Seamus Murphy, photojournalist

Seamus Murphy, photojournalist

By Katie Jackson 17/05/10

Seamus Murphy is known for his fascination with Afghanistan. His work has won him several prizes including six World Press Photo awards. As part of the IdeasTap Photographic Award he tells us about his career and give us a view from inside the industry

I got into photography quite late in life.

After school I travelled for a while and I worked in the film business for a couple of years but I didn’t really like it. Like a lot of the best things in life I sort of bumbled into the profession. I’d always taken pictures but never professionally. I never had a game plan by any means. I really admire younger photographers. They’re incredibly astute in terms of careers, planning, and knowing what they want and going after it.

I’ve always been interested in what’s going on in the world. I guess growing up in Ireland I grew up with a social conscience and an interest in injustice. I wouldn’t say I was actively political, I wasn’t into student politics or anything like that, but I was interested in what was going on around me.

Seamus Murphy

I find my subjects in different ways. Sometimes I’m sent on a particular assignment and I’ll do that and maybe some side work of my own at the same time, or sometimes I’ll just see something in the newspaper and decide to travel on my own money and see what happens. That’s what I did with Kosovo. I took myself out there and found work after I arrived.

My first visit to Afghanistan was in 1994.  I was on an assignment for The Observer. I’d always wanted to go. I’d heard so much about the country and its history. At that time there was a ferocious civil war going on. I’d never been in a war zone before. I have to be honest, it can be traumatic, but I found Afghanistan to be a deeply moving place with fascinating people. It’s hard to walk away from the place. I think I’ve been there fourteen times now.

My first visits were prior to the 9/11 attacks so my first experiences of the country were without any international troops. My main area of interest is the Afghan people. I’ve been out to visit with troops before but you don’t get the same access to the country itself.

You can’t be brash or in people’s faces. If you’re calm the camera will open up doors for you. If I didn’t have the camera I’d feel a lot more self-conscious. With the camera I have a reason to be there and I get to know the place so much better than if I were just there as an onlooker.

There’s a lack of work in this industry at the moment. It’s been thin on the ground before but it’s never been this bad. I’m optimistic for the future though, I think it might be getting better. Plus, the industry is changing so if you’re creative about how you work you could do really well.

I’m useless at marketing myself but it’s really important. You need to do everything you can to get your work known and make contacts. It’s more important now than ever before. Get a good website and update it all the time. If I was starting all over again I would pay much more attention to that side of my work.

If I spend five percent of my working hours actually taking photographs I’m doing well. There are so many nuts and bolts to take care of: organisation, sending pictures out, dealing with the business side of things. It’s drudgery. The plus side is that I have an amazing amount of freedom. That’s why I’m doing what I do. The freedom to work, travel and be in control of what I photograph is priceless.

Seamus Murphy was talking to Katie Jackson

Seamus Murphy

All images copyright Seamus Murphy / VII Network

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