The Man Behind The Camera

October 05, 2023

Sports photography is fascinating, no matter the sport. The detail that goes into the whole process seems so complex, from choosing where to position yourself, to capturing the right shot at the precise moment. Sports photographers witness the glory and the agony of athletes all at once. They capture the most raw, unfiltered emotions of athletes at their most vulnerable moments. Michael Molamphy has lived and breathed sports photography since he was a child, and Run Republic sat down with him to chat all about the life of the man behind the camera.

‘Two days ago, one of the great Manchester City players of all time Francis Lee, passed away, and his was the first poster that I ever collected.’ There were two football magazines in the early 1970’s that Michael used to read, and in these magazines, you would collect cut up parts of a poster. ‘You collected the poster in eight parts, so it took you eight weeks to get the full poster, and when you had all the parts together, you sellotaped them to make your own poster. I just remember being fascinated with the fact that someone had taken that picture as it gave me a real insight into him and what he looked like because, at the time, television coverage would have been very grainy.’ The feeling that this poster gave Michael in the early 70’s inspired him to pursue a life dedicated to sharing this same feeling through his own work.

Michael’s Early Photography Memories

Michael recalls getting an instamatic camera for Christmas when he was 12 years old, before telling the light-hearted story of the first sports photographs he ever took, ‘I had a 12-exposure film in the camera because, as people over the age of 30 or 35 will know, you had to buy film and you were limited to the number of exposures. I was so excited to see this bike race coming that when the motorbikes and security vehicles arrived, I started taking pictures, and by the time the cyclists arrived, I had one frame left! So, I got one photograph of the cyclists in action, and I remember at the time dreaming “wouldn't it be amazing if there was no cost to taking a photograph?”’.

The cost of photography at the time led to Michael pledging that when he started to earn money, he would buy himself a camera, and that day came when Michael was 21 years old. ‘I remember that first winter going to cross-country and realizing that the camera was showing me the pain on the faces of the athletes, and the muck on their faces.’ This moment really drew Michael in and launched what continues to be a brilliant photography career capturing thrilling moments from all forms of athletics.

Michael’s Love of the Dublin City Marathon

Michael tells Run Republic that his favourite event to shoot is the Dublin City Marathon, as it is ‘the culmination of a lot of work for a lot of people’, and Michael went on to share some great stories from over the years. ‘One year I said I'm not leaving until the last person has finished, and I found that the longer the day went on, the more interesting it got, because you were seeing human endeavour at its finest.’ Michael went on to tell us that ‘there was one year I had packed up and gone for something to eat with one of my family, and we were walking back down Northumberland Road at maybe eight o'clock that evening, and I met a lady who was obviously walking at that point, but she was determined to finish and by the time she got down to Merrion Square, the finish line was packed up and everybody had gone home. But that's where the real stories are, that's where the real emotion is.’ That lady and her determination to finish out the route exemplifies why Michael loves the Dublin City Marathon so much. ‘The fascinating stories with the Dublin City marathon are not always in the first half an hour. The stories in the last half an hour can be even more fascinating.’

What Does Sports Photography Mean to Michael?

When asked about what sports photography means to him, Michael responded with a truly remarkable answer, saying ‘I'm not able to meditate. I'm not able to sit in a room and just be mindful but put me out at an athletics meeting or a run, and for however long I'm there, I am completely consumed by what's going on in front of me. You're completely in the world of the athletes and the participants. It's all consuming and it's fantastic. You come back afterwards, and you have just been in another world for the hour or two or three that you were there. Then you have the added benefit that you have the images on your camera.’

‘Whatever sport people take part in, there is that something that gives them that sense of satisfaction, and to me if I was at an event last weekend, and I have one picture that really jumps out at me that is sharp and it tells the viewer something more about that sport, that's what I still get excited about.’

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