Snapping to the Top

Ireland Ghost Estates

In 2011, Kim Haughton, a freelance photographer based in Dublin discussed baking with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams. “He’s a grandfather and bakes bread, I find these kind of things interesting about people,” she says.

Her work has taken her from the abandoned ghost estates of Ireland to the desert plains of Ethiopia, where her interest in exposing people’s quirks, rather than how they look, marked her work.

Kim started her career in the early 1990s as a student interning at the now-defunct Sunday Tribune, working one day a week with the newspaper’s photographer. This coincided with her studies in photography at DIT, a breathing ground for aspiring media personnel with RTE’s Claire Byrne and The Saturday Night Show’s Brendan O’Connor amongst their famous alumni.

Although the job was only one day a week, it gave Kim a good grounding on technical aspects of photography – the importance of brightness, how to set the right shutter speed and how to properly develop prints. She watched, listened and learnt the skills needed to start her own career a few years later at NewsFour.
“I knew I needed to start working on my own, so I applied for the job and got it,” she says. Kim worked under the then-Editor Denis McKenna who told her the reason she got the job was because her portfolio was the only one to contain people in it. NewsFour was Kim’s perfect match. It has always put local people at the heart of all aspects of its journalism.

With Kim, the paper got its chance to enhance its coverage of local people and stories. Her predominantly black and white images echo a strong sense of storytelling that gave readers a sense of colour, vitality and youth.
“NewsFour has produced a lot of people who have gone on to do well. I found it a very good place to start,” she says.

After two years with NewsFour Kim moved into the less financially stable world of freelance photography, where she worked on a host of projects including portraits of Bertie Ahern, Bono, Brenda Fricker and Olympic champion Katie Taylor.

Kim has also become somewhat of a roving photographer, travelling to Haiti to document the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and Lesotho in Africa in 2005, where she compiled a portfolio on the AIDS-ravaged region in Death of a Kingdom. Her most recent work Shadowlands documents Ireland’s economic and financial collapse. “I kept passing this development in Donaghmede and I thought if this is the way it is here, it must be interesting visually all over Ireland. Every weekend for about six weeks, I went off in the car to Leitrim, Longford and Roscommon,” she says.

Her work was compelling enough to land Kim spots in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, The Sunday Business Post and the Independent in London, who printed a big splash with the headline ‘The Human Cost of the Irish Crash’ with Kim’s black and white images which painted a rather eerie depiction of our sorry mess. “Given that I had that all ready to go when the collapse happened here, with the bank guarantee crisis and the IMF, that’s how it became a good seller for me,” she says.

Her pictures manage to capture a moment in time that will be imprinted forever on the minds of those who see them, while also managing to capture something uniquely different about Irish people, that immediate sense of character.
“You’re trying to find their soul, which is a difficult thing to do,” she concludes.

By Liam Cahill