Los Angeles-based, Irish born creative Tony Kelly started off as a reportage photographer in his teens, and with a trip to Barcelona he was entranced by fashion photography. So entranced in fact, that it provoked his light bulb moment. And ding! That was that, he realised it was the path he was meant to be on.
There’s no question about it, his photography captures unadulterated luxury and glamor. Then there’s the huge amount of sex appeal and cheekiness that not only excites but compels too, thanks to the bikinis, high heels and jewels in equal measure (what’s not to love?)
Kelly’s photographs are vibrant in actuality, and reflect the vibrancy of life (and often youth) along with the times in which we live. Yes, he manages to document our selfie, consumerist culture in his signature tong-in-cheek fashion.
Felicity Carter: What was your first memory of art?
Tony Kelly: Growing up in Roman Catholic Ireland I was dragged to mass every Sunday morning and like any kid at that age I was not too interested in what was going on during the sermon. I remember a great distraction in floating off and getting lost in the wonderful Renaissance paintings and gazing at stained glass windows. The colors that I was exposed to back then are very much still present in my work today. Rich palettes of reds, greens, yellows and blues fill my images.
FC: How, when, why did you get into the industry?
TK: At 17 I decided that I was going to be a reportage photographer. I simply knew that was the path for me. It was crystal clear. I set my sights on achieving this goal and have not stopped since. The early days working at local newspapers and then soon after at national titles were high speed. I knew what I wanted and invested everything I had into my career and striving to improve my camera and storytelling skills. Later fashion photography drew my attention and I started the whole process again. I left my staff job at the national newspaper much to the dismay of my colleagues and moved to Barcelona where I worked for free as an assistant to a celebrated fashion photographer named Jose Manuel Ferrater. He helped me realize that with the valuable and unique training and experience I had from my reportage days it would be suicide to pursue a career in studio or classic fashion. I had a great advantage over the field if I could use my story telling skills in fashion. It was a light bulb moment.
FC: How would you sum up the aesthetic?
TK: Very simply by saying that it’s mine!
FC: What do you try to communicate with your work?
TK: My images all tell different stories, many are left to the viewer to decide for themselves.
There are many layers and twists but the one aim I have that never changes is that I put a smile on the face of the viewer. I know I have achieved my goal when I walk around my exhibitions and observe people laughing and enjoying my art pieces to the fullest. It’s a wonderful feeling.
“Tony’s saturated colors, outlandish settings and absurd situations portrayed in his work give me the escapism and ok-boomer fantasies I never knew I needed.” Eli Rezkallah, Plastik Gallery
FC: Which artists past or present have left their mark on you and why?
TK: Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdain, Chris Von Wangenheim, David La Chapelle, Jean Danielle Lorieux. They speak my language visually. Each in their own right broke the rules, pushed the boundaries and created outstanding bodies of work that inspired and continue to inspire generations of artists, creatives and tastemakers and will continue to do so eternally.
FC: Currently, is there a piece of yours that particularly appeals/resonates with you?
TK: It’s like asking a parent if they have a favourite child! They all have different meanings and memories to me. There is always a story behind the story in terms of how I achieve each shot and the adventures I experience on route but once I see them framed and hung the image takes on a new life of its own. I would have to say my favourite 5 images are – SMOKING LIPS, FLIGHT TK75, LOVE STORY 5, LADIES WHO LUNCH and TURBULENCE.
FC: How has social media impacted your brand as an artist?
TK: Social media has given artists of all disciplines a wonderful platform to display their work to a potentially huge audience, to have feedback from their audience, to be their own publication or gallery. When I started it was essential that you had the blessing of the major publishers and your work had to be seen in all the glossies. Today thankfully this is different. I have always been an outsider and like to do my own thing and not be confined by the directive of others. Social media and in particular Instagram has given artists the freedom to be their own broadcaster or publisher. I love to communicate with my audience daily on Instagram, this motivates to constantly create new material and I enjoy the daily exchange with my people!
FC: What do you think of the current landscape of art – gallerists, buyers, and audience?
TK: An original idea executed to perfection fuelled by passion, hard work and absolute dedication is as unique and valuable today as it was when Chopin was writing his preludes in 1839 or when Michelangelo painted the frescoes on the Sistine ceiling in 1512. Greatness comes from devotion, serious grind and commitment to your craft. Success and everything else is a byproduct of that!
FC: What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given when it comes to handling the industry?
TK: Hard work beats talent every day that talent is not working hard.