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Photographer Blog

Columba McVeigh's last letter home to his mother is displayed in his brother Oliver's house in County Tyrone

Patricia Gearon and her sister Helen McKinley walk to the site where their brother Peter Wilson's remains were discovered at Waterfoot beach in County Antrim

A stone marks the spot where Peter Wilson's remains were discovered at Waterfoot beach in County Antrim

Margaret McKinney holds a running shoe, which her son Brian was wearing when his body was found, as she stands by his grave in Milltown cemetery in West Belfast

A memorial for Brian McKinney is seen at the site where his body was discovered at Colgagh bog, Inniskeen

The running shoes that Brian McKinney was wearing when his body was discovered are displayed in his mother Margaret's apartment in West Belfast

Walter Simons holds a picture of his son Eugene as he poses for a photograph in Bryansford

December 12, 2014
by Cathal McNaughton
Crossmaglen, United Kingdom

I’ve been aware of the story of the “Disappeared” most of my life. In fact, I grew up with it.

While I’ve covered some pretty horrific stories in Northern Ireland over the years – I’ve been to murder scenes and I’ve heard gruesome things – shooting this story affected me more than many of the things I’ve seen.

The families of the 18 people who went missing during the Troubles in the 1970s and 80s have been interviewed or photographed many times before, and while they’re very helpful there are certain pictures they’re willing to have taken.

I knew that if I wanted to go into more detail, I had to get to know them a little better, so I arranged meetings with them through one of the trauma centers. I wanted to spend some time breaking down barriers and explain what I planned to do.

I was surprised at the access they gave me – I was told I was among the first people to hear some of these stories and to see some of the belongings. It was an amazing privilege.

Many hours were spent thinking about how I wanted to illustrate this story – there had to be some sort of theme or symmetry. The pictures can’t be disjointed even though they should be able to stand on their own.

People may ask: “Why has he photographed a pair of glasses or running shoes?” Well, it forces the viewer to read the caption and once they do that, the picture takes on a stronger meaning.

Photographing Margaret McKinney stroking the running shoes her 22-year-old son Brian was wearing when he disappeared on May 25, 1978, the soil still ingrained in their soles, as she broke down at his graveside is something that will remain with me.

It struck me how the suffering and heartache endured, in some cases, over 30 years later.

With that in mind, I was careful to respect the people I was photographing, to not abuse their trust and to do the story justice. There is such a weight of responsibility that comes with being a photojournalist.

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