep with your clothes and shoes on, your car keys in one hand and a phone next to your ear!’ It’s just a niche I’ve found I can perform well in.
“It can be dangerous and sometimes I arrive to an incident such as a shooting a bit too early and can find myself in bother with the locals.
“Due to this insatiable need to capture moments my news photography tends to be focused on crime, active incidents including fires and rescues and unfortunately fatal incidents, some of which I share here.
“I’m not saying these are the greatest photos I’ve taken but they are important moments in people's lives that I’ve managed to freeze in time. Some are not pretty or heartwarming but they do tell a story and that’s what I think a good news photo is; something that tells the story. If you can successfully do that with an image then that is an incredibly powerful ability to have.”
Damien hopes to continue to learn that storytelling ability in the years to come, hopefully as part of a news organisation or an agency.
The best way for people to follow his work is on Instagram