Welcome to 'Where When How Wednesday'. In these weekly...ok probably sporadic posts I'll be interviewing creatives about their journey into the creative world, their works, and what makes them tick. This week I'm interviewing Sean Conroy, a talented photographer based between Dublin and London.
Hi Sean thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. We should probably start at the beginning, when and how did you come about getting into the world of photography?
"I always had a bit of a pull towards photography - I remember spending weekends looking at a book about Dublin in 1989. People were asked to take a photo on one particular day and send it in. I loved the book and how it encapsulated a time, even then as a child. A family member also had a large, SLR when I was very young and he taught me some basics, but it wasn't until my first job that I really got into it. I worked in a hospital and it was good money. I remember being in A&E (ER) one day and they handed me a Nikon D1 (if I'm remembering it correctly) and asked me to photograph the ankles of these guys who were in a car accident - it was for medical legal reasons, I believe. It was a huge, bulky thing but it was beautiful. This would've been about 2005-2006, so it was fairly basic compared to what we have available now, but even so I was so jealous of not having it. I went out the next day and bought a Fuji Film S9600 Bridge camera and outgrew it within weeks, so I sold it and upgraded to a Nikon D80."
Photography can have it's share of problems. I personally have a particular problem with self confidence. This confidence issue can and has caused me issues with my photography. Do you find any aspects of photography particularly challenging?
"I think the biggest issue I have is finding the right people to work with. I've been lucky enough to have worked with some really enthusiastic bands and models, but unfortunately I've worked with some models especially, who just don't pull their weight. It's not an easy thing to model, but there are lots of people who think that looking good and standing in front of a lens makes them a model. It doesn't. As a result, I've wasted a lot of time and effort on some people, when I could've been doing far more productive work with others. It's put me off working with models for the foreseeable future, to be honest. Thankfully, I've a few really dependable people who I know that if I need someone for a particular shoot, I can call on, but in terms of hobbyist stuff, I'm pulling back more towards working with bands and at concerts again these days. Bands are easier to work with and for the most part have a vision of how they want to be reflected in the visual medium."
Photography, especially online, tends to fall into specific genres and/or gets described as being a specific style. The trouble with this is it's quite subjective, the style someone views an image to be can often differ to the style the person creating it views it as. How would you describe the work you are putting out there?
"For me I try and keep things minimalistic - or as much as is possible in portraits and live music. I really feel affected by distracting elements in background of photographs, or when there is too much going on outside the main focal-point of an image. I'm not sure if everyone sees that in my work, but that's the aim."
In my series 'Foto Inspiration Friday' I share the people, images, places etc that I find give me inspiration. Who, or what, or where do you draw inspiration from?
"I know lots of photographer friends who can name dozens of influences and really keep up to date with fStoppers' photo staff, but the only people I've really ever felt have encouraged and inspired me were Michael Lavine and Anton Corbijn. Lavine's Grunge stuff in particular really impresses me. It's so simple and clean, but there's the feeling you can read the style or personalities of the people he shoots from one still. They're not contrived or big productions (or at least they weren't then), but they just sing off the page. Corbijn is obvious a genius and his use of heavy black in his images is something I love."
Sometimes images hold a special significance to us. It can be the first image we ever made, it can be an image drawing attention to a cause close to our hearts, it can simply be an image of someone we love. Do you have an image or images that hold a special significance to you?
"In 2011, I shot Irish bands backstage and contrasted them with scenes of austerity hit Dublin City Centre shopfronts, plastered with 'For Rent' and 'Out of Business' signs. Most of the photos were technically not-fantastic, but I feel they captured the feeling of what I was experiencing as a 20-something interested in music but battered by a recession. I took this shot of Shane Kinsella from the band 'The Minutes' just before they were about to head up on stage. It was a dark room and somehow he was lit almost perfectly. There's a nice serenity to it and it picked up attention from the NME who featured it and another as one of the best Documentary Music Photos of 2011. Whether it's that good, I don't know, but I felt like it was a nice acknowledgement for the effort I'd put into the whole body of work and made me feel like I wasn't just wasting my time."
Photography sometimes leaves you open to scary or funny situations. What's the scariest or funniest situation you've found yourself in because of photography?
"I was shooting a band, in Dublin City some years back, who were so hardcore by their own admission, that they were 'Core Core'. They were awesome. We were heading up to this flat area of the city for a quick photoshoot to accompany a podcast about them. The city was busy, as it was a Saturday, but for the most part where we were was empty enough. So with a softbox erected to one side of the band and my gear laid out in front of me, these three lanky, skinny teenagers come over and ask 'Lemme hold your camera, bruv.' They were trying to be threatening. It was hilarious. I'm by no means a physical specimen that you should be afraid of, but alone I could've probably eaten all of them for breakfast. 'I don't fink you understand, mate. We need your camera. I won't ask again'. I don't know where they were getting the fake London accents from, but they were so contrived, it felt like I was on hidden-camera. Behind me, I had four, gruff, rugby-player looking musicians who now came closer to assess the situation unfolding. I don't know how these young guys had seen the camera, but not the guys I was pointing it at, but as soon as the penny dropped they made their excuses and left us in peace."
We've talked about your start in photography, we talked about your current work, let's quickly chat about the future. What have you got coming up this year, more of the same? any special projects? And in regards to a more long term plan, where are you hoping your creative journey will take you in the years to come?
"Well I think I'm giving up on the model shoots. They've become very same-old, same-old. They do attract most the traffic to my website and social media pages, but I'm not really as concerned about that as I used to be. I did use some of these images to stand out, but I feel they don't really reflect what I want to be known for as much anymore. So, the plan is to look back at the musicians and shopfronts of Dublin in 2016 - 5 years on from my original photo-essay on the music scene. I've started already and there's been some noticeable difference already, both in terms of bands and the recovery of the streets. I've always been aware of the years ahead and I try and age my photographs as best I can - I'm not one for 'timeless' photos, I like to look at an image and be able to place it in an exact time. The plan for the future is to combine all the images I have in a 2010-2019 book of sorts, which very obvious is within that time frame."
Now for the shameless self promotion part of the interview...where can people find you and your work?
"The place I put most effort into is my website, www.deadl.ie - you'll find all my best work there and some tidbits of information on my seldom updated blog. Otherwise I'm over at facebook.com/deadliephotos and I'm deadl.ie on Instagram too."
Once again, I'd like to thank Sean for taking the time to answer a few questions for me. Be sure to check out all the links above to see more of his work.
Image subjects, in order of appearance; Rebecca, Jade, Overhead The Albatross, The Minutes, Health, Enter Shikari.