Drew A. Kelley is a daily newspaper photojournalist based in Southern California. Whenever possible, tries to work in black and white film when deadlines do not require immediate processing after an event. His uses film for his own passion projects. He finds inspiration by visiting art galleries, used book stores or searching for new music, and in newspaper reports. His love for photojournalism is equal to his love of art.
Tell us a bit about yourself, where were you born, where do you live now, how did you become interested in photography?
I was born in Long Beach, California in the mid 1980’s but I grew up in Chino Hills, a suburb outside Los Angeles. Living in Southern California during the 1990’s, my love for photography grew concurrently with my passion for skateboarding. Anytime we went out, I brought my camera and tried to capture the perfect moment. Eventually I started documenting the culture behind skateboarding and that’s when my passion for photojournalism began.
Where do you find inspiration?
My quick answer is reading newspapers.
Other than newspapers, I find inspiration by visiting art galleries, used book stores or searching for new music. It’s hard to explain the feeling of listening to a good song for the first time but that vibe inspires me to create something equally as great. Used books also provide me with that same level of inspiration. Flipping through pages of photographs by photojournalists before me is very grounding and encouraging at the same time.
Do you have any favourite artists/photographers?
My love for photojournalism is equal to my love of art. Photojournalists like Matt Black, Sebastião Salgado and James Nachtwey have been a constant inspiration throughout my career but artists like Sofia Enriquez and Carlos Ramirez, from the California high desert, equally inspire me with their work. It has always been important to me to stay open and allow inspiration to come from anywhere and everywhere.
What do you want to express through your photography? What are some of the elements you always try to include in your photographs?
I strive to express as little as possible in my work. My goal is to accurately document, without bias, the lives of people that lack a voice. Style wise, I am obsessed with moments and layers. I feel I’ve done something right if the viewers’ eyes are moving around the photograph and not moving to the next.
Do you have a favourite place to photograph?
My favorite place to photograph is any place that hasn’t been overly documented. I am drawn to places and sub cultures that aren’t easily accessible. If I am not giving my audience the opportunity to see something they typically couldn’t then I’m not doing my job.
You are a documentary photographer. What happens when you go out with your camera? Do people respond positively to you, or do you sometimes get negative reactions? If yes, how do you handle it?
When I document news events, the subjects are typically indifferent and my job is clear. Outside of news events, rapport is of the upmost importance. Repeatedly visiting people or places is essential to put your subjects at ease. My end goal is to earn the ability to be a fly on the wall.
When you take pictures, do you usually have a concept in mind of what you want to shoot, or do you let the images just "come to you", or is it both?
I’ve learned not to previsualize too much. Early in my career I would think of the perfect image as I drove to my assignment. Rather than flowing with my subject and capturing natural moments, I would be chasing an idealized photo in my mind. Having a goal or the ability to previsualize is important but being able to react to what is in front of you is even more valuable.
Does the equipment you use help you in achieving your vision in your photography? (What camera do you use? Do you have a preferred lens/focal length?)
I don’t think it matters what camera you use, your vision is your vision, unless the camera you are using is technically getting in the way. I strictly use Canon SLRs because I know the controls by heart. Currently, I can move fluidly as I work with my subjects but if I needed to relearn my equipment I wouldn’t be able to capture the same moments.
What are some of your goals as a photographer? Where do you hope to see yourself in five years?
My goal as a photojournalist is simply to shoot more. In five years I hope to see myself working more with film, either black and white or color.
Are there any special projects you are currently working on that you would like to let everyone know about?
I am currently working on my second solo show featuring the project, Vecinos*. The exhibit is in the beginning stages and will first be shown in Los Angeles, California.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
...I’m learning new cooking techniques and recipes or hiking with my dog Shiloh.
Thank you Drew!
All photos © Drew A. Kelley
* You can see some of Drew´s Vecinos project right here in the magazine.