All film portraits were taken using natural light with either a 1964 Hasselblad 500C medium format film camera (square images) or a 1954 4x5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera paired with a 1943 Aero Ektar aerial photography lens (rectangular images).
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Interview with Susie Keen, SA Life magazine, September 2020
Tony Kearney’s passion for film photography took a back seat for years until it was reignited in 2006 by a desire to capture the maritime character of Port Adelaide before it disappeared. In the years since, his photos have been exhibited in numerous exhibitions, with several acquired by the National Portrait Gallery. Tony’s latest portrait series, artist[s], is on show during the Shimmer Festival of Photography.
In the digital era, what is the attraction of analogue photography?
I enjoy digital and analogue photography — both have their place and they each have their strengths and weaknesses. For me, it’s about what I enjoy more and at the moment that happens to be analogue. In a lot of cases it has been my digital photography at festivals and events that has allowed me to approach artists to ask if it would be okay to take a film portrait or two of them for an ongoing series. The majority of the time I don’t get knocked back and I try to make the most of each opportunity. I use available daylight and available backdrops and, in low light, I have even learnt to handhold the camera at shutter speeds as low as a 15th of a second.
Why did you enrol to study Year 11 and 12 photography as a mature-age student?
I enrolled in a Year 11 photography course at Marden Senior College in 2011, mainly so that I could get reasonably priced weekly access to a wet darkroom. I didn’t follow the curriculum, instead spending my time in the darkrooms producing prints and experimenting with alternative photographic processes. Naturally, I failed. The following year I enrolled for Year 12 photography and, feeling a bit guilty about Year 11, decided to do the course work as well as play in the darkroom. I ended up scoring the highest mark in the country for Creative Arts.
What equipment do you use to create your unique images?
For my portrait work I prefer medium and large-format analogue photography, loading film into my old mechanical cameras that are often fitted with older lenses. I like to take advantage of their quirks and idiosyncrasies, how they handle focus and contrast, or lack of it. It is a more deliberate, slow and tactile process compared to the digital process. For the works in artist[s] I’ve mainly used a 55-year-old medium-format camera. On a few occasions, I have combined a 130-year old large-format wooden camera with a 155-year-old French brass lens to make the portraits. I develop my film at home in the laundry and hang the negatives in the shower to dry. From there I cross over to a digital process, where I scan the negatives, cleaning up the scans before providing the print-ready files to Atkins Photo Lab for printing on cotton rag using archival inks.
Tell us more about your portrait work...
It has only been in the last few years that I’ve started to concentrate on portraiture. It started with taking portraits of willing friends where I built up a bit of a skill set. That’s also how I built up my confidence in my work to a point where I started asking strangers if they’d like to be photographed.
Who are the subjects of your latest series?
The artists in my artist[s] series range from some who are long-time friends to others I’ve only just met. Working on events such as the Laneway Festival, Tarnanthi, RCC Fringe and Wonderwalls has provided many subjects for my lens, including artists such as director Rolf de Heer, musician Billie Eilish and Indigenous painter Linda Syddick Napaltjarri, to name a few. It has been an honour to take their portraits.
Tony Kearney’s artist[s] series is on show at the McLaren Vale and Fleurieu Visitor Centre from September 11 until October 11 during the City of Onkaparinga’s Shimmer Festival of Photography. His work is also currently being exhibited in the You’re only human, after all exhibition at Adelaide Town Hall.