Joseph Kelly

Published 13/12/2016

Please introduce yourself and tell us how you got into photography?

I’m an independent professional photographer. I’m based in Wellington but I work throughout New Zealand and Australia. I’m originally from the UK and I have a B.A.(Hons) in Editorial Photography from the University of Brighton. I moved to New Zealand 10 years ago with my Kiwi wife.


Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your thinking, photographing, and career path?

There were two books I remember at school; one featured Don McCullin’s work from the Vietnam War and the other a compilation of Cartier-Bresson images. McCullin’s empathy for his subjects leapt off the page in a way that even my 16 year old brain could register, and Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the ‘decisive moment’ gave me a discipline to emulate. Remembering Cartier-Bresson’s words that your first 10,000 photographs are your worst, I went out and shot as much as I could. Back then I could only shoot B&W as colour was beyond the capabilities of the school darkroom. (In fact it wasn’t until my final year at University that I began shooting in colour.)

Finding a copy of Paul Graham’s The Great North Road was a turning point. I couldn’t afford 5x4 so I started shooting medium format colour – always neg, never E6. I’ve never looked back since. The work of Joel Sternfeld, particularly American Prospects, was a real discovery and I was very fortunate to have Mark Power as my personal tutor at Brighton. He remains an influence. The large format colour images these photographers made could tell a narrative deeper than reportage. The course at Brighton wasn’t there to teach techniques or business practice, it was about creating ideas and forming your own visual style. When I graduated I may not have had any idea how to get a job or what to charge, but I had a folio full of work that was distinctly mine.


Do you have an assistant onboard for your shoots?

Yes, I work with an assistant most of the time. A good assistant is worth their weight in gold. They can anticipate what’s needed and offer ideas. On a commercial job we’re all there to get the best result for the client.

Importance of working with a known group of people (crew members) or do you approach each project differently?

Each job is planned separately. I prefer to work with a small team and I’m pretty self-sufficient. It’s a skill I picked up from my documentary shooting days. I’ll always choose regular crew as it’s easy when everyone knows what’s expected of them.


How would you describe your photographic style to someone that hasn't seen your work before?

Although I’m called upon to do all sorts of things, my preference is to shoot people on location in natural light. The situation is relaxed but compositionally quite structured. Most of my work is done in camera, rather than being composited in post-production. I’ve really enjoyed being able to take my documentary style and apply it to advertising and commercial work.

What gear do you shoot with?

I shoot with a range of cameras and try to use the best tool for the job. I have the ubiquitous Canon 5D kit. For speed, convenience and quality you can’t beat it. I have a Digital Hasselblad kit that’s neither quick nor convenient but it’s as close to shooting film as I’ve found in a digital camera. It makes me slow down. I have a Leica M9 kit that doesn't get as much use as I’d want but, like the Hasselblad, it’s a very satisfying way to work. For my personal work I still shoot film on a combination of a Fuji 6x7 range finder and Linhof Technika. Unfortunately it’s harder to get 5x4 C41 processed these days.


You have worked with Nigella Lawson and Richie McCaw. Do you have a different approach/team on board when dealing with famous personalities?

No. I just see them as regular people, which in most cases they are. Subjects need to feel comfortable and relaxed if I’m to get the best shot possible. The shoot should be enjoyable for them and for me.

Is photography your full time commitment at the moment?

Yes, photography is my only job, which is very lucky as I’ve no idea what else I’d do!

How hard is it to freelance as a photographer based in Wellington?

It isn’t easy to be a photographer anywhere, but Wellington suits me well. It’s a great place to live. Auckland’s only an hour away and Sydney three and a half. I keep hearing that the market is shrinking everywhere, but the last two years have been my busiest.


Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?

Hopefully still relevant and still shooting work people want to see. I’ll be shooting my own projects and maybe a book. I find myself shooting and directing more video so I imagine that will increase.


We saw your "Everyday Gourmet" editorial on the ProPhotographer magazine. How important was it for you to be featured on a printed publication as opposed to online exposure?

It’s very flattering to have my work featured in any format. I love print as a medium and I see the printed image as the natural conclusion of the photographic process. I still show my work to clients as an A2 folio. Nonetheless having work online allows so many more people to see it. The internet is the best tool photographers have to get their work to larger audience.

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What advice would you have for someone beginning their photographic journey?

Buy books, visit galleries and shoot a lot. Don’t get too caught up with techniques – ideas are far more important.


See more of Joseph's work below:




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