DPP Home Profiles I Embraced The Road - Colin Finlay

Friday, June 15, 2007

I Embraced The Road - Colin Finlay

You have to get in close to see the truth. Colin Finlay has made a career of bringing that truth to the eyes of the world—stories that aren't always pretty, but need to be told

I Embraced The Road One of the foremost documentary photographers in the world, Colin Finlay defines the word “versatile.” His creative passion, integrity and technical acumen all serve to ensure that he can photograph a range of subjects with equal clarity and dedication. A four-time Picture of the Year Award winner, Finlay earned a first-place Issue Reporting Photography Award for his essay “Child Labor” in 1997.

The project also was nominated for ICP's prestigious Infinity Award. His Time Online multimedia essay “Rickshaw Pullers” won first place in 1998 for Best Online Photography and took the South East Asia Journalism Award as well. That same year, his portfolio of news and feature photographs from around the world garnered a third-place Magazine Photographer of the Year award.

Staring Down The Barrel

Finlay's career as a photographer began in September 1987 in Northern Ireland. The barbed wire, broken glass, burned-out buildings and overabundance of British soldiers on patrol provided Finlay with a visually stimulating environment. While walking the streets of Dublin, he raised his camera to take a photograph and through the viewfinder found himself targeted by a British soldier. Finlay didn't lower his camera. Instead, he pressed the shutter. The soldier soon lowered his gun and walked away.

When he returned to Los Angeles to develop the film, Finlay was disappointed to learn that the roll was blank; the film leader never took inside the camera. He returned two years later with new equipment. On a side street off of Falls Road, he met a young, jaded Patrick McGagy. After striking up a rapport, Finlay managed to befriend McGagy and his cousins. This gave Finlay access to Patrick's entire family. Finlay acknowledges that even though he had no formal training as a photographer, the timing was right to begin documenting McGagy's life in Northern Ireland.

“I told myself that he enjoyed the attention and was happy to share his life with me,” recalls Finlay. “I don't really know. I may have just been someone who was willing to listen, and for that, at least, I served a purpose.”

Finlay never attended art school nor assisted any photographer. He majored in English Literature, Economics and Religious Studies while at UC Santa Barbara. The Creative Studies department gave him this three-fold degree, and at that time, he knew nothing of photography. Says Finlay, “I didn't know the difference between an ƒ-stop and a sewer hole.”

He had been a door-to-door salesman of photocopiers, a seller of men's suits in a department store and even worked in an oil refinery in southern California. He didn't grow up with a camera, but it would become his passport around the world.


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