INTERVIEW // KELLY TUNNEY
Kelly Tunney is flying in all the way from Australia to be with us at The Experience // ARC next week in Vancouver. If you haven’t grabbed a ticket yet, hurry, we only have a few left and they’re selling fast.
Kelly is an award winning photographer from Canberra and in this interview she describes her start in photography, how she stays creative and pitches ideas to her brides, running a business with Dan O’Day and
Kelly is the 2015 AIPP AUSTRALIAN Wedding Photographer of the Year and the first female to win this award. Incredible.
Interview by Sachin Khona // October 2016
PHOTOGRAPHY WORK & PRACTICES
When did you know you wanted to be a photographer?
It was at high school. I started taking photos of all of my friends and instantly I was really attracted to photographing people.
It was a Pentax Instamatic with dodgy Kodak 110 film, then I hit the big time and upgraded to 35mm.
I was put on the yearbook committee because I was sporty, but I’m also a band geek so my job was to annoy everyone with my camera. Great!
I printed them at the chemist, then cut them up and made collage posters of them – cutting edge (I still have them).
Where is home for you and where do you work? Have you always lived there or was there a conscious choice to move there?
Born and bred, Canberra, Australia. Everyone thinks that Sydney is our capital city, but it really is Canberra, I promise!
In what way does your location influence your work?
There’s a lot of Canberra that is very minimalistic, vast and barren – lots of space and cool, strong architecture, but great landscapes too—this has really influenced my work.
Do you have a designated workspace or office? (Do you have a picture to share of that?)
I share a space with Dan O’Day. We have an additional business together called All Grown Up; It’s a cool space. Clients visit and we get our work done. It’s a part of the new Canberra, something that we’re excited to be a part of. We can collaborate there, bounce things off each other and I prepare awesome playlists that mostly annoy Dan.
What has been the most defining moment in your career?
Client recognition hit home so much earlier in my career, before any peer or personal recognition did. In 2009-2010, it felt as if overnight I suddenly had enough work to employ staff and then to build a business around that. In 2010, I photographed my first destination wedding which was an awfully big deal to me. That was a sign that I had “made it.” In the industry, my photography world opened right up to influencing, rather than being influenced, with recognition through the AIPP from my peers – I went from being an onlooker to being in the middle. It was all a bit hectic there for a while!
Do you feel there was a turning point, monumental time, or series of events in your life WHEN you felt as though you were on the right path in regards to your photography career that brought you to where you are now?
I think you could compare my career to a wedding album.
You can’t look at it as just one image from the whole. Rather, it has to be taken in its whole context.
What inspires and motivates you to create?
For this response I want to say something extremely profound and meaningful with just he right touch of wisdom—perhaps with some humility too, but I know it won’t come out right.
Really though it’s people. Plain and simple. This year, I think of the connections I’ve made with people and showing something meaningful in that person that they can’t see themselves.
Recently this all came together for me in a shoot where everything seemed to go right, from beginning to finish, all because of the confidence we had in each other—that was the key from start to finish.
In the first place, this couple had seen my work and had read my blogs and website—they had that feel for who I was. It was me that they wanted, the whole package. Equally, they were exactly the kind of couple that I love to work with: friendly, keen, up for a challenge and with a love of quirky. Because I knew they were my kind of people, I put an idea to them that I thought was that out there that it took me two hours to write the short couple of sentences in an email asking what they thought of it. They loved it. In fact their response was, “You’re crazy, that’s why we picked you, tell us what you need.” So that was that, we were doing it!
The end result was that they and every single one of their wedding guests took off their shoes at the reception, one at a time, to have them photographed against gorgeous bright, colourful round backdrops. They trusted me, they sold the idea to their guests, and the gang I had helping out stepped everyone through the process so it seemed like the most natural thing to do at a wedding!
Do you do any creative training outside of your work?
Yes. Plenty! Of course I do!
What’s the next question??
When you get stuck creatively, what is the first thing you do to get unstuck?
