Bourke, Fergus (Ignatius) (1934–2004), photographer, was born 31 July 1934 in Bray, Co. Wicklow. His mother was Eileen (Eibhlín) Bourke (née Somers). His father Thomas Bourke (Tómas de Búrca), who worked for Dublin Corporation, was related to people prominent in twentieth‑century Irish culture and politics: Séamus de Búrca (qv), Brendan Behan (qv), Kathleen Behan (qv) and Peadar Kearney (qv). The family home in Dublin was on Tritonville Road, Sandymount. A younger brother was the landscape, graphic and figurative artist Brian Bourke (b. 1936). Fergus spent part of his childhood in Wexford (from the ages of 8 to 14), living with an uncle; he then attended Presentation College in Bray. After he left school, he worked in a variety of jobs, even as a stuntman in the religious epic film King of kings, shot in Spain in 1961, and afterwards he spent some time in Madrid, teaching English. He met Maureen O'Connor when he was teaching in Madrid; she was from Maplewood, New Jersey, and was studying French in Paris. Her parents, both of Irish‑American ancestry, came to Ireland to attend their daughter's wedding to Bourke in Clonskeagh catholic church, Dublin, on 25 September 1963.
On his return to Dublin Bourke developed a sudden life‑changing passion for black and white photography when at a party he picked up a copy of a book of the photographs of Henri Cartier‑Bresson (The decisive moment (1952)). His first exhibition was at the Pine Forest Gallery, in 1963, and he was offered a job as a film cameraman on the film of James Joyce's (qv) Ulysses. However, for most of Bourke's career, he concentrated on black and white photography, and made his name initially with exhibitions of photographs that sensitively chronicled the lives of the people who lived in poverty in the inner‑city tenements of Dublin. An exhibition in the Project Arts Centre in 1968 led to his work becoming known in the United States, through articles in several influential magazines. The New York Museum of Modern Art bought seven photographs for its permanent collection. His work appeared in many other solo and group exhibitions; for instance in the National Gallery of Ireland, Belltable Gallery, Limerick, Manchester Library, Boston College, the Royal Hibernian Academy and the Gallery of Photography in Dublin, as well as in the Gate, Abbey and Peacock theatres in Dublin. He had a solo show in Linz, Austria, in 1999. In the 1970s, a current affairs journal, Nusight, frequently used Bourke's photo‑journalism, and from 1970 to 1995 he was official photographer for the Abbey Theatre; he was well known in Irish cultural life, and had many friends in the theatre. He provided photographic illustrations for Mother Ireland, by Edna O'Brien (1976), for Athlone? by Desmond Egan (1980), and for works by John O'Donohue: Landschaft der Seele (2000) and Conamara blues (2001).
From 1984 he worked also in portraiture, and concentrated on a collection of portraits of pairs of people linked by various kinds of relationship; these were published in 1996 in a widely praised volume, Kindred. Several of his portraits have become the most celebrated images of their subjects. Die irische Seele (2002) published a selection of photographs from his whole career. Especially after he moved from Sandymount to Pollough in Co. Galway in 1990, Bourke turned more towards landscape photography, and did some work in colour, as well as experimenting with the use of infrared film.
In 1981, Fergus Bourke became the first photographer to be admitted to membership of Aosdána. A major retrospective exhibition was held at the Gallery of Photography, Dublin, in 2003, and later in Galway Arts Centre, and the occasion was marked by the making of a documentary film on his work by his friend Art Ó Briain: Fergus Bourke–in his own words was first shown by RTÉ in 2007. Its subject had not lived to see the film completed; he was diagnosed with a terminal illness shortly after filming, and died 8 October 2004. He was survived by his wife Maureen and their daughter and three sons.