Thanks to Nolan Giles for this article in The Collective magazine. It gives some insight into my images from Dubai and The Gold Coast
A PHOTOGRAPHER WHO IS CONTINUALLY STRIVING TO CHALLENGE HIMSELF, SEAN FENNESSY TRAVELLED TO THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES FOR HIS LAST PERSONAL PROJECT. CHOKED BY THE HUMIDITY, AND SOMEWHAT LOST AMONG THE HIGHWAY-MAZE CRAZINESS OF THEOIL-RICH DESERT METROPOLIS THAT IS DUBAI, FENNESSY TREKKED SUN-DRENCHED NEIGHBOURHOODS, CAMERA-IN-HAND, DOCUMENTING THE CITY IN HIS OWN LIGHT.
“I was quite fascinated by the idea of Dubai,” explains the 32-year-old, Melbourne-based photographer.
“It’s not necessarily somewhere I wanted to visit for pleasure, more so for the pure sake of seeing this man-made place, just rising out of the desert. It’s quite a spot to build this metropolis. It is such a harsh environment and yet they’re sustaining these lush gardens and this lavish way of living.”
Fennessy masterly captured the man-made miracles, and monstrosities, emerging from the sands, as well as the citizens walking Dubai’s well-paved streets.
“I think they are pretty lost. There is a massive divide between the kind of ex-pat residences and the locals,” he says.
The resulting stark, light-soaked images were shown at the Melbourne Independent Photography Festival last year, in collaboration with shots of a subject a little closer to home – the fading jewel in the Gold Coast’s crown – Surfers Paradise.
“The combination was from a purely aesthetic approach. They both feel a bit sun-bleached where everything is this kind of off-white,” Fennessy explains. “I wanted to capture a sense of man-made contradiction. Surfers Paradise is a beautiful beach that was once a bit wild, and that is what attracted people – now it is just an anonymous city with skyscrapers casting shadows over the beach.”
Despite negative associations, there is a crisp intensity in Fennessy’s images and a scrupulous composition highlighting tonal depth and range.
“I didn’t want to ram what I was thinking down people’s throats too much, I wanted to present them as they were – they were simple.”
This sense of simplicity, in both process and result, is the ambition of a nationally respected photographer whose editorial client list includes international titles Afar, Wallpaper* and Monocle. He says the development of his craft is focused on capturing subjects in their purest form.
“At the moment I am really trying to simplify things,” says Fennessy. “I’m stripping out a lot of obvious photographic techniques, like depth of field or vignette, and just letting the subject matter speak for itself.
“It is like holding up a mirror and presenting that – keeping it really simple, relying on composition, colour and tone.”
He says he relishes the constant challenge of this simplification and forcing himself to look a little bit harder at the everyday things most people ignore.
“I’m looking for ordinary things and presenting them in a meaningful way and trying to ignore traditionally beautiful things,” he says.
“It is easy taking photos of things that people consider beautiful, and although the picture might well be beautiful, it won’t be unique. Photographing something that most people might miss, and reimagining things people miss, is a more rewarding challenge.”
After checking boxes that many photographers work deep into the careers to achieve, Fennessy is turning his attention to developing a personal style that separates himself even further from the crowd.
“I used to feel that I altered my style on expectations of the clients, and I think that the end-goal with myself,and a lot of photographers too, is to get to the point where I am being commissioned to shoot work in my own style,” he says.
“That is starting to happen with my editorial work, but that being said it’s the commercial work that pays the bills.”
“If you’re a jack-of-all-trades it’s hard to get noticed, but it’s also a risk to say to clients ‘this is my style’ and only do that work, but if the risks pay the reward is much greater.
“I have been working for a while and been spreading myself pretty wide, and I think a goal for that next little bit is sticking to my guns.”
One editorial project where Fennessy has been able to develop this style is on Melbourne’s hugely popular blog The Design Files. He adds that he is constantly inspired to push the boundaries of his craft by the creative subjects he meets and photographs on a regular basis.
“What impresses me is that rather than staying in some job they don’t enjoy and complaining about it, they go out on their own and produce this amazing output, and then find a market for it,” he says
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