Frank Dolan

Quality is hallmark for snapper frank dolan

THE use of smart phone photographs in newspapers has drawn a negative response from veteran photographer Frank Dolan.

The Westport-based snapper has been chronicling events in the west of Ireland for the past 38 years and he has no plans to retire anytime soon. In an illustrious career, Frank says the highlights were the Papal visit to Knock Shrine in 1979, the visit of Princess Grace to Newport, as well as taking the first photo of Monsignor James Horan at Knock airport, writes Tom Gillespie.

However, he is opposed to the growth of the smart phone pictures in publications where professional photographers should have been employed.

Frank worked in shops and factories in and around Westport after completing his education. He takes up the story: “I always wanted to work for myself. I liked photography and I went to a dance one night in Belclare and I brought a camera along and took a picture or two. The next day I was approached by a group of people and they said they would love to buy a picture from me. I want to say thanks to Jarlath and J.P. Campbell who developed and printed the negatives in Castlebar. That was my first sale in photography.

“Everybody has a talent that they don’t put to use. I had a talent for photography and I wanted to pursue it as my career. Photographers were very scarce then.

“Cameras then were very simple. There were just two settings - aperture and exposure. It is easier now to take a 747 off the ground than handle all the controls on a digital camera. Our cameras were simpler but we were trained to take pictures and have the correct lighting.

“My first contact was with Gerry Bracken in The Mayo News. I told him I was after buying a camera and he said if there was anything going he would give it to me. I then went to Tom Courell in The Connaught Telegraph. I introduced myself and told him I was going into photography and he also agreed to give me work, as did Terry Reilly in The Western People. Thank God it all worked out for me and I reared my family. I am still going strong and I never looked back.”

Frank continued: “One of the biggest markings I covered was the Papal visit to Knock. I was covering it for The Connaught Telegraph and The Irish Catholic. It was very hard work as you had to go back and develop the films and get the prints off on the train.

“I also covered the visit of Princess Grace to Newport. I met all the presidents over the years, starting with President Hillary down to the present day with Michael D. I also met several Taoisigh when they came to Westport.

“I took one of the first ever photographs at Knock airport. I remember getting a phone call saying there was a small plane arriving. I went up. Monsignor James Horan was there and a small four-seater plane landed for a test. I remember my first trip on an aeroplane was on a media trip to Manchester. We went back and over on one day and I went to a football match in the Sports Park that evening.

“The local papers were very good to me over the years and that is how I got work and met so many people. The biggest challenge was going to Dublin to cover a match as I had to drive back down, go into the darkroom at one of two o’clock in the morning and go to The Connaught with the photographs the next morning. You had to type up the captions and stick them on the back of the photos. The darkrooms were expensive, with the chemicals and paper.

“I always kept up with the changing technology so I had no problem going digital. I am self-taught. Everybody now thinks they are a photographer. I really get annoyed when I see pictures in the paper taken on mobile phones. You cannot make out who the people are. They are not getting the proper lighting.

“If you look at the sports pictures on the local papers the pictures are perfect compared with those from mobile phones because quality photographers are employed. To do the job right contact a photographer. Quality is my life. The mobile phone photos look grand on screen but they do not reproduce well.”

Frank has been a member of the National Union of Journalists since 1976.

And what of the future? “In the future it is going to be very difficult to make a living as a photographer. I was lucky I went in at the right time. I don’t think there is a career there for anybody at the moment.

“I am open for business and I have no intention of retiring for another 10 years if God gives me the health and strength. It is the work I love doing. I am very busy and there isn’t a day I don’t have a job. I have a name out there and my motto is quality.”

Frank has been involved with Westport Tidy Towns since 1991 and was chairman when they won the national title in 2012. “I always wanted to get involved with Tidy Towns,” he says. “Sean Staunton asked me to cover a tourism meeting and I ended up joining the tourism group and the Tidy Towns. An awful lot of work goes on behind the scenes. We have a very strong committee.

“I have pulled back a bit now because it was taking up an awful lot of my time and travel. Last year I decided I would get back looking after my business full time and be more available. I still go for my clean-ups. I am there for advice if they want anything.”