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Paul Irish tells the story behind his picture of Paul Bernardo

This past weekend, in the Insight section on September 4, a photo of Paul Bernardo ran along with a with a story marking the 15th year since his conviction in the brutal slayings of Kristen French, Leslie Mahaffy and Tammy Homolka. 

When he opened the paper, the picture surprised the photographer, journalist Paul Irish who remembers, "It’s a picture I worked hard to get … but It’s one that I didn’t even know I captured at the time."

Insight front, September 4, 2010 

In a previous story for the Star Paul recounts how he got the picture....

At first glance, the picture, taken at the Metro East Detention Centre in Scarborough, looks like a typical "parade" shot in which police walk a prisoner for the benefit of the gathered media.

In reality, he was being hidden as much as possible - the two-inch-thick steel door of the facility's prisoner-transfer compound separates me from Bernardo.

As a matter of fact, I wasn't even sure that he was in the room at the time I clicked the shutter, and I never actually saw the above scene of Bernardo being escorted.

I helped with the coverage of the case the first time around, and I couldn't help but remember how the entire community and, of course, the media - myself included - had been consumed.

Working as a reporter-photographer based in the Star's old east bureau, it was my job to be at the jail every time Bernardo was moved for a court appearance.

Other photographers had him on film already - good shots of him sitting in the back seat of a car or leaving police wagons.

But, as our industry dictates, we always attempt to "advance" the story.

I needed something unique ... maybe a wide environment shot with him in the transfer compound.

I wanted something that would say "jail."

But the only view into the area was a small window on the door, which was closed tight shortly after the media rush started.

Another view was through the long opening that ran between the bottom of the door and the ground - a crack.

If you lay flat on your stomach, you'd see the occasional shoe, but that was it.

Cameras used both by print and television were just too big to shoot through the narrow space - everybody tried.

Of course, the door would open wide during a transfer, but not until Bernardo was inside a vehicle, and then he would be whisked away, chased by a swarm of photographers.

One day while I was waiting for such a transport, and still unsuccessful in getting a unique photo, I was fiddling with a small vacation-type camera I'd used on the odd assignment - what the pros call a "point-and-shoot."

I've used the tiny cameras in situations where I wanted to be a bit discreet, and I thought its narrow body could slip under the door.

It was still too big. But I found if it were positioned properly, the small camera's lens would sit snugly into the crack.

It was at that moment I knew I had a chance, but there was still one hurdle.

The guards at the detention centre had seen me experimenting with the point-and-shoot on previous visits and they didn't like me lying on the ground.

The men and women who worked at the centre were great people, but they warned me they would kick me off the property if they saw me on my stomach. It was a safety issue with all the jail traffic.

Luckily, with all the time I had spent at the centre, I became familiar with different sounds, including one that I believed was the opening and closing of the door you see between the two court vans.

I'm still not sure, but I suspect it's the opening through which most prisoners would enter the compound.

On the day this photo was snapped, detectives arrived to pick up Bernardo as usual. They entered the facility and, after a short while, I heard that familiar sound and started to put my plan in action.

I crouched down on one knee - not flat on my stomach, as the guards warned against - put the camera in place and hit the shutter several times.

As I said, I wasn't sure if there was anyone in the compound, let alone Paul Bernardo.

After a flurry of activity, the police entourage left with its prisoner, the film was rushed downtown and, about four hours later, I saw this print.

Shot blind through a crack, I was surprised with my luck and satisfied with the image.

The grey blurry area in the forefront of the photo leading up to Bernardo and the detective is the concrete floor of the compound.

If you look above Bernardo's shoes, you'll notice leg shackles.

Nothing extraordinary, nothing historic, not a definitive photograph of Bernardo.

But definitely different from anything else that appeared in the next day's media, and something that I believe captured his environment.

And that's what I set out to do.

PAUL IRISH - Paul Bernardo  in shackles is escorted to his transpot to court at the Metro East Detention Centre.

Click here to read Jim Rankin's Insight piece on Paul Bernardo


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Ingenious! : )

Great shot. Excellent work, Paul.

That photo speaks volumes. A shocked nation desperately needed closure and your photo gave some.

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