Brian Friel by Bobbie Hanvey - a life in pictures

Photographer Bobby Hanvey had unrivalled access to Brian Friel. Here, we republish a story on a 2008 exhibition and a select gallery of some of his photographs of Friel


The Northern Irish photographer and broadcaster Bobbie Hanvey was a long-time friend of the playwright Brian Friel and for more than twenty years has been taking portraits of the playwright and other writers and musicians. Below is a gallery of some of his portraits of Brian Friel and we republish here a piece by Rosita Boland from July 2008 to mark the opening of an exhibition of Hanvey’s work during the MacGill Summer School..

(First publish July 2008)

THE FORMER sweater shop on Main Street, Glenties, currently in use as the headquarters and information office for this year's MacGill summer school, is also the venue for a striking exhibition of large-scale photographs of Brian Friel.

The photographs - many of which have never been published, and some of which even Friel himself had not previously seen - are on public show for the first time. All of them were taken by Downpatrick-based photographer, Bobbie Hanvey, who has been photographing Friel since 1994. "It's a challenge, taking portraits of someone who doesn't like being photographed," admitted Hanvey, who is in town to document the summer school.

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"I have always tried to find the dark side when taking pictures, the part that people usually don't want you to see," he said yesterday.

All the images on show, taken over the last 14 years, depict Friel at his ocean-front home in Inishowen, where a wild and rugged garden runs down to the Atlantic.

There are particularly startling portraits of Friel in the space-like white garb and netted hat of the beekeeper, standing with an expression of quiet, protective ferocity in front of his hives. "I think he looks like a surgeon in these pictures," Hanvey suggests. "Those white gloves." And the look of intense concentration.

Hanvey, who only shoots film on Leica cameras (usually black and white), has been taking portraits of Friel, JP Donleavy and Seamus Heaney for many years. He was first introduced to Heaney in 1969 by Belfast-born film-maker David Hammond, prior to Heaney's move south to Dublin. A Hanvey portrait of Heaney will appear on the cover of Stepping Stones when it is published this November by Faber and Faber; it is a collection of interviews with Heaney by Dennis O'Driscoll.

It was also Hammond who introduced Hanvey to Friel, and since 1994, he has regularly returned to Inishowen to photograph him. "He doesn't talk much when I'm shooting, but he's told me a few things over the years," Hanvey reveals. Friel, it would seem, is a traditionalist. "About three years ago, he told me that he only writes using a 2B pencil."