People say to take a break from what you’re doing, go for a walk, have a nice cup of tea – but I feel that I’m so stubborn, I sit there and force something out of me. But by doing that I might distract myself with music or something, but I don’t ever like to break the cycle because if I walk away, it’s so hard to come back. I do everything you’re not supposed to do, but I get there, it’s so dumb, but I do.
And I don’t sleep. That’s bad.
How do you know when a piece of your work is finished and needs no additional work?
It almost never happens. And that’s the hardest thing about being a creative, you’re never fully satisfied, it’s never enough, you always want to try something differently and that’s the hardest thing. There are 57,000 different ways to do any one thing, but you have to make a decision and stick to it.
You trust your gut. Also, your experience tells you that in the end it will be ok and most people will like it, but you have to accept that not everyone does. And that’s ok, that’s life. That doesn’t mean that you won’t take it personally. I always take it personally, but that’s ok too.
Are there any key lessons in your career that you’d like to share? OR Best piece of career advice you were ever given?
I always feel as though my advice is practical. I wish it was fun and humorous, or profound, or witty or something, but it’s always so damn practical! Come to my talk….you’ll see what I mean ;)
Ok, here goes. I’ll give it a try …
I remember starting out when you go to every workshop, talk and seminar and overload yourself with what you think you need to know. I felt like I was learning and doing well and my business was ticking along, that there wasn’t much new under the sun.
And then, at one of the last seminars I ever went to I heard some of the best advice I was ever given.
The speaker said that the difference between when you become successful, or the difference between the people that sustain success in their profession and those who don’t, is that you should always do 10% more.
It’s the littlest things in your business that you spend your time doing that have the biggest impact. That little 1% here or there will make the biggest impact on your business for life. So NEVER EVER GET COMPLACENT.
This industry moves so damn fast…even when you’re asleep. So don’t ever wake up and think you’ve made it, because tomorrow people won’t remember your name. Never stop trying as hard as you did in your first year.
Work at the same pace, with the same passion and level.
One way that I do that is to never think that I know it all. I still prepare for a wedding the same way, I don’t just wing it. I go through the same steps, preparing myself, checking the weather, talking to the venue, etc. I still do it the same way I did in my first year when I was a nervous wreck. It’s easy when something becomes second nature to run on autopilot, but you have to make a conscious decision not to, and not to rest…
Can you share one creative tip that you use when you are working?
It’s lame, but when I look through the viewfinder I don’t close my other eye, just in case I miss something … I like to keep my peripheral vision active.
Can you share an image that you’re particularly proud of and tell us why?
Probably my “all in brides” photo. The reason for that is because nobody thought that I could pull it off, it was the impossible task. But I felt most proud of people’s involvement and willingness to help, that said so much about the clientele that I’ve had over the years and that they were willing to do that for me.
I spent 6 weeks constructing an image. I enlisted about 7 assistants with walkie-talkies and we hit the busiest street in Canberra. I invited 27 of my past brides to all turn up in their wedding dresses and carry out every day tasks (shopping, walking dogs, riding bikes, etc) We dubbed it the “Truman set” and made it look like Pleasantville. It. Was. Insane.
Proud is a big word, but to get that many people involved—to get it all to come together—it’s almost unexpected because it was so huge. But when it did, it was a massive reflective moment because it said so much about my business and all of those amazing people that I’ve worked with.
What are the 3 most important things in your life?
My family. That’s really what all of this is for. My puppy, Ruby. She’s adorable. And my Apple products!
Do you work in any other fields of business?
None that pay me a cent!
Can you share a bit about your daily schedule / routines?
It is quite simply bedlam from 7am until midnight, all day, every day, and it never stops. Scheduling and diarising is absolutely imperative to running my business and maintaining any level of sanity at all.
What within your work do you not like to do and why? Do you achieve “work/life balance”?
Emails are the biggest chore—not my forte. I’m not a black and white person, and I don’t find any administrative task to be enjoyable in any way, but that’s what a business is about.
