Studio Visit

Sean Fennessy

Lucy Feagins
Lucy Feagins
22nd of April 2011
Facial Studies of The Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra - all photos by Sean Fennessy
Collaboration with textile artist Cat Rabbit.  The models are Tasmanian artists, musicians and designers (dressed as Cat Rabbit toys - love it!) - all photos by Sean Fennessy
New Zealand landscapes - all photos by Sean Fennessy
Obligatory portrait of famous person (Tim Rogers).. selected by me actually, not Sean, FYI. :) - all photos by Sean Fennessy
Charles Du Cane portrait - all photos by Sean Fennessy

YES I am AWARE it is a very important public holiday, but here we are with another fabulous Friday interview because a habit is hard to kick and GUESS WHAT, the internet does not stop for religious holidays!  PLUS it seemed a massive shame to have a whole week of Tassie content and NOT interview brilliant Hobart-based photographer Sean Fennessy!

SO here he is!

Things you need to know about Sean Fennessy include -

- He just turned 29!  Another over achiever in our midst. *Yawn*.

- His work has been shortlisted for many prestigious awards including the National Portrait Prize and the Head On Portrait Prize,  the SOYA awards and was  named one of the "25 Best Artists Under 25"  by Art and Australia magazine a few years back.

- He has been published and commissioned rather a lot for someone who isn't 30 yet, with a growing client list that includes Delicious magazine and Artichoke, The Australian, Channel 7 and ad agency Clemenger.

- He reckons being based in hobart has so far been a good thing for his career - encouraging interstate clients who mightn't have hired him in bigger cities.  NICE tactics Mr Fennessy, I like your logic.

You've actually already seen some of Sean's wonderful work earlier this week - he shot the insanely amazing MONA opening and kindly allowed me to share some of his brilliant shots. I actually cannot believe how brilliant they are given how dark it is in there and how chaotic the opening must have been!  To see all the MONA pics and lots more of Sean's beautiful work you really must check out his blog and website if you haven't already.

I have a feeling we'll be seeing a lot more of Mr Fennessy... watch this space!

Tell us a little about your background – did you always want to be a photographer? What path led you to what you’re doing now?

I always wanted to be a photographer but was conscious that it would be a difficult career path to follow, so i wimped out and studied journalism at uni and got a job as a reporter at a small newspaper. As soon as I started working with photographers I knew that I wanted their job. When one of the photographers left I convinced the editor to let me do a cadetship in photography and I loved it instantly. After 3 years at the paper I decided to give freelancing a go and due to a lucky series of events I started picking up a few clients in Hobart.

Where might we have seen your work? What have been some favourite shoots in recent years?

Being based in Tassie has allowed me to shoot for some interstate clients that perhaps wouldn't have hired me in bigger cities. I've been published on the cover of The Australian and shot features for magazines like Delicious and Artichoke. Being asked to shoot the opening of MONA earlier this year was a lot of fun. It's a bizarre and wonderful place in it's own right, but with the added drama of the opening party it was another thing all together.

MONA - all photos by Sean Fennessy

You seem awfully young to be so awesomely talented and successful. How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking!? Was there a ‘big break’ early on which kick-started your career?

I just turned 29 and have been freelancing for about 5 years. I got a bit of a break when I was (bizarrely) named one of the "25 Best Artists Under 25" by Art and Australia magazine. I've also made the shortlist of the SOYA awards a few times and the final of the National Portrait Prize and the Head On Portrait Prize. I'm always looking to maintain a balance between self-commissioned work and commercial shoots. I think that's really important.

'Father and Son' by Sean Fennessy - this incredible image shortlisted in the National Photographic Portrait Prize last year. It was taken as part of the Portraits of Invisible People project, in collaboration with  Kickstart Arts, documenting the stories of an inspiring group of Tasmanians living with Acquired Brain Injuries.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Luckily I don't really have a typical work day. There was a period when I was literally shooting every day, doing lots of small jobs and running around a lot. These days I try to take on bigger shoots and longer-term projects that I can sink my teeth into. The vast majority of my work is location based so I'm on the road a bit, which I enjoy. It's much better than sitting at a desk all day, every day. But I do appreciate non-shooting days where I can catch up and plan. I close all the blinds in my studio, turn up the music and work through a scribbled to-do list. I'm constantly catching up on the business side of things: emailing, quoting, invoicing. It doesn't come naturally to me but it's all part of running a business I suppose.

Photo essay documenting the Design Island retreat at the Bay Of Fires lodge in north-east Tasmania.  Published in Artichoke and Dumbo Feather.  All photos by Sean Fennessy.

How do you go being based in Hobart? Do you have to travel a lot for work or have you got the market cornered down there?

Most of my work is in Hobart but I'm slowly branching into Melbourne (I just finished an interesting editorial project that I don't think I can disclose yet). My plan is to hopefully take on more Melbourne work this year but I think I will always see Hobart as my base. It's where I find inspiration for my personal work too - I've got a couple of series planned that I could only shoot in Tassie, I just need to find the time.

Members of the Black Arm Band shot backstage before a sell-out performance in Hobart, April 2011.  All photos by Sean Fennessy.

Where do you turn for creative inspiration – travel, local and international design trends, magazines, books or the web etc?

Sometimes I can spend hours online going from photographer to photographer. I find it equally inspiring and depressing looking at all the incredible work out there. The British Journal of Photography is a quality magazine that I discovered recently; it's beautifully designed and treats photos with respect. PDN's 30 is a great resource and I'm always impressed with the aesthetic of the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize finalists.

Which other photographers, designers or creative people do you admire?

Photographers: David Black, Emiliano Granado, Aleix Plademunt, Celine Clanet and João Canziani are all shooting in a style that I love. In terms of Australian photographers, Derek Swalwell seems to have it nailed. Working on big advertising and editorial jobs here and travelling around the world shooting architecture and hotels. Tough life!

Current Music: James Blake, The National, Lykki Li, Beach House, Ivy St, White Woods.

Films: Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, David Lynch.

What would be your dream creative project?

I'd love to shoot a big, wide-ranging portrait series. I'm constantly trying to bring my personal and commissioned work closer together, so to have the creative freedom to work completely in my own style would be nice.

Mick Harvey - All photos by Sean Fennessy.

What are you looking forward to?

In a few months I'm heading to Japan for the third time. I always take lots of photos but this time I'm determined to shoot a more cohesive series - I'm not sure what yet, but I'm working on it. I'm really looking forward to what the rest of this year holds for me photographically. I feel like there's some momentum building and I'd love to get stuck into some collaborative projects. Fingers crossed!

Hobart Questions

Your favourite neighbourhood and why?

My studio is in Battery Point, just up the road from Salamanca Place and possibly the best pub in the world (Knopwoods). There's some great history and it's the neighbourhood that feels most like Hobart to me. You can find good coffee at Jackman and McRoss and Princes Park is a hidden gem.

Your favourite bookshop in Hobart for design / photography / reference books?

Fullers. Great range and lovely staff!

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Hobart?

Breakfast at Smolt is a winner. I've been desperate to check out Garagistes but haven't made it yet

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Hopefully somewhere in the sun with coffee and a mess of broadsheets. Realistically it's probably lounging on the couch watching Rage.

Hobart’s best kept secret?

Keep it quiet, but The Lost World track on Mt Wellington is pretty stunning.

Photo essay documenting the Design Island retreat at the Bay Of Fires lodge in north-east Tasmania.  Published in Artichoke and Dumbo Feather.  All photos by Sean Fennessy.

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