While Richard Mills died almost two weeks ago, EPUK, in line with other news organisations, had agreed to a request to not report on his death until his body was returned to his home in Northern Ireland. Early unconfirmed reports suggested that his death may have been suicide.
His funeral is to be held on Tuesday 29th July at 3pm at the Roselawn Crematorium, Ballygowan Road in Belfast. His family have said that his fellow photographers are welcome to attend.
Colleagues and friends of the popular photographer told EPUK that they were shocked by the news of his death and said that the “gentleman” would be sadly missed.
Richard Mills, photographed last year by his colleague Paul McErlane.
“He’d only been working for a short time, but he’d seen a lifetime within seven years” said his friend and colleague Paul McErlane. “There’s nowhere he hadn’t been. He’d turn up on jobs with us, and his cameras told it all: while ours where shiny and just slightly scuffed, his were battered from having used them in places where you barely have time to wipe dust of the lens.”
Richard Mills had built a short but distinguished career as a photographer able to produce pictures from difficult places. He was on his third visit to Zimbabwe, working without accreditation, in a country where western media are either strictly monitored or banned from reporting.
On an earlier visit to the country in March, Mills had come across a seven-year-old Zimbabwe girl Sarudzai Gumbo who was suffering from a number of different AIDS-related illnesses.
With the help of a campaign by the Times, enough money was raised to move her to her properly equipped hospital, but she died shortly afterwards.
Becoming an editorial photographer
Mills began his career as an RAF photographer based at RAF Cosford, where he spent thirteen years, rising to the rank of corporal. During his time there, he met his wife Zoe, now a squadron leader in the RAF, during a hockey tournament in which they were both competing.
In 2000 he left the service and began working as a commercial photographer. However, with news photography as his main aim, he contacted the Irish News in 2001 and arranged work experience, looking to break into the editorial market.
“He was meant to be here for one week’s work experience, and ended up staying for three”, recalls photographer Brendan Murphy, who at the time was working as picture editor at the Irish News.
“Richard was already an established photographer when he contacted me through a mutual friend, and he produced some very good pictures while here. He was an excellent photographer, and a wonderful guy. He loved photography, and had a natural instinct for a good picture”
Mills’ time at the Irish News co-incided with several momentous events in the history of Northern Ireland, and he ended up covering the Holy Cross primary school furore, where his easy charm enabled him to cover the dispute from both sides. He also covered a visit to Stormont by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the funeral of a dissident IRA member, and a visit by the Dalai Lama.
It was this portfolio of work that Richard Mills took to the Times picture desk, where he secured regular freelance work for the title, and began his first assignment covering the G8 protests in Genoa.
“He was what I would term a war photographer”, said Brendan Murphy. “Over the years, he would come back to Northern Ireland from time to time, and show me where he had been: Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe – two or three times – and covering the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake.
Other colleagues had expressed reservations about the places Mills was working in. “I remember we were waiting at the gates of Stormont on a job in 2007, and he was talking about going back to Iraq or Zimbabwe”, said his friend and fellow photographer Paul McErlane.
“Northern Ireland isn’t that easy to work in, but these places, the places he was talking about were really dicey to work in.”
“One of the finest photojournalists”
McErlane says that as a way of showing his apprehension to his friend, he turned round and photographed Mills, half-jokingly saying: “Well, we’ll be needing this”. McErlane was referring to the practice of newspapers needing up to date ‘collect’ photographs of the recently deceased.
Paul McErlane says he last saw Mills on the television, during a press conference by Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. “He was hard to miss, being one of the only white people there. I tried to contact him afterwards, but the call couldn’t get through.”
A statement this morning on the British Press Photographers Association website described Mills as “both one of the most likeable people and one of the finest photojournalists currently working for the British news media”.
Richard Mills leaves a wife and a five-and-a-half year old son in London, as well as his family in Northern Ireland. The thoughts of his colleagues and friends are with them at this time.
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