The Times We Lived In: The seamy side of news photography

Published: April 12th, 1986. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

Photographers train their cameras on the Guinness home. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

Photographers train their cameras on the Guinness home. Photograph: Tom Lawlor

 

Now what do you suppose might be going on here? A nature outing, perhaps? No. Birdwatchers and butterfly-spotters don’t wear macintoshes like the chap on the left. So: paparazzi action, Irish style, with smartly dressed snappers lurking on a rocky outcrop, hoping to bag shots of a celebrity in the wild?

Well, yes and no. Today’s photograph was taken during one of the most notorious running news stories of the 1980s, namely, the kidnapping of Jennifer Guinness. What it illustrates, as our shrewd photographer knew only too well, is the slightly seamy side of news photography.

The wife of John Henry Guinness, chairman of Guinness Mahon Bank, was taken from her home in Howth, Co Dublin on the night of April 8th, 1986. Four days later, new angles on the story must have been pretty thin on the ground; so somebody had the bright idea of heading for an elevated site somewhere across the bay from which the photographers could, as the caption puts it, “train their cameras on the Guinness home”.

The six-bedroom Regency villa, bought by the Guinness family in 1914 for £2,500, was – as you might imagine – a sight for sore eyes. Its end-of-the-road, clifftop location made it difficult to see at the best of times. As to whether it was okay to photograph it in the public interest, during a period of such distress for the family who lived there … Well, that’s the question which our photograph raises, and readers will make up their own minds.

It’s only fair to point out that these snappers have located themselves a long way away from the Guinness property. They’re not exactly scaling the walls or lurking around the garden. They may, as Tom Lawlor’s offbeat image suggests, be smartasses – but at least they’re respectful smartasses. And for once, this news story had a happy ending. Jennifer Guinness was released unharmed a few days later.

  • These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced €19.99
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