Sylvester Mittee’s hands by Eamonn McCabe, 1981, The Observer

By Alan Sparrow

Among the plethora of bursaries available to photographers and aspiring photographers, a new one is about to enter the crowd.  But this one stands out 

A collaboration between The Guardian and The Royal Photographic Society is certainly not to be ignored, and if you add the name of Eamonn McCabe to it you know that this is a bursary to be taken seriously.

McCabe started his career in photography working in the darkroom as a printer before joining Sporting Pictures as a junior photographer. He left there to open his own sports photography agency where his tactic was to be quick with his printing and delivery, often processing the film in his van on the way back from the game. It enabled him to have his prints in front of the picture editor often before their own photographers had returned.

With his speed and original style he caught the eye of the picture editor of The Observer who gave him a contract and encouraged his style, more humorous and quirky than many of at the time. Among the work he produced was this striking photograph of boxer Sylvester Mittee’s hands in 1984.

He stayed with The Observer for many years, was Sports Photographer of the Year four times, and in 1985 News Photographer of the Year for an image he took at the Heysel stadium disaster. “I went as a sports photographer, thrilled to be covering Juventus against Liverpool, and ended up a news photographer, as the whole thing turned into a terrifying disaster in which 39 supporters were killed … I never processed the films from the game itself. They didn’t seem to be very important’’.

McCabe was invited by The Guardian’s editor Peter Preston to join the paper as picture editor where he enjoyed the new challenge, but was drawn back to taking photographs in 2001 to pursue portrait photography. Thirty of them are in the National Portrait Gallery.

Eamonn McCabe died suddenly in 2022 aged 74 and his family has since been working with The Guardian and RPS to create this bursary in McCabe’s memory and to continue his mission to support and encourage young photographers. In keeping with his first love, sports photography, there is a theme for the bursary of ''Sporting Endeavour''.

"Eamonn was always generous with advice and practical help to up-and-coming young photographers - whether on assembling a portfolio, choosing the right course or trying to secure work experience” said his wife, Rebecca Smithers. “He knew from personal experience how tough it was for people starting out who did not have any contacts in the business.''

Applications for the bursary - which provides a grant of £3,000 along with professional mentoring - are invited now from those 25 and under, and the winner’s work will be published online in The Guardian.

One of those who benefited from Eamonn’s support and interest is Tom Jenkins, multi-award winning sports photographer with The Guardian. ''Countless young photographers like me were given a first break and encouraged into the profession by him” he said. “Not only has he left a legacy of incredible images but he has also generously ensured that photographers following on behind him are set up to succeed. This new bursary will help build on that legacy".

The Eamonn McCabe Bursary is open for applications until August 1 with projects to be completed within one year of the award.

Full details and more information about Eamonn McCabe can be found at


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