When Margaret McLaughlin landed her first job as a photographer, her camera was a far cry from the hi-tech piece of equipment the award-winning photographer works with nowadays.
It was a Pentax P30 with a wind-up lever that could take one frame every 10 seconds, which Margaret won in fourth year at school.
Margaret upgraded to a more modern, fancier camera a year later that was capable of taking eight frames per second.
“It was amazing, and the noise it made - that rat ‘a tat tat’ of the shutter - I loved it,” she says.
The North West photographer has come along way since and her work has featured in local and national newspapers including ‘The Derry Journal’, ‘The Irish News’, ‘The Times’ and ‘The Irish Times’.
It was at school in St. Joseph’s College in Coleraine where Margaret developed a passion for photography, spending hours in the darkroom. She went on to attend art college and finished at University of Ulster, York Street, after four years in England and Belfast.
Margaret started working in newspapers a few months later and has been there since, covering news, sports, features and public relations, although she admits her favourite work is GAA.
“With good guidance from reporter, Seamus McKinney in Derry and the legendary picture editor, Brendan Murphy in Belfast, and great colleagues working in Derry newsrooms, I’ve progressed over 18 years,” says Margaret.
Recently, Margaret added another award to her collection as ‘CIPR NI Photographer of the Year’. It was the first time she entered the media awards competition and was thrilled to bits when she was announced the winner.
More recently Margaret has had success in the prestigious PPAI Awards (Press Photographers Association of Ireland) - almost like ‘The Oscars’ among photographers in Ireland - presented by Irish President Michael D Higgins in Dublin.
“It’s nice to compete against those working in Belfast and Dublin who, in many cases, are afforded better photo opportunities than us in Derry and come away with wins. It makes all the hard graft worthwhile,” said Margaret.
Throughout her career, Margaret has covered some of the biggest stories in news and sporting history. In particular, covering every single day of the 12-year-long Saville Inquiry and working with the Bloody Sunday families.
There was also that famous football match when John Hume brought the Barcelona Football team to play a friendly against Derry City at the Brandywell in 2003.
“All the team’s superstars, including Ronaldinho who had just signed for them, arrived at the City of Derry airport with sports reporters and photographers from across the world following them,” recalls Margaret.
“When they played the match the Brandywell was bursting at the seams. Tickets were gold dust and photographer passes were fought over. Fans were climbing up trees in the cemetery and up poles outside the Brandywell walls just to get a glimpse of the team. It was unreal.”
Another standout day at work for Margaret was when US President Bill Clinton came to Derry in November 1995.
“I had not long left university and had been on work experience at ‘The Guardian’ a few weeks earlier. They managed to arrange my photographer’s pass and I arrived at Guildhall Square that morning around dawn even though the Clintons weren’t expected untill late afternoon. The place was crawling with security and search dogs, the world’s media and me, at that time in the morning,” said Margaret.
Every square foot of space had been allocated to television crews and photographers. Thankfully for Margaret, Belfast Telegraph photographer Ian Trevithick and someone else “took pity on me and made room where there was none”.
“The crowds were gathering from very early too and every street was just heaving. Shipquay Street was bursting with people and, finally, at near dark on that winter’s evening they arrived and the tens of thousands gathered in Derry went wild. Although the Clintons have been here many times since, the scenes and the noise of that day will stay with me forever.”
Gone are the days of developing black and white negatives and printing images that had to be hand delivered to newsrooms, now it’s a case of supplying to live picture desks that never sleep, says Margaret.
“But you still have to deliver high quality images from whatever event you attend, usually under pressure of deadline, to survive. Some things never change,” said Margaret.
Despite all her success, Margaret admits she still gets nervous ahead of big events, such as GAA games.
“Once I get in and get settled I’m fine and you’re caught up in the buzz and excitement, but I always get nervous beforehand, knowing I’m going to a big match,” she says.
Margaret has covered major events throughout her career, but she loves the smaller events just as much and they’re often where she catches some of her best work like at the U6 hurling blitz at Owenbeg where she snapped that magical shot of young hurlers doing battle with their sticks.
“It about being in the right place at the right time. There’s a lot of hanging around, and going behind the scenes of the main event,” says Margaret. “Every day is different.”
As for the beloved Pentax camera, Margaret says: “I’ve taken that camera everywhere with me. It’s wrapped up and stored away. That was a great wee camera.”