Photographer and picture editor from school of gentle management

David Sleator: ‘A gent. Quiet. Mannerly. Easy to deal with at all times’


David Sleator, who died suddenly last Monday, was a big, multitalented man of patient ways. He was, as Irish Times Editor Kevin O’Sullivan said at an impromptu gathering of stunned colleagues in the newsroom that afternoon, “blessed with a tremendous feel for compelling imagery in terms of the pictures he took, and in editing photographs to heighten their news and visual impact”.

He said that, as Joint Picture Editor at the newspaper, David – whose funeral Mass took place yesterday – was also “from the school of gentle management which came with charm and great, understated efficiency”.

David’s warm, courteous manner won him many friends within and outside the media world. In a comment so typical of the very many expressions of shock and regret at his untimely death, a former colleague said he was “a gent. Quiet. Mannerly. Easy to deal with at all times. I was so sorry to hear the terrible news.”

He grew up in Dublin’s Rialto and attended the Christian Brothers’ school at Synge Street before studying auto engineering at Bolton Street College.

As a youngster he had two main passions, photography and motor racing. He learned to drive at the age of nine, often sitting in the navigator’s seat beside rally driver Paddy Farrelly, his brother-in-law. He also set up a darkroom under the stairs at home to facilitate his photography.

David’s first real job was with the Smith Group motor importers and soon the passion for driving had him first rallying and then racing in autocross. He led the autocross championships for a time.

When recession hit the motor trade in the 1980s he went to work for an early one-hour-photo outlet in Dublin’s Stillorgan. Then, as his competitive driving days drew to a close, he began photographing the racing.

With a keen technical mind he was soon shooting pictures of the very highest quality. Before long he was working for Auto Ireland magazine as a photographer, topping up his earnings through advertising sales. The high standard of his work led to a turnaround in the magazine’s fortunes.

His work at Mondello Park and especially at the annual Phoenix Park Races stood apart from that of other photographers.

Due to his own driving experience he knew where to place himself picturewise; which bale of hay to stand behind to get that spectacular shot when competitors might come unstuck.

Having studied the road surface, the weather and the angles, he could anticipate where this was likely to happen.

He began selling these images to the national media, a major step towards becoming an established press photographer. Soon he was doing freelance shifts at The Irish Times and in 1998 he joined the staff. In 2001 he was appointed Deputy Picture Editor and in 2009 its Joint Picture Editor.

David’s organisational skills and pleasant manner ensured the ready co-operation of all who had dealings with him.

A multi-award winning photographer himself, he served without break on the Press Photographers Association of Ireland (PPAI) committee from the beginning of the 1990s, taking on every executive role including two terms as president. His attention to detail and insistence everything be done properly underpinned those high standards of judging and presentation associated with the PPAI Photojournalism Awards.

He was also the driving force behind the PPAI annual conference and its Christmas dinner for retired photographers.

Besides driving and photography he had other surprising interests. His keen hand/eye co-ordination led him towards clay pigeon shooting. He had been many years a member of the Irish Clay Pigeon Shooting Association club at Courtlough, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, and in 2009 he represented Ireland on the Olympic Track Home International team.

In November 2012 he won the High Gun at the Registered Olympic Trap shoot in Courtlough and just last month was offered a place on the Irish International Olympic Track team, but declined.

He also developed an interest in and great knowledge of Omega sports watches and, not surprisingly, old books of photography.

But the real passion in his life was his “two girls”. Blessed with a happy home life, he married Judith in August 1988. Their daughter, Judith Eileen, arrived to great jubilation in 1999. He took particular interest in her education and served on her school’s board of management. He even brought her clay pigeon shooting and taught her how to shoot.

It was why, even at the end of a good day’s work, he was still happiest when heading home to his girls.