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Tuesday 12 December 2017

Melanie Morris: Instead of sitting around on a barstool talking about it, Barry McCall just did it

My insider's look at how the most ambitious book of Irish photography ever was done

Until last week, Barry McCall's name was possibly only known to media types, marketers and magazine editors like myself. He's a gifted, hard-working photographer whose love for his job is apparent to anyone who's worked with him.

Since the launch of his incredible coffee table book of portraits at the weekend, though, Barry is fashion royalty.

It's possibly the most ambitious book an Irish photographer has ever completed; and has been universally embraced. As well as stunning portraits, the book is a snapshot of our recent cultural history.

Here's where Michael Gambon and Imelda May make sense between the same pages. Here's where you can see Andrea Corr, snapped candidly on her wedding day. Here's where Lorraine Keane stripped and Snow Patrol have been captured on chilly Red Square. The book is a big fat volume of statements within statements.

It's hard to believe Barry has been shooting for 20 years. But I suppose a decade or two can pass in a flash.

Barry decided to celebrate his 20 years in style. As the story goes, he and celebrity hairdresser Dylan Bradshaw -- his best mate -- thought it'd be good to mark the milestone by shooting twenty-or-so amazing faces, and publishing the results.

With the involvement of Barry's interior architect girlfriend Kari, the numbers grew and the project developed legs. Next thing, the wish-list covered 20 foolscap pages and charity fundraising queen Caroline Downey (Mrs Denis Desmond) had come on board.

Nobody says no to Caroline, so agents were called, sponsors drafted in and celebrities brought to ground. One year later, the ISPCC are the beneficiaries of all proceeds from Pho20graphy, a 350-page coffee table book that's a roll call of notorious and famous faces, fashion spreads, supermodels, Hollywood A-listers, sporting heroes and telly types.

Barry functions on a 'don't think, just do' philosophy. Instead of sitting on a bar stool telling everyone what he was embarking on, he just did it.

I met Barry at the Meteors in February, and he had a mobile studio set up to capture the good and the great. Some months later, he had a space backstage at Oxegen to do the same.

Then he was darting between his Dublin studio, Moscow, New York, Los Angeles, London and the lesser-known recesses of Ireland to shoot through his wish-list. In between, he was keeping down the day job, shooting ad campaigns for his clients, and fashion spreads for us at IMAGE.

In July, Barry photographed British supermodel Jade Parfitt for our November cover. The results hit the newsstand today, and feature in the book. That shoot was great.

I wasn't surprised; I've worked with Barry for most of his 20 years.

He always directs his subjects with great encouragement. I know that because I've sat in front of his camera too, and he made me feel relaxed, gorgeous and like a star. I'm not surprised to hear many of the celebrities featured in the book have asked for copies of their portrait.

I'm sure Helena Christensen is one of those. Barry shot her in her Greenwich Village apartment in New York. He chose the spot, bathed her in natural light and got to work. Then he moved around and shot from the opposite angle. She was fascinated, but in Barry's way, he got her silhouetted in the light, with jumbled bits of her life in the background.

The launch at Brown Thomas last Friday was like a Nineties and Noughties reunion -- Robbie Fox of Reynard's in one corner, Belfast artist and former model Terry Bradley in another.

In the centre, women shot by Barry lingered beside display copies of the book, opened at their photograph. As for the man himself? He's currently in Milan, shooting material for his next 20-year celebration.

Pho20graphy by Barry McCall (€80) is available exclusively from all Brown Thomas and BT2 stores. All proceeds go to the ISPCC

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