We interviewed John Kelly, a full time press photographer working in the west of Ireland. John is a multi award winning photographer and has worked with The Clare Champion for the past two decades. He’s appeared in many publications himself including the well known publication, The Scattering where he traveled to England, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea to record the stories of those who have left the newspaper for different shores!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into photography.
The way that I got into photography was really the wrong way around. During the late 80s to early 90s my sister was going out with a guy that owned a camera shop and I started to work for them. However, initially I was far more interested in the technical side than the artistic side because I found the camera to be a magical item, and I liked the magic of developing black and white prints.
As I worked in the shop they gave me a Praktica MTL 5 to start with, which was an old manual focus camera. So I started to use that and the guy that owned the shop let me use the dark room he had in his back garden after work to experiment. So that’s where I would process my black and white films and make a few prints
How long have you been a photographer?
I have been a photographer professionally for twenty-five years.
Did you go to photography school or assist at all?
I have absolutely no formal training in photography.
How would you describe your photographic style?
I am a press photographer, so a lot of what I do is documentary or documentary based but I would say that my style is simple and often quirky. Now, the area that I am based in is very small which even from a press photographer’s point of view, isn’t very exciting…so, one of the things about my photographs I would say is that I try to make things that are very ordinary as extraordinary as I can.
Can we see some examples of your work?
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot with Nikon, I have used Nikon all my life, from day one. When I started on the newspaper we were using Nikon FM-2 cameras, and I graduated up through the Nikon F3, Nikon F4 and Nikon F5. Then we started using the Nikon D1, Nikon D2 and now I am on the Nikon D3S. But in the coming years I hope to go on to the Nikon D4.
What is your favourite editing tool?
I use Photoshop and I follow Guy Gowen workflow. I find his workflow actions save a lot of time for me and you really get the best out of your file. I also use Nik Collection tools such as Viveza because I do find some of the tools useful, for example the selective tools that allow you to selectively brightening a colour or adding some structure into clouds. However, I find with photography nowadays it’s very popular to distress the image but I don’t like to go overboard personally.
The best part of your job?
The best part of news photography is when you go on a job and don’t know how it’s going to go but then something amazing happens right in front of you and you get the shot.
The worst part of your job?
All of the other ordinary things you have to do, you’re not always covering great events, you’re covering very ordinary things. I cover a lot of sport for the newspaper which are often in very small facilities with very little shelter and no press facilities. So, you might be in the rain for a couple of hours and have to go to a few sporting events in one day.
Do you make time for personal photographic work? If so, is there a picture we could see?
Well, I do a lot of work for the newspaper as well as commercial work for myself and running a little studio too, so I find it difficult to make time for personal photographic work. Also, recently I have found that social media is another way for me to advertise myself.
However, in the future I am hoping to make more time for myself and I think the main driving force behind that will be the internet. When I first started working for the newspaper they only printed twenty thousand copies, but now anyone can put something online and it can go viral so I think that will be a big driving force for me.
What advice do you have for any photographer just starting out?
For somebody starting out I would say that you should try to do something a bit different or to specialize a bit more. I mean personally, I think photography as a profession is becoming less and less needed because everyone has a camera on their phone, so even from a news point of view, if there’s a crash or a storm or something all of the TV stations are asking the public to send in their photos. I read a statistic the other day that was something like “a third of the world’s photos were taken in the last couple of years”. So my advice would be to be as different as possible.
What is the best piece of advice YOU have ever been given?
I had an editor come into the dark room once when work was quiet and say “boy, you’re no good to me in here, get out and do something”. In other words, if you sit in your office and complain then you’re never going to do anything. I mean, I often find that when doing the ordinary you will see the extraordinary.
I mean, even if you’re at a really boring conference and you’re photographing the delegates listening to the most boring speaker that’s ever been heard, only when you are focused on the ordinary are you going to see the extraordinary, such as someone falling asleep or yawning.
If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be doing?
My other love in life is woodwork. I have always loved it and I still have a little workshop. I find it very therapeutic. Hopefully in the future I will be able to resurrect my love of woodwork.
Are you a Mac or a PC lover?
I’m a PC lover. I started off with Mac in the early days but I didn’t really get on with them.
What talent would you most like to have?
I would love to be able to turn water into wine.
Back in the days when we used film, what was your favourite?
I used to love the Kodak tri-x film and processing it with Kodak D-76.
What do you love to indulge in?
Food and drink!
If you could live anywhere, where would it be?
I would say maybe Australia. I worked out there for a five week job and I really liked the light and the easy going atmosphere. Here in Ireland, our climate is very dark and wet which can be a disadvantage and quite off putting for a photographer, so I would say probably Australia.
First thing you would do if you won the lottery?
Believe it or not I wouldn’t be hugely materialistic. I would try and help people who are worse off than me. I think if you have a lot of money then you should help others out, and I really do believe that in giving you will receive. I mean I would probably buy a little bit of camera gear for myself too!
For your business, what is your favourite thing on theimagefile?
The ease of use!
Where to find John Kelly:
Find John Kelly on http://www.johnkellyphotography.ie/