“I had one of these ‘decisive life moments’ and decided that I was going to be a street photographer.”
While everyone has to start somewhere, some places are far more favourable than others, with far more favourable companions. For photographer Frank McKenna, it started in Dublin. With a dog. A foster dog. A foster dog named Fred.
“The idea is that you take in a dog for three months or so, look after them, groom them and capture shots of them having fun, so they will be adopted. Fred was the dog’s name, he got adopted by a really cool family.”
McKenna explains his experience volunteering with the dog fostering organisation Dogs In Distress, which works tirelessly to house dogs who’ve been abandoned or neglected. He got his first camera and, started taking photos.
“I bought the camera to take pictures of Fred and realised I really enjoyed it in the process.” Armed with a camera and less one fostered pooch, McKenna started shooting street photography.
“I never trained in photography” says McKenna. “Inspired by Henri Cartier-Bresson I had one of these ‘decisive life moments’ and decided that I was going to be a street photographer. And for a while, that’s what I did, going around Dublin, taking candid shots, I really enjoyed it.”
Enjoyable as it may have been, he wanted some companionship once more, McKenna changed direction. This time, companionship came in the form of a fashion designer.
“I had been doing photography for a while when I started going out with Edel [Traynor]. When it came to showcasing her graduate collection, she asked me to shoot it, so I got some lights together and did. That was my first experience with fashion photography.”
“I definitely learnt a lot from it. I’m not going to say that it was my best shoot, but I definitely learnt a lot from it. I really enjoyed shooting in studio, there was an element of control that it allowed which I appealed to me. The ability to respond to situations, manipulate settings, it was really cool.”
Since this start in a studio cushioned by three years garnering experience in test shooting and assisting, McKenna has become something of a prominent figure on the Irish design Look Book scene. With a gleaming portfolio that serves as a platform for some Ireland’s most exciting designers, McKenna has shot seasons for the likes of Emma Manley, Ella Lynch, Tissue and, of course, Edel Traynor.
“Lookbooks appeal to me because yes, there is an element of control with regard to lighting but I also really love to collaborate with designers.” Enjoying a mismatched type of mirroring that is often (and often not) achieved when several creatives comes together, McKenna explains that he loves the process of back and forth between moodboard and concept and creative.
“Working to briefs can be interesting too, I enjoy working towards a goal. But I much prefer collaborations. It gives me the ability to put my stamp on it.”
McKenna prefers to shoot in a studio as opposed to al fresco. “I like super clean images with beautiful light. Working in the studio ensures I can get the light I need this frees me up to focus purely on the creative on the day of the shoot.”
While the gateway into fashion photography started with a graduate collection, McKenna describes an earlier interest.
“I was always interested in photography in general, but fashion photography, I‘m not so sure. When I was younger I remember seeing women’s fashion magazines around and being really taken by the photos but, at them time, I wasn’t sure if it was the images that I liked or the pretty girls that were in them.”
Though we’ll settle on the idea that it was the images as opposed to the subjects that sparked McKenna’s interest, people are a very important part of McKenna’s work. Even though he has a lot of experience working in fashion photography, he considers himself a portrait photographer first and foremost.
“I really enjoy photographing people. Capturing them as themselves as opposed to their model self.” He captures them in the iconic old Williams and Woods building, The Chocolate Factory which houses an array of Ireland’s creatives.
Earlier this year the photographer and his fashion designer girlfriend, Edel Traynor outgrew their shared studio space. Moving up as opposed to moving on the two took on a second room in the building and have forged it into creative haven-to-let called MakeSpace.
“I had been sharing a studio with Edel but it was becoming too much work to turn a design studio into a photography studio and then back again for each shoot.” Aside from day to day renovations, McKenna says that he had always aspired to work in a place with natural light, something that the MakeSpace studio offers in abundance.
McKenna found that good things happen to those who wait and, in this case, those who seriously graft.
“It didn’t happen overnight, Edel and I worked long hours, we discovered DIY skills we never knew we had. We were also very fortunate to have good people around us to pitch in and get the place renovated quickly. To those people I say thank you.”