Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland photographer whose images won high praise dies at age of 60

By Ivan Little

A multi-award winning Coleraine photographer who was one of the most colourful characters in the local newspaper industry has died, less than six months after celebrating his 60th birthday.

Tributes have been flooding in for Mark Jamieson, who fell ill suddenly four weeks ago.

Medical teams at the Royal Victoria Hospital had been fighting to save his life since, but they lost the battle yesterday morning.

Mark was a five-time winner of the Regional Press Photographer of the Year award and was honoured four times by the Press Photographers Association of Ireland.

After brief spells selling papers and working in a pet shop and a sports shop, he started his career as a photographer with the Coleraine Chronicle, where he stayed for more than 30 years before going freelance.

In his Chronicle days he covered the Troubles with a sensitivity that won him huge respect.

He was also on hand to record the exploits of his hometown team Coleraine FC at The Showgrounds and overseas.

After striking out on his own, his photographs appeared in every major newspaper in these islands and further afield.

He was regularly seen with his trusty camera outside courts in Coleraine, Ballymena and Antrim.

His pictures figured prominently in journalist Deric Henderson's best-selling book about the double murders carried out in Castlerock in 1991 by dentist Colin Howell and his lover Hazel Stewart

In the acknowledgements to Let This Be Our Secret, Mr Henderson wrote that Mark was heavily involved in the project from day one and became "a great friend and confidant".

Mr Henderson asked: "Is there anybody in Coleraine he does not know?"

It was a question that crossed the mind of every journalist who ever covered a story with him.

It was nigh impossible to walk down any street in Coleraine, or any town in the north west, without someone greeting Mark, who was small in stature but big in heart.

He opened doors with a flash of a smile. Belfast Telegraph editor Gail Walker saw that herself as a reporter out on the road with him. She said: "Mark was the consummate newspaper photographer - he knew his patch and his patch knew him, and that fact coupled with his engaging and warm personality meant that more often than not people were only too happy to pose for pictures or help him out while he was working on a story.

"Over many years he'd earned the trust of a wide constituency of the public and had built up an enviable contacts book.

"Despite having to contend with his own difficult times, Mark always had a ready quip to relax his subjects. On difficult jobs, he proved indefatigable when other spirits flagged.

"While much of his work centred around the daily beat of hard news, he also delivered some outstanding portrait and features work to the Belfast Telegraph, including a memorable series of images of Ballymoney man Alex Getty, who had found himself in difficult circumstances. Just days before he was taken ill, Mark filed a great set of images on the Twelfth.

"On behalf of all my colleagues at the Belfast Telegraph, I'd like to extend our sympathies to Mark's family and friends at his untimely passing."

One of his best friends was former footballer and Radio Ulster pundit Liam Beckett, who had a cup of tea with Mark at least three times a week in Portstewart.

"I am heartbroken," said Liam. "I tend to choose my close friends very carefully and I am proud to say that Mark was one of them. I have known him since I went to play for Coleraine in the Irish League and Mark was a fanatic. We struck up our friendship there and it grew.

"No matter what bad times or good times we were going through, you could always depend on him for a chat over a cuppa. We shared a lot of similarities and views and it was always a friendly ducking and diving match when it came to paying for the tea.

"I'm told that when Mark rallied briefly in hospital he was asked what he could remember, and one of the things he said was that he'd had a cup of tea with 'LB' on the Prom.

"I couldn't wait to see if he recalled that it was me who picked up the bill! But we'll never be able to share that joke now. I have lost a dear, dear friend.

"He had his hard times, but he had fought through them."

Mark's only daughter Lynsey was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008. She bravely went public about her illness in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph and spoke about the shock, as a teenager, of losing her mother Donna to cervical cancer too.

Lynsey praised her dad for his unstinting support as he helped his daughter in her struggle back to health.

In a heartfelt tribute, Freddie Parkinson, the chairman of the Northern Ireland Press Photographers Association, said all his members had learnt of Mark's death with the deepest sadness.

He added: "Mark was very much respected by everyone in the newspaper industry and a lot of editors and photographers spoke very highly of him and his quality of work which he always carried out with great professionalism."

Mr Parkinson continued: "All our thoughts are with his daughter Lynsey and the family circle. Lynsey has not only lost her father but also her best friend."

Mr Parkinson also referred to Mark's wide circle of friends, which he said included actor James Nesbitt, who shared his passion for Coleraine FC.

Mark celebrated his 60th birthday in a pub in Coleraine in February - and Beckett and I were privileged to be among the guests.

The walls were adorned with photos of the highlights of Mark's personal and professional life, and a poem was read in his honour.

Mark urged his guests not to bring presents. Instead he asked all present to give the money to Action Cancer, a selfless gesture that resulted in a £640 donation to the charity, which was handed over by Lynsey, Mark and his close friend Paula Cauley.

His first free journey on his 60-plus Smartcard was to Belfast to have lunch with Mr Henderson and myself, but treacherous snow in the city forced him back home.

In May Mr Henderson and I had a belated birthday barbecue for Mark in Portstewart, where I took the photo which is published here today.

Mark said it was a technically well-composed image. Which was high praise indeed from the man who, tongue-in-cheek, called himself "the Legend".

Mr Henderson said yesterday that he believed Mark could have held his own as a photographer in Belfast or even Fleet Street, but he chose to stay in Coleraine because he loved the town and its people.

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph