Jess Kearney walks into Le Pure cafe – her choice – laughing hysterically. She takes off a large-brimmed hat to expose her attention-grabbing hair and sits down. Ordering a coffee from one of the staff who know her name, she apologizes profusely for being 10 minutes later, but insists on telling the story of why.
An hour before, she had been sitting in Paris’ famed Luxembourg Gardens reading. An older English lady had approached her sheepishly to ask for directions and had taken note of book Jess was holding – ‘The Lesser Bohemians”.
“You have time to read fiction?” the lady gasped. “What luxury!”
Jess laughs as she tells this and then laughs when she explains that she was late because she had just been walking around laughing.
This story sums up Jess Kearney. Photographer. Traveler. Time-lapse maker. Dreamer. Laugher.
Less of a question and more of a statement: How does one get your life? Because we’re dying over here following it.
Ha! Well thanks! I’m just making it up as I go along!
Okay, you’re being humble. But seriously – how does the average person even begin to obtain this amazing existence that you have?
It helps that I have a job that allows plenty of flexibility! And I’ve consciously made travel a priority over the last few years. I was Skyping with my mum a few weeks ago… I’d just booked a little last minute trip to Hallstatt, and after I’d finished telling her about it, she asked if I’d seen any new movies lately. She laughed when I told her I couldn’t afford to go to the movies. She was all, “But you can afford to go to Hallstatt?” And I was all, “Priorities mum – I’d rather go to Hallstatt than see La La Land!”
To our point of the first question – where are you now? We saw you in the Scottish Highlands, and then Paris and then in London, then Austria, now Budapest? Take us through your past whatever months. Or entire life. We’re listening.
I am indeed in freezing cold, beautiful Budapest! 2016 was a big year of travel, shooting all over Australia, and in Bali. This northern hemisphere adventure started in London at the end of August. From there I traveled to Brussels, Antwerp, Breda (for a redhead festival, a story for a different day!), Amsterdam, then drove from Edinburgh to Glasgow through the Scottish Highlands (amazing!), before heading to Dublin, driving up the Causeway Coastal Route to Bushmills in Northern Ireland, back down through Londonderry to Galway, and back across to Dublin. From there I flew to Paris, took a train to Avignon, shot a wedding in Bonnieux, flew to Berlin, traveled back to Belgium (Ghent this time – gorgeous), and then again to Paris, where I stopped for six weeks! From Paris I traveled to the north of England, then back to London for Christmas, onto Hallstatt in Austria for NYE, before taking a train through Vienna, onto Budapest… WOAH. Don’t ask me to plan out your European travel itinerary, because you’ll end up all over the shop. But it’s been an incredible (almost) five months!
Give us one tiny story. A vignette. Anything. From the past 4-5 months.
Oh gosh… So many stories… My time on the Isle of Skye in Scotland was… I have a hard time describing it because I’m always scared I’ll come across as some histrionic maniac, and I don’t want to cheapen it. It was just a goddam spiritual experience. It didn’t start out so well – when I arrived on Skye, it was dark, pouring rain, I had no phone reception and the address I had for my accommodation was incomplete, so I was completely lost. And completely alone. I’d been traveling with friends for the first few weeks, but it was just me from here on in. I freaked a little, and had to remind myself that these challenges were exactly what I’d been craving. So I sucked it up, figured it out, found my way, and spent the next five days soaking up Skye’s magic. Getting caught in the pouring rain on the Quiraing mountain range, almost being blown away by insane winds at the Old Man of Storr, sleeping in a little shepherd’s hut with a pair of donkeys as neighbours, perfectly soundtracked drives along winding roads… There were moments when I would laugh out loud at how absurdly perfect and beautiful it all was. When I would say to myself, “Yeah, I got this.” Those are the moments I’m always chasing.
Wedding photography has to be some of the hardest to do. What were some things that helped prepare you for working under what can only be described as high energy situations?
I think it’s been gradual over the years I’ve been shooting… With every wedding I learn a little more, try to push myself a little further, and it becomes progressively easier and more rewarding each time. I’ve always had a bit of a hard time sitting still, so I guess that helps… I tend to go stir crazy if I’m not making something, so having the opportunity to create/shoot just about every weekend is perfect for me!
But that’s gotta be a long day for you. lugging big cameras around and stuff, no? How do you stay upright for 10, 12 hours?
Pockets full of snacks. And a sneaky shoe change later in the night when the guests are too drunk to notice.
We always this of every professional photographer we meet: Can you give us mortals some tips for shooting on our iPhones?
Sure! Two super practical tips… Number 1, if you haven’t already, turn on the camera grid! It will make lining things up a breeze. Nobody likes a wonky horizon! (Or is that just me?) And number 2, for the love of exposure, don’t backlight! iPhones can’t deal with backlighting. In other words, keep the sun in front of your subject, not behind it. And bonus tip – shoot lots, and just choose the best later. Nobody nails it in the first shot. (But don’t tell anyone I told you that!)
These are great. Any apps you suggest that do a good job of making photos looked unedited? And please don’t say Snapchat.
But the dog filter! (Kidding. What’s Snapchat?) I’m a total VSCO fiend. Paris and the M5 filter are a match made in heaven.
Give us the greatest advice or motto or words in a book you’ve ever read. Something that sticks with you daily.
Something to aspire to, care of Oscar Wilde… “Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.”
And talk us through these amazing time-lapses you do in countries. Is this a thing? It should be a thing. How does one even go about that?? Must be days of editing, no? Which one was your favorite – if any? So many questions!
I want to make it a thing! As a portrait photographer, I find just shooting landscapes a bit of a bore. So I decided to put myself in the landscapes. It’s basically a professional selfie! No selfie stick though, just a tripod. (And yep, a whole lot of editing!) At first I was just going to shoot one in Scotland and leave it at that… But then this tall strapping guy offered to stand in as a camera bodyguard so I could shoot one in Paris, too. It was the best day, and I love that I have that snapshot of such a special time. Ultimate dream job – traveling the world shooting time lapses. New Year’s resolution!
What does the next year look like for you? Are you really about to split time between your native Australia and other wonderful places?
That’s the plan! And I’m very, very excited about it. I’ll be heading back to Australia at the end of February, ready for the the March-May wedding season. I’m lucky enough to be able to work seasonally, so through the Australian winter, I’ll be soaking up the European summer. Hopefully in Italy! (Inevitably with a little pitstop in Paris… Because, Paris!)