Making Noise 005: Irish music photographer Molly Keane
Molly Keane is an Irish music and portrait photographer. I caught up with Molly and talked about how she started taking photos, how she got into music, the Sky Arts Master of Photography competition, directing a music video - and so much more!
For people who don’t know you, can you give them a little introduction?
Sure. Well my name is Molly and I’m a 22 year old freelance portrait photographer of all kinds, but pre-covid I worked mostly in the realm of music photography doing band portraits, tour photography and shooting and directing music videos. I grew up in Donegal in the North West of Ireland with my mother and father who are film and radio documentary makers, and my two younger brothers.
When did you start taking photos?
I don’t really remember a time when I wasn’t doing some form of art constantly. My granddad Jim used to draw with me all of the time, and write poems with me from when I was a very young child. We used to pick seashells on the beach and make art from them. With my parents being filmmakers, I grew up surrounded by cameras and recording equipment and photography books and myself and my brothers were always encouraged to paint, write and draw. I think I first picked up a camera with real interest when I was nine or ten. I was very young anyway. I totally fell in love with the medium and I really haven’t wanted to do anything else with my life since. I feel so lucky in that way to have known from such a young age what I have wanted to devote my life to doing.
How did you get into music photography?
I never really planned on doing mostly music photography; I think I kind of fell into it by accident due to the friends I made in the music industry. The industry in Ireland is so small too that once you do one job in a certain field, and do it well, you’re opened up to a lot more similar jobs then. I first photographed Electric Picnic festival when I was seventeen or eighteen and I got a lot of work with the bands and artists that I photographed that year after the Picnic, so it went from there really. It worked out so well because aside from music and film, my biggest love in life is music. It always has been. So, getting to combine my love for photography and music is a special thing that’s really conducive to creativity for me.
Who was one of the first bands/artists you ever photographed?
Hmm. I’d have to have a think about that. Some of the bands from the first year I photographed Electric Picnic were probably the first ones, like Pond and Car Seat Headrest and Goat Girl and Rejjie Snow...it’s hard to remember I’ve shot that many! Actually, I first photographed Other Voices the year before that I think, so that was probably the first music based festival or event that I worked on.
What is your go to equipment when shooting a band/artist?
My preference no matter who or what I am shooting is to always shoot on film. My favourite camera is my go to Canon AE-1 and I mostly shoot on prime lenses so I always carry a 28mm, a 35mm and a 50mm for that camera.
Who are some of your favorite bands/artists in the Irish music scene? Have you always been involved in the Irish music scene?
This is a question I get asked all the time that’s so hard to answer but some of the most incredible music is coming out of Ireland right now. Girl Band are one of the best bands out there, not just in an Irish setting either. The Murder Capital will give you one of the most grounding and beautiful live shows you’ll ever see. Just Mustard are hypnotic and ethereal. Odd Morris are making some very cool stuff the past while. For Those I Love is a breathtaking and beautiful project that is very close to home for a lot of people in the Irish Music Scene and a beautiful continuation of the music that Burnt Out released. Lankum are one of my favourite bands of all time and The Livelong Day was my favourite album of last year by far. Junior Brother is class. The Mary Whallopers are great. Denise Chaila is the queen of Irish Music at the minute and she is on the way to becoming an international superstar I think, which she so greatly deserves. Also, Soda Blonde marries the visual and auditory in a gorgeous way. There are so many more to mention but Maija Sofia is great, also roisin Murphy, Kojaque, Villagers, and Sorcha Richardson are all incredible. The Irish Music scene is awash with talent, it’s crazy.
In 2016 you won the Sky Arts Masters of Photography Season 2 competition, what was that like?
Haha, I didn’t win it unfortunately as I would’ve been €150,000 richer if I did! But I did get far into the competition and it is the thing that kick-started my career really. I was still in school when I took part in the competition and so I had to leave my final year of school to live in Rome for a few months, where the competition was filmed and where we all lived. It was the most fantastic experience I have ever had in terms of where I was at that time in my life and how much I learned and grew over such a short space of time. I made lifelong friends from it and met some of my favourite photographers of all time. It was life changing.
You photograph more than just live music, how would you describe your work outside of live music photography?
To be honest I would get so bored if I confined myself to only shooting one type of photography. I hate monotony and routine so much and I love doing something different all the time. Almost all of the photographic artwork I create is centered around people. I love shooting and working with people, I find it really inspiring. I really like doing abstract and conceptual photography and using the human body in different forms. Sometimes if I don’t have access to a subject to shoot I use myself too. I also got really into moving image and video work last year which was a hugely challenging and very exciting newer experience for me and I fell in love with that a lot.
Which photographer inspires you the most and has an impact on how you take photos?
This is like the Irish Music Industry question in that there are too many to name. Edouard Boubat was one of my earliest inspirations, as well as Olivia Bee, Petra Collins, Henri-Cartier Bresson, David Alan Harvey, Mary Ellen Mark, Dorothea Lange...
Do you feel like as time goes on there’s a bigger female music photographer presences?
I think the same goes for all forms of art in the sense that women have always been there and at the centre of the creation of artwork across all formats and mediums, but in a music photography sense I have certainly noticed an increase in women alongside me in the pit shooting gigs and festivals which is beyond refreshing.
We all know the music industry is very much male dominated, has that ever put any pressure on you due to the lack of presences of women in music?
There’s no denying that it’s certainly harder to be a woman working in this industry in many different ways. I’ve experienced my fair share of sexism and bad experiences as I am sure every one of my female counterparts have, but I only see it as a driving force to do better and work harder. There’s no reason my gender should, or does, hold me back from creating work and any time I have had a negative experience which luckily has not been too often, I just like to use it as a personal motivation to get more work and create even better work. Some of my best pals are gorgeous and very talented men working in the music photography industry or the photography industry in general.
How would you describe the rewards of being a photographer?
I think, as cliché as this sounds, you’re going to feel rewarded in whatever your career or creative pursuit is so long as you are doing something that you love doing. When I create work that the client absolutely loves and tells me that it really captures who they are, that’s incredibly rewarding.
What drives your determination and ambition when it comes to your creativity when taking photos?
I’m obsessed with working and being busy and I get that work ethic from my parents completely. You’re always your own toughest critic I think, and I’m very critical of the work that I create. I always want to learn more and be better and create better work. Experimentation is a large part of growing and learning for me I think. I don’t like to plan shoots too meticulously at all and I like to try out a lot of ideas in the moment as I feel it.
What do you hope to portray in your photographs? How did you go about finding your style? What I hope to portray is whatever mood or feeling the client is seeking in the photographs, but I always bring my own style to what I am shooting. Finding your style just comes with trial and error and slowly realising what you like aesthetically and what you don’t.
You’ve toured with The Murder Capital, and frequently take photos of them. Do you think it’s easier to take photos of bands/artists when you have formed a friendship?
The Murder Capital boys have been dear friends of mine for years. Myself and Pump were in school together, so we’ve been friends far longer than I’ve been taking photographs of them. Then we all found ourselves in a similar scene in Dublin hanging out together, so I started shooting with them loads. Shooting with friends is always so much fun I think, because the more relaxed and comfortable everyone is the better the work will be.
Besides music photography, you also do portrait, conceptual, and fashion photography. Do you have a favorite out of all of them?
I do a bit of everything! Like I was saying earlier, that keeps the job fun and exciting and new for me all the time. My favourite kind of work to create is when I am given a lot of creative freedom to develop on a client's idea and experiment and do some interesting things, and try out new ideas and styles. Anything to do with having creative freedom and shooting people is my buzz.
What would you consider to be a highlight of your career so far?
Everything is so different and there isn’t one stand out moment in my career, rather there are many for different reasons. Master of Photography was a highlight because it kickstarted my career. Shooting Katie Taylor for the poster of her documentary film was something I was so nervous about doing that turned out so well. Having to stop shooting in London during the Murder Capital’s gig when they played On Twisted Ground because I was crying my eyes out thinking about my nan was a powerful moment. Shooting my Dublin Skinheads project was so much fun and got a great response so that’s also a highlight. There are a lot.
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a photographer?
Pick up a manual film camera, or if you’re shooting on digital, stick the camera into fully Manual mode. It’s hard at the start but the quicker you learn about ISO and Aperture and Shutter Speed and how they work together, the quicker you’ll improve. Also, study the work of loads of photographers of various styles and find what style you like most. Try to find out how those images were created, what techniques were used, and don’t copy completely but take inspiration from them to take your own photographs.
If you could give me a recommendation on who to interview next for “Making Noise”, who would it be?
Pooneh Ghana! She’s a gorgeous gal and an amazing music photographer.
Big thanks to Molly for participating in Making Noise. She's so incredibly talented and it's an honor to have her featured on Buzzkill. Check her out on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with all of her projects!