Cathal McNaughton grew up in Cushendall, Co Antrim, at a moment when many of the world’s frontline photographers had descended on Ulster. His own career too, began with the Northern Ireland conflict. As a teenage apprentice with the Irish News, one of his first major assignments was covering the aftermath of the Omagh bombing. McNaughton’s contemporaneous monochrome image of a young child, with a tear welling in his eye, is revisited in this intimate documentary portrait by the film-makers Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon.
The photographer won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for his work documenting the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. He is the only Irish person to have been honoured in this way.
Aged 40, at the peak of his career, family circumstances and visa troubles converged and McNaughton was forced to walk away from “the best job in the world”. As I Dream in Photos opens, he is living with his dog in a small fisherman’s cottage at the foothills of Mount Lurigethan. The quietude offers space to reflect on his relationship with his young son, the work-life balance and his process. As the title suggests, photography was not simply a career, but a way of seeing and thinking. It was equally a kind of addiction that required cold turkey.
I Dream in Photos brings McNaughton full circle, as he accepts the post of managing editor of the European Pressphoto Agency. Don’t expect emotional pyrotechnics. McNaughton is an amiable and thoughtful subject, and his testimony even as he recounts experiences in conflict zones is clear-headed and stoical. The film, appropriately, is beautifully shot. Pretty vistas of hills and fields create a contemplative space in tandem with McNaughton’s own introspection.