Operating his business in Portarlington, Co. Laois for decades, Willie Murphy is a man of the community. His smile is infectious and it hangs on every one of his sentences. He explains that he runs his furniture shop not for money but because he enjoys it. He loves meeting people and as I drove down the road he stood out like a beacon of hope. I had to stop and take his portrait and I'm glad I did. Nervously I went up to him in a little space carved out of the front of his shop surrounded by second hand furniture stacked to the roof. If this was Tetris, it was almost game over. I introduced myself and asked his I could take a quick portrait of him. Without asking a single question he smiled and simply said "of course".
As we chatted I captured a few more images. He brought me to his front window and showed me a Cross that he had bought in some market in France. He had been haggling with the owner over small trinkets worth only a couple of euro telling him they were for his poor mother back in Ireland. Then he saw the cross and on it was the figure of Jesus carved from bone. He asked how much for the cross? to which the man replied €100. Willie took a crisp €100 note from his back pocket and handed it to the seller. The seller shock asked..."you haggle over a euro but this you give me money straight away?" Willie explained that you can't haggle over Jesus. After placing the figure class to the window in his store, a local priest advised him to face the artefact out the window and it would bring good luck. Shortly after their was a fight outside Willies store and every window was broken... every window except the one Jesus was keeping an eye on!
Symbols and moments were clearly important to Willie as he was keen to show me his Fathers cap hanging on a nail in the corner. He looked up and as the conversation moved on, his eye sat on the cap for and extra few second. It was as if he was remembering a past memory, presumably with his father.
Willie clearly has a zest for life and the people in his life. He fumbles with his phone and shows me a picture of his only granddaughter riding her bike. Then its a picture of the sun coming through the local church steeple and finally a picture of a dog wearing his tie after his wife told him she hated the tie. 30 years ago he was one of the founding members of the Lions club in Portarlington and he is so proud of how the club helps those in need.
Sadly time passed quickly, and as his friend Noel and local TD Fiona O'Loughlan popped by, Willie decided it was time to pull the shutter and for us all to head off for coffee. I needed to get home to the kids but promised I would pop back some day and have that coffee. A promise I intend to keep!
Today I learnt a little more about the importance of photography and of portraiture. It is such a powerful medium but the most powerful piece for me is that it gifts me the opportunity to meet wonderful people. It is food for the soul. Sometimes you meet people that add a little bit to your life. I don't know how or what but as I left Willie I couldn't get him out of my mind and I couldn't get the smile of my face.