Talk to Joe is a well-known catchphrase nationally – and in Gorey. Joe Dixon, a man you’ll have spied behind a camera on many occasions, has also become the North Wexford face of Cycle Against Suicide and its Orange Tie Ball.
Joe’s involvement with Cycle Against Suicide came two years after his son, Fergus, died by suicide in 2010. “I was asked to speak at an event at a school in Bray, and that seven minutes in Bray has led on to many things,” says Joe, who is the youngest of 10 of a family steeped in Gorey’s history. “Now, I’m the lead photographer – I do the occasional cycle, only occasionally now (!) – and speak at events. And I’m bringing the fundraising Orange Tie Ball back to Gorey on November 9 this year.”
Alongside the Ball, Joe has also organised a Splashaton and, over the past two years, an amazing €20,000 has been raised locally for Cycle Against Suicide.
“Before I spoke in Bray, for about 12 weeks beforehand, I had nightmares every night. Since Bray, I’ve had none. That was the power of speaking about what had happened.”
Joe has also spoken about his own experience of depression, diagnosed in 2002 but present for many years beforehand. “There are thousands of people who have switched off from society, who don’t leave the house – and, nationally, more people are approaching mental health services. Every month, about two people come to me looking for help, for a child or themselves. I listen and give them the numbers for the relevant organisations that can help them. But those services can hardly expand to meet the rate of people approaching them.”
In addition to that hands-on local role, Joe has also been invited by national mental health organisations to share his experiences at various conferences across Ireland. This has seen him speak in conference rooms as far apart as Donegal and Galway, Meath and Roscommon, a role he willingly undertakes.
Joe found his own therapy in photography. “I always had an interest in it. Then, in April 2010, I had surgery to remove a tumour from my heart – I was a heartbeat away from death.
“So, I bought a second-hand camera and taught myself photography. Then, after Fergus died, it was a therapy to be out in the fresh air – the beauty of nature keeps you going. I’ve always loved nature, going back to my childhood listening to birdsong with my mother. I spent a lifetime birdwatching and I love the coastline – Castletown is my favourite spot. The light in Ballymoney and Castletown is fantastic.”
Joe’s photography has gone international, with an exhibition in 2018 in Puck in northern Poland, organised by the Polish Cultural Association in Gorey. “I’ve been involved with the Polish community here for about four years and I was chosen to exhibit at a celebration of Polish independence. The exhibit was made up of 28 panels of 72 photos showing the interaction of the Polish community in Gorey. Because Puck is on the Baltic Sea, the people there loved the coastline shots of north Wexford.”
The exhibition was also attended by Cllr. Anthony Donohoe, representing Gorey Municipal District, and Eddie Taaffe, representing Wexford County Council.
Those photos of the Polish community in Gorey are just one element of how Joe uses his photography to give back to the community he grew up in. “I’ve taken photos of – and for – Gorey Night Run, the Market House Festival, the switch on of the Christmas lights and loads more! Taking the pictures is one thing – there’s about two more hours of editing to be done that night!”
By day, he’s general manager of ASL Safety and Training in Arklow and full-time husband to Caitriona and dad to another three children. “I’ve been involved in health and safety for years – I was in the fire service for 10 years, and the Red Cross for 17 years. I started first aid training in 1980 – and I’m still doing it. In fact, I was on the first Irish Red Cross team to win a European championship in 1995.”
What’s up next for the snapper? “I’d love to get into mini-documentaries – five-minute stories. I’m also doing a project on taking portrait shots of people with interesting careers – and I’ll continue taking my landscape images. I create an image to make people feel as if they’re there. If it evokes a memory or a feeling, that’s great. I want you to pause before an image and feel it.”
Interview: Deirdre O’Flynn