Dominic and Maria O’Neill launched O’Neill Classics 2018 and recently opened a stunning gallery in the heart of Weybridge, Surrey to showcase a fabulous collection of iconic photographs that were taken by Dominic’s father, Desmond O’Neill. Paul Andrews met them to find out more.
Desmond was an eminent photographer who travelled the world capturing his subjects and was renowned for photographing the jet set and high society. His career started as a photographer working for the Press in Manchester and during World War II he notably filmed the D-Day landings on Sword Beach where he was shot and wounded but remained able to bring the first footage of the landings back to the UK.
After the War Desmond worked for leading publications such as Tatler, Vogue and Queen magazines and in his latter career for Hello! magazine. During his career he was recognised as the foremost social photographer of the period and built up an extensive archive of images. He died in 2003 leaving a library of hundreds of thousands of images, many of which are known internationally and are instantly recognisable.
Amongst the collection there are tens of thousands of images that have been hidden for up to 70 years, notable amongst these is the collection of motor racing images from Goodwood and Silverstone dating from the early 1950’s, a selection of beautiful pictures from the South of France, Venice and St Moritz, stunning sailing shots from Cowes, historic images from Badminton and Burghley Horse Trials and some fantastic horse racing images to name a few.
Desmond also has 16 photographs in the National Portrait Gallery featuring subjects such as Ian Fleming and Maria Callas.
Dominic followed in his fathers footsteps and entered the world of photography where he continues to fulfil a great career as a photographer in his own right. Together with his wife Maria, they now own the collection and are on a journey to share with the world some of the iconic photographs, many containing personal memories of events that have taken place in the past century and are a privilege to see.
As a family business, Dominic and Maria, are creating a legacy of all legacies, showcasing iconic photographs of the great and the good, famous celebrities and exclusive destinations including Monte Carlo, South of France, St Moritz and the exquisite vehicles on the track at Goodwood to the jockeys at well known racing events, politicians, sportsmen and women and so many more besides.
Dominic remembers helping his father out at shoots from a young age with one of his first memories associated with his first photograph making it into the press. As Dominic explains, “It was at the age of 13 that I was with my father at Badminton Horse Trials and taking pictures of some of the riders around the course. One of the riders, was a young Mark Todd who subsequently went on to become the world’s leading rider. I took his picture purely because he had the same name as a friend of mine at school but it became really important as my father never got his picture and it was in demand because he won the event!”
Dominic continued to develop his interest in the world of photography accompanying his father on various shoots and his career built from there. It was not always easy though as Dominic continues; “He worked incredibly hard but I did learn a lot from him, probably the most important thing was that it was better not to be seen – photographers are best when not the centre of attention, when they blend in to the background and let the subject take centre stage, something that I still do today.”
There are plenty of positives as a photographer too, not least the lifestyle as Dominic explains. “For me, the fact that every day was, and is, different is a real pleasure and I learned a lot from being at shoots with my father who was strict, punctual and fastidious in all that he did. He was the most remarkable person with a great sense of humour, an incredible work ethic and one of life’s best.”
Dominic worked with his father for over 20 years and clearly they both have a great eye for taking exceptional photographs, capturing the essence of the scene or the beauty of the individual in the moment.
Desmond was world famous and admired for his work. His legacy is a truly remarkable iconic collection of images, many of which make their mark emotionally or a connection with a next generation family member many years after being taken.
Dominic and Maria add, “There are plenty of moments where one of the images has made a connection and one that is special to us was from Goodwood where three images were bought by a wife and given as a birthday present to her husband. An emotionally tear- jerking email was subsequently received by us from her husband as he had spotted himself as a young boy holding hands with his late father in the background, a picture that had just come out of archive and never seen before.”
The collection is a time capsule of days gone by showcasing traditions, trends in fashion and exclusive destinations and can only be described as a legacy of love that is now being made available.
O’Neill Classics is a unique business, built around the skills of a talented family of photographers who have captured incredibly iconic images which are admired globally. Traditions, history and culture of a time gone by captured by the lens.
Dominic and Maria continue to uncover more ‘gems’ each and every day and the collection has an extensive following from collectors around the world. One thing remains central to the very ethos of this family business – the pictures themselves. Iconic images, beautifully captured and now being shared with the world from a beautiful gallery in Weybridge in the heart of Surrey.
Visiting the gallery is like taking a step back in time, in a fabulously good way, where you are greeted by a fantastic couple who can share the story behind each and every image. Each picture has a reference to a moment in time, capturing their subjects beautifully and each and every one of them deserves their moment, their moment to shine, enabling us to reflect and reminisce in the beauty of the picture, the story behind it and the incredible skill of the men behind the lens who has really captured moments in history that will be their legacy for generations to come.
To find out more, to visit the gallery at 90 Church Street, Weybridge KT13 8DL or take a look at the O’Neill Classics website which can be found at www.oneill-classics.co.uk.