Born in Limerick, Ireland, in 1941, Mclnerney’s first experience of photography, like that of many children, was a Kodak box camera, the Brownie, but it was not until many years later that a camera would become a regular companion. At the age of seventeen he left Ireland and moved to London, a city where new opportunities beckoned for those who dared. With no money to his name, the exuberance of youth and a strong work ethic got him through his first years there. A string of casual jobs—from the monotony of a watching a conveyor belt in an ice-cream factory to early starts as a British Rail porter—would come to strengthen his character and prove to be of great worth later on in his professional life.
In 1962, while working as a stage manager at a Soho strip club, the Phoenix, a chance proposal revived his early interest in photography. Club owner Billy Gardener asked him to take publicity photographs of the dancers. The formal photographic training that is readily available at universities today was hard to come by in those days, so Mclnerney turned to established photographer Lewis Morley for guidance. Morley, who was known for his celebrity portraits (and would take a famous photograph of a naked Christine Keeler in 1963), had his studio around the corner on Greek Street and would regularly pass by the club, leaving a cloud of cigarette smoke in his wake. He lent him a Rolleiflex camera, background paper, and lights, and also gave him invaluable technical tips. With his newfound knowledge, an eye for composition, and live models who knew exactly how to respond to the camera, this education on the job would be the very schooling McInerney needed to kick-start a new career.
Moving away from the seedy Soho scene, with a growing confidence behind the lens, McInerney set up professionally as an independent tourist photographer under the name of Piccadilly Press. Following swarms of tourists across the capital, he needed a persistent attitude and a strong personality in order to make a living. His was driven by an admiration for some of the greats of candid street photography such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, William Klein, and Bill Cunningham. These sources of inspiration would later prove beneficial when he ventured into the world of fashion.
With new designers and shops such as Biba popping up across the capital, catering for a young workforce with money to spend, he was employed by a Japanese company, Marubeni, to photograph boutiques and their customers in London’s most fashion-conscious locations. As swinging London made its way into the 1970s, he started dating Melanie Haberfield, cofounder of the boutique Swanky Modes, and began taking photos of their fashion shows. One of the first was at St Paul’s Churchyard in Covent Garden. It was organized by Lynne Franks as a forerunner to London Fashion Week and promoted young British designers.
Fresh talent was to continue to be a source of revenue for Mclnerney, who in 1984 captured a rare glimpse into the beginnings of an illustrious career at the Central Saint Martins graduation show of John Galliano, “Les Incroyables,” photographing the attitude and energetic strut of the models, and his first solo collections, “Fallen Angels” and “Forgotten Innocence.” As magazines and the media began to latch on to the new young talent and consumer audience, fashion on the catwalk would become a regular focal point and Mclnerney was there to deliver a visual record, showcasing the birth of an emerging fashion capital both on and off the street.