I came across these wonderful photographs of Samuel Beckett by John Minihan while reading an interview with him in the lead up to a talk and exhibition he’s giving at the Happy Days Enniskillen Beckett festival, Northern Ireland from 23rd – 27th August. Naturally I’ve seen these images before. They are iconic. But what is interesting is the excerpt from the interview in which he gives a great account of how he first met Beckett in 1980.
The interview concentrates on his first meeting with Beckett and how the two became friends:
I’d never heard of Samuel Beckett until he won the Nobel prize for literature in 1969. After that, I went to see some of his shows and quickly became fascinated by this Irishman living in Paris. In 1980, he came to London to direct Endgame. Sam was a recluse, with a real aversion to journalists, but an Irish porter at the Hyde Park Hotel gave me a tip-off that he was staying there. I left him a note and, when I called the hotel the next day, I got put straight through.
At our first meeting, I showed him pictures I’d taken at the wake of a woman from Athy, the Irish town where I grew up. She was called Katy Tyrrell and I took shots of her and her family for three days and two nights. Clocks were stopped, fires were put out, and the mirror was covered with a sheet. He was intrigued. Then I took several pictures of him. Sam probably thought this was the last he was going to see of me, but I don’t operate like that. To my mind, a 16th of a second is nothing out of someone’s life.
After that, I would photograph stagings of his plays, starring everyone from Patrick Stewart to Ian McKellen. Actors would appear for nothing, simply because the work was beautiful to perform. It was perfect for a black-and-white photographer, too. I sent Sam all the photos, and he would write me thank-you notes on postcards.
In 1985, just before his 80th birthday, Sam invited me over to Paris. We agreed to meet at his local cafe in Montparnasse at 3pm on a Sunday. I arrived at 2pm and found a secluded table by the window with good light. I can still see Sam walking towards me with a smile on his face – he knew exactly why I had chosen that spot.
We talked until 4.50pm. He mesmerised me. Daylight was quickly disappearing and I thought the moment had passed. Then Sam said: “John, would you like to take a photograph?” I got out my Rolleiflex and took three frames. They turned out better than I expected because Sam directed the whole scene. He wanted it to say: “This is who I am.”
That night, I was so excited to have snapped Samuel Beckett in Paris, his chosen city, that I went out and got completely and utterly pissed.
John Minihan was born in Dublin in 1946 and raised in Athy, County Kildare. At the age of 12 he was brought to live in London, and went on to become an apprentice photographer with the Daily Mail. At 21 he became the youngest staff photographer for the Evening Standard.
For thirty years he remained in London, returning every year to his hometown of Athy to record the people and their daily lives. Over the years Minihan developed a close relationship with many writers and his photographs of Samuel Beckett show a particular affinity between the two men. William Burroughs once referred to Minihan as “a painless photographer”.
His friendship with Samuel Beckett produced some of the most remarkable photographs ever taken of the writer.
Via The Guardian
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