The red carpet was rolled out in Tullamore Library in Co Offaly for the first-ever exhibition from current Press Photographer of the Year, James Crombie. James told Ray D'Arcy that he was delighted with how the night went:
"It was amazing. We had about 250 people in for the exhibition unveiling. It was a very emotional evening for everyone."
The exhibition, which features portraits of children and adults with Down syndrome, is called ThreeTwentyOne, and James explained why he came up with that title:
"The medical term for Down syndrome is Trisomy-21, it’s people with Down syndrome have a third copy of the twenty-first chromosome, so that’s where it comes from, ThreeTwentyOne and that’s why World DS Day is the 21 March – Three Twenty-One."
March is a ways away at this stage, of course, but October, James says, is a very appropriate month to stage this particular exhibition:
"World Down syndrome Awareness Month, so, yeah it was just the perfect month to be able to get this exhibition out there."
The subjects of the photographs range in ages from 14 months to 55 years of age and one of them is James’s daughter, Chloe. Ray wondered how Chloe got on at the launch. She loved it, James told him:
"She had a great time. Yeah, she was running around, she was dressed as a – she had her denim jacket on and was dressed as Anna underneath, from Frozen, so she was going around freezing people, so she was having great fun."
Other kids’ reactions were just as sweet:
"I saw kids hugging their picture, kissing their picture and getting their picture taken with their picture. It was brilliant, really heart-warming last night. There were some lovely scenes in there and it was just nice to be able to do it for them."
Ray asked what James hoped to achieve by mounting the exhibition – particularly as it wasn’t a fundraiser of any sort:
"It’s awareness and inclusion is what the idea of this is, it wasn’t a fundraiser, we weren’t looking for money, we were just trying to open people’s eyes. They’ll be visible to everyone in the public for the next month and it’s just basically getting it out there, like, you know what I mean? Employment is important, access to school and needs in school’s important, so just making sure it’s just as visible as possible."
When you talk to parents of children with Down syndrome, Ray says, it’s the future that always comes up, isn’t it? James agreed, telling Ray that when Chloe was born, one of the first thoughts he had was how she’d be able to get on when her parents were no longer there:
"I remember when Chloe was born when, we were just trying to, like, I was already zooming ahead to 30 years' time when I mightn’t be around or my wife mightn’t be around, and that was the big worry, like, you know what I mean, what’s going to happen then, but everyone told me to live in the moment and forget about that."
Like a lot of parents of children with Down syndrome, James and his wife only found out that Chloe had Trisomy 21 shortly after she was born:
"It's not something that you’re really prepared for... It was an emotional day, I remember going home to my parents’ house and crying, actually, and I don’t think I’ve done that in 30 years. But, you know, look, our heart’s been opened up to all that community since then and meeting adults and I go for coffee with some of the adults during the week sometimes and it’s just really reassuring, you know."
The picture James chose of his daughter Chloe doesn’t feature her smiling, which got him in trouble with his wife, but he’s convinced he got it right:
"I think it just sums her up perfectly. She’s a really smiley kid, but I know her way more than all the other people in the exhibition and to me that just was a perfect reflection."
James – the Press Photographer of the Year, let’s not forget – is usually capturing astonishing pictures of starling murmurations or sporting highlights, so how different, Ray asked him, was the process of shooting the portraits for this exhibition?
"Since I joined Offaly Down syndrome, since we got involved there, the guys have been saying, 'Oh, you’ve got to do a calendar, or something.’ And I didn’t really want to do a calendar, I kind of wanted to do something a bit – ‘cause with a calendar, we’d be limited to 12 people. And the whole idea, I thought we might get 20, 25 people involved in this – I think we got all bar maybe a couple of people in Offaly."
You can hear the full conversation between Ray and James by going here.