I don’t achieve a work/life balance. Never have.
There was possibly one week in 2013, but that was it.
The thing with work/life balance is, there’s running a business, but then there is life as a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a friend. But trying to look after yourself or sick loved ones, it’s an impossible feat. Someone in the mix is always going to come off second best.
Which person do you respect most in your life?
Phil, my husband. The most well-rounded, grounded, sensible person, that gives the best perspective on anything, no matter how trivial or big it is. Whereas I’m just a raving lunatic.
He is my calm, my sensible, my black and white—he’s so much of what I’m not.
What was your hardest / painful creative failure to deal with and what did it teach you?
Probably growing the business too fast, expanding quicker than I was ready for, which came down to inexperience that made me realise that I wasn’t ready for that level of responsibility.
I didn’t have the maturity to deal with people outside of myself, like extra shooters that weren’t ready, that kind of thing. But then, when it came time to evolve my business into a different model, say with All Grown Up, I knew what not to do. So as hard as it is when you’re going through tough changes, you’re grateful in the long term for those lessons that you were taught as a part of that overall experience.
What will you be doing (or hope to be doing) 5/10 years from now?
I’d like to think that I’ll still be shooting creatively. I like to think that I won’t be a washed up has-been with grey hair. I’d like to think that All Grown Up is flourishing creatively and enjoying it’s expansion in other cities in Australia, and that I have more time to spend mentoring those in the business and growing that as much as I can.
THE CORE // FOUNDATION
If you could change one aspect of our society through your work, what would it be?
That iPads are banned at all weddings!
If you were no longer able to use a camera, how else would you express your creativity?
Probably through my clarinet and dance which explore the dark depths of my profound loss for all things Nikon… Either that or I would start dying my pooches hair to represent my moods!
Are there any mantras that you live by?
Don’t ever make something up just to sound cool… Oops?!
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend your day?
< Insert the most ridiculously offensive and profoundly unsettling thing you can think of here…>
Have you ever doubted your talent? If so, how did you work through your doubt?
Don’t we doubt ourselves every single moment of every single day?? We’re creatives, yes?
You work through it by working. You stop working, your creativity is dead.
JOIN KELLY AT THE EXPERIENCE // ARC
This is NOT your typical photography conference.
Welcome to The Experience // ARC, a one-of-a-kind event for passionate photographers and creatives.
We’ll have 10 expert speakers from all over the world joining us over 3 days.
alongside our host James Moes
Fast Paced Presentations with Hugh Whitaker
Live Interviews // Live Judging of your images
6 BIG IDEAS, mini presentations
Food Trucks // Concert // After Party // Live Bands and DJ’s
find your voice . challenge your perspective . refine your vision
You’ll experience expert training, creative challenges, bold new techniques, powerful connections, amazing adventures and have a hell of a good time, all in one of the most breathtaking cities in the world as our backdrop, Vancouver, BC.
Learn more by visiting our site for The Experience.
Limited tickets remain!
Grab yours HERE!
QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS WITH KELLY TUNNEY
Your favourite podcast(s)
Fav Music // Share a (Spotify) playlist
All time fave: Radiohead
Current repeat playlists: Ólafur Arnalds
Film / Documentary that is a must watch?
Your favourite book // A book you are currently reading.
Holistic nutrition & The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo
A website you regularly follow?
Last place you travelled?
Favourite photographer or photo project outside of your genre?
Do you have a favourite poem or quote?
“What’s meant to be will always find a way.” – Trisha Yearwood
Soda + (anything)
Favourite TED talk:
Last gallery / exhibit you visited
Your favourite photography book
A creative you’d love to see interviewed on ARC?
Dan O’Day (because I know he hasn’t filled in his answers)
Can you share a short assignment / project that has benefited you in the past OR create / describe an assignment that you feel can help those reading this interview?
**awesome (and not only because I filmed it)**
THANK YOU, Kelly!
You can see more of Kelly Tunney’s work here // Web
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