Gemma Creagh focuses on Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon’s portrait of the Pulitzer-winning photographer Cathal McNaughton.
Northern Irish photojournalist Cathal McNaughton is the man behind a number of the most challenging and poignant images of human suffering you’re likely to see. He has a brilliant creative mind, and has spent most of his adult life in areas of conflict, singularly honing his craft to capture the most striking images often in moments of extreme danger. That’s how he has operated at the highest professional standard and why he is still the only Irish person to win the Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism. His coverage of the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh was profound. Those images are both beautiful and brutal to look at.
I Dream In Photos opens to a slow, pensive pace as Cathal McNaughton does DIY on his cottage in Northern Ireland. This quiet domesticity reveals no hint to his previous life. Via interviews to camera, interspersed with normal observations of his everyday existence, Cathal begins to reveal himself, starting with the abruptness in which his soaring career came to a halt. Little did he know when he left India to collect his Pulitzer, that the government would revoke his visa, and he would be left without access to his work, his camera, his partner and his whole life. Back in his hometown in the quiet coastal landscape of Antrim he is forced to regroup.
Funded by Screen Ireland and Northern Irish Screen, this is a thoughtful documentary that looks at not only the life and career of an acclaimed artist, but at the toll his work has taken on his psyche and personal life. Directors Ollie Aslin and Gary Lennon unfurl Cathal’s past to us via a series of snapshots, each micro chapter out of sequence and focusing on a snippet of his work. These moments, from working in Belfast and Omagh during the Troubles to travelling the world after his son was born, allude to his own demons as well as how his work has cost so much to those around him. As he approaches middle age, Cathal takes time out from his career to strengthen his relationship with his son, and care for his ageing parents as their health deteriorates.
The visuals of Cathal’s two worlds deliver a striking contrast. The heightened spaces of India, the bright colours of the fabrics, the masses of bodies against arid landscapes are a world away in every sense from the isolated flat rolling greens and greys of our quiet island. Much like Cathal captures the vibrancy, pain and humanity of his subjects, with this documentary, directors Aslin and Lennon present the quiet internal struggle of theirs. I Dream in Photos glances behind the veil of a man trained to exist in warzones, yet struggling in his contemplative rural home. It is in these moments of pause, when he looks back and laments the unprecedented pain and trauma he has witnessed over the course of his career, that we get the sense that he’s struggling.
I Dream In Photos delivers not only a well observed documentary and wonderful homage to Cathal’s impressive career – but also a quiet insight into the conflicted human condition.
I Dream In Photos is in cinemas 1 st December 2023.