Photographer’s Q&A – Brian Kerrigan
This week’s Q&A is with photo editor Brian Kerrigan who works for the The National in Abu Dhabi.
Holga frames of the Bathurst Street Bridge, Toronto. Photo By Brian Kerrigan
What were your first steps in the industry?
In high school, I switched from working at Japan Camera Centre store to a local studio where I started getting mentored in my shooting by the two staff photographers. It was completely out of the goodness of their hearts and I never forgot that. Every weekend, they’d push me out the studio door with a different camera format or different film. I also went on shoots with them. Mentoring is such an important part of our industry. To this day, I remember every person who was a “shepherd” in my career.
When you were a student, what did you want to do after graduation and are you where you thought you would be now?
Starting into school, I thought I would move back home and do the classic small-town-studio type of shooting – portraits, weddings, commercial work, loads of studio stuff. It was really all I knew and was really excited about it.
Early in the school year, students started to maneuver to see who would go where as interns (e.g. hospital AV dept, local studios, local paper, etc). There were only two newspapers in town and a classmate laid claim to the Halifax Herald on day one.
Something twigged inside of me that said, rather than do something already familiar to me, I’d probably learn much more by doing something very foreign. So I aimed towards newspapers. So, the day after Kerry Doubleday signed up for the Herald, I begged my teacher to send me to the Daily News (may it rest in peace).
Leading up to the actual internship, I hung out with classmates who were really into photojournalism so I could start thinking more about that. Finally, prior to the start of the internship, I met Paul Darrow who was a photographer at the Daily News. His friendship and mentorship continue to this day.
(L-R) Fred Lum, Kevin Van Paassen and Carlos Osorio during a ‘Fred Lum Film Fest’ in Toronto. Photo By Brian Kerrigan
What or who are your biggest inspirations?
Always the people I work with and colleagues at other papers and agencies. I’m not much of a big name worshipper. I take inspiration from the energy, images and adventures of those around me. Perhaps because they’re people you know, that makes it all that more tangible and more achievable for yourself.
Did you have a mentor? How important are mentors?
Many, thankfully. The longest running one would be Paul Darrow who put up with all my greenness and mistakes. He wasn’t just a mentor but more like a big brother. There’s a whole circle of people who have been great sources of advice and guidance for me all the way along.
What was a pivotal point in your career?
Hard to name just one. My career has always been about trying new things. Perhaps it’s best rather to put forth two points: 1) When opportunity knocks, don’t be afraid of answering the door; 2) Work incredibly hard and be humble. It’s much easier to learn from mentors and grow from feedback when there’s no ego in the way. (Is that three rather than two?)
How important is multimedia to you?
Very. I won’t bother going into the whole philosophical debate about whether it’s the saviour or killer of our industry. It’s here and it’s not going away. It’s a tool that really empowers visual journalists in the newsroom.
To this day, we’re still trying to shed the old image of being “just” photographers. Multimedia is a fantastic way to show off our journalist chops. Having said that, I’m still a believer in the idea that to get to where you’re going, it’s better to know where you’ve been. I think even a basic understanding of film photography and darkroom techniques help people function in a digital age. In the same respect, I think solid skills as a still photographer are a benefit to growing as a video person.
How do you ensure that you are progressing as a visual journalist?
It’s important to constantly be looking at what other folks are doing from all areas of the photography field. But more importantly, always ask yourself why an image works or not. And for heaven’s sake, don’t assume that just because something is in print or hanging in a gallery that it’s great. Critical thinking is important.
Beyond that, continuously get feedback and take hard looks at your own work. Don’t get defensive when getting feedback. It’s not about offering excuses or placing blame. It’s about finding out what other people think of your work.
Last but not least, there’s an expression that says, “writers write”. Well then, “shooters shoot”. There’s nothing worse for growth than picking up a camera only when assigned something. If you’re awake and your eyes are open, you should be looking at things as if you wanted to make a picture. In the digital age, it’s easier than ever to shoot shoot shoot. Just remember afterwards to edit edit edit.
Goodfellas – a store window in Sarasota, Florida. Photo By Brian Kerrigan
What are some of the must-see websites you visit? Please include why you visit these sites (e.g.inspiration, guidance, information, education).
I’d probably just list the same batch as everyone else. I don’t think I have any secret sites. I’d just recommend that no matter how high-profile the site, look at everything critically, regardless of the name attached to it.
What is your favourite way to unwind?
These days, a few moments of sleep. Seriously. Due to all the work related to the start-up of The National, I’ve been averaging one day off a week, if that, and that will probably continue until March.
So what I’ve been doing is to force myself to get out of Abu Dhabi, on my one day off, with camera in tow. The lesson might be to treat yourself to different visual environments just to breath some life into your day. Get out from behind the computer.
Another key thing is to have other creative outlets such as music, painting, whatever. Sometimes, when you’re in a bit of a rut on the photography side of things, other creative endeavors can be just the thing to get you moving forward.
What’s the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being a photographer?
“Keep your chin up. Keep working at it. It’ll all work out” which was uttered to me by the late, great Bob Brooks after a brief chat where he could sense I was feeling down about my prospects in the industry. I can still hear his voice and I still live by those words.
For those of you who don’t know, Bob Brooks was a bit of a grandfather (godfather?) figure in Nova Scotia photography circles. For years, he worked as the head photographer for the Nova Scotia government. But he also had a long, interesting life in photography. As a teen, he took the famous photo* of circus clown Emmett Kelly rushing with a bucket of water during the tragic 1944 Hartford Circus fire which killed 168 people and injured over 700.
*Publisher’s note: I believe this is the photo which ran in Life magazine on July 17, 1944.