John McVitty Exposed at Fermanagh County Museum
Enniskillen's award-winning press photographer enjoys a retrospective at Fermanagh County Museum
For the past 25 years, John McVitty – a press photographer on Enniskillen's weekly journal, The Impartial Reporter – has illustrated stories about country life, sporting events, local politics and parades, the offbeat and the unexpected.
Now his award-winning photographs – which include telling portraits of the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, former US President, Bill Clinton, Sinn Fein leader, Gerry Adams and many lesser-known faces from across Enniskillen – are on display in Exposure, McVitty's incredible retrospective exhibition at Fermanagh County Museum.
At the official opening, editor of The Impartial Reporter, Denzil McDaniel, observed, 'John McVitty’s reputation as an exceptional photographer is justified and deserved. At The Impartial Reporter, we value his sharp news sense but I think his skill extends far beyond that in a range of photography that captures the essence of this unique area and the character of its people.'
McVitty’s pictures have also been published in most of the UK’s daily and Sunday newspapers, as well in The Irish Times, the New York Times and many other international publications.
Like all the best photographers, McVitty knows when he’s got the shot. ‘A Moment in Time’, for example (pictured above), catches the concentration and precision of the watchmaker at work. McVitty saw the potential in this picture as he walked past William Ellis’s studio in Enniskillen’s Buttermarket late one evening.
Though he began working in the dark room at The Impartial Reporter, McVitty soon joined the newspaper’s team of photographers. 'I am a self-taught photographer and that was the best way,' he says, characteristically humble, 'for I learned from my mistakes.'
McVitty has had his fair share of scoops, including snapping David Healy’s winning goal for Northern Ireland when they defeated England in a World Cup qualifying match At Windsor Park in 2005. 'All the other press men were at the opposite end of the pitch waiting for an England goal,' he recalls, 'but, since I was following the home team, I was the only one who got the shot.'
When, in January 2001 a helicopter came down in foggy weather near Derrygonnelly, McVitty was the only photographer on the scene. The helicopter belonged to a Fermanagh family, the Fishers, two of whom sadly lost their lives while the other two passengers were badly injured.
'It was almost dark but I carried my equipment across marshy fields, through gorse hedges and over barbed wire until I heard voices, those of the security forces and the rescue team,' McVitty explains. 'I placed my camera on a stone wall and took the photograph on a long exposure. While I was developing the film, other newspapers were already calling for my picture, which made the front pages next morning.'
Though he was not at the cenotaph on the day of the Enniskillen bomb, McVitty subsequently produced the poignant image that is ‘Darkest Day’, in which Stephen Gault, who survived serious injuries, holds a portrait of his father, Samuel, who died.
McVitty was, however, in Irvinestown on the day that a turkey parade – which had not been sanctioned by the Northern Ireland Parades Commission – was intercepted by local police officers. The image of policemen rounding up turkeys with a loud hailer was printed in The Irish Times and a newspaper in Turkey.
Following a tip off, McVitty climbed onto the roof of Fermanagh College in Enniskillen to capture, in broad daylight, the moment when a lorry carrying an enormous windmill blade turned a tight corner into Belmore Street – this, of course, is a particular highlight of his exhibition.
On a bend in the road near Maguiresbridge, a ten ton lorry is apparently overtaken by the smallest car in the world – a Peel P50, one of a series manufactured in the Isle of Man in the early 1960s.
'This particular model belongs to Jim Monaghan, who bought it to teach his children to drive,' says McVitty.
'It’s 54 inches long and 41 inches wide, but today that car is a museum piece and would be worth in the region of £100,000. Its only drawback is that it has no reverse gear.'
When Dineka Maguire, a 16-year-old schoolgirl from Belleek, won the World Bog Snorkelling championships in Wales, she earned the headline ‘No Stick in the Mud’. McVitty photographed her in action in a bog near her home (see image below).
At a local hurley match, McVitty captured the moment when two players clashed with such force that one of their hurls broke. The tension at a gaelic football final between the Armagh and Fermanagh teams is summed up by two opposing players eyeballing each other on the pitch. There’s also an early photograph of Rory McElroy taken at the Lough Erne Gold Resort just after he had turned professional.
Arthur Edwards, The Sun’s royal photographer, and a judge at the Northern Ireland Press Photographer of the Year awards, which McVitty has won twice, sent this message: 'Well done John for being honoured by the great and the good of Enniskillen. I voted for you because your lovely, well thought out photographs were the best.'
Looking forward to the G8 in June, when heads of state will meet at the Lough Erne Golf Resort, McVitty cannot predict what photo opportunities there will be. However, he does have the advantage of being on home territory and will be aiming, as always, to be ahead of the posse and coming away with that special picture.
Exposure runs in Fermanagh County Museum run until June 15, 2013.