Renowned photographer on capturing the great and good and Downpatrick ‘characters’

Renowned photographer on capturing the great and good and Downpatrick ‘characters’

8 May 2024

FOR over 50 years Bobbie Hanvey has trained his lens on the great, the good and, possibly, the not so good. 

He’s photographed politicians, poets, church leaders and celebrities, along the way receiving numerous awards and earning a deserved reputation as an outstanding photographer.

But for his latest exhibition, which opens in Down Arts Centre tomorrow evening, Bobbie has looked no further than Downpatrick, which has been his home for almost 60 years.

Entitled Made in Downpatrick, it comprises more than 50 images which collectively capture the essence of the county town and its people.

Asked why he chose Downpatrick as his subject, Bobbie replies: “Downpatrick has been good to me. The people are broad-minded and fair. I like it a lot.”

Born in Brookeborough in Co Fermanagh, Bobbie came to Downpatrick in 1966 and worked as a psychiatric nurse at the Downshire Hospital before switching careers to become a photographer in 1972.

It proved to be a successful move.

Over the years his photos have appeared in many publications and he has made many friends throughout Ireland and beyond. He has won numerous awards and his hugely popular Downtown Radio programme, The Ramblin Man, ran for 36 years.

Many of his photos have appeared in the Down Recorder, where he was a valued freelance photographer for many years.

Now a ripe 78, Bobbie says his main interest has always been photographing people, though he takes the occasional landscape photo if he finds the subject interesting. 

Perhaps his most celebrated photo was of the Rev Ian Paisley with his arm raised beside the statute of Sir Edward Carson at Stormont in 1985. Of Paisley he says: “We got on like a house on fire. I liked him a lot.”

From the other side of the political divide, he describes former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams as “cute as a fox, one of the cleverest people I have come across”.

Bobbie has photographed countless other politicians, as well as five Chief Constables and a number of top paramilitary leaders.

He has also focused in on music legends such as Phil Coulter, Dickie Rock, Brendan Bowyer and Joe Dolan, renowned literary figures such as Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel, as well as actors, entertainers, journalists, business people and many many more.

Bobbie says his favourite person he photographed was the American writer JP Donleavy. “He had a wonderful voice and was a great storyteller. He could tell lies and convince you they were the truth.”

Bobbie doesn’t take as many photos these days, but he’s still full of enthusiasm for his craft.

He’s looking forward to his exhibition and he hopes those who come along will enjoy looking at his photos which offers a slice of Downpatrick life down the decades.

He laments some of the people he photographed who are no longer around. “Unfortunately, the town has lost a lot of its characters and that’s a shame.”