An Interview with Richard Kelly

As I mentioned in my interview with Lindsay Adler, the students in the Advanced Intensive session of our Career Training program have been glued to their seats listening to industry professionals advising them in the ways of modern, professional photography. Another in this talented line-up is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania photographer, Richard Kelly. As a former president of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), to say that he is an industry leader is an understatement. In his own words, Richard is “a professional photographer for 20 years specializing in telling the stories of the most interesting and creative people. I am interested in the creative process and people who use creativity to learn, teach, entertain, and to work.”

I spent a few moments with Richard to discover more about him and what he finds relevant in today’s professional environment.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Richard. So what led you down the path of professional photography? How did you get your start?
A: I started learning photography in high school, took a few classes in junior college, and began working as an assistant in the fashion and commercial markets. After a couple of years, I moved to New York and worked my way up to becoming a commercial photography producer. That lead to working in the commercial markets as a photographer and operating my own studio and business. Eventually, I moved my business to my homeland of Pittsburgh, PA, where I continue to operate in the commercial/editorial markets. For over ten years, I’ve also owned and operated a multimedia production company. For the last decade or so I’ve focused the core of my business on commercial work for non-profit organizations. There are many in the Pittsburgh area that I’ve worked with and this has sustained me pretty well until recently when the economy took its toll on this market. I’m picking up more and more teaching opportunities and expanding in personal projects.

Q: How did you get involved in education?
A: Well, over time, I really saw the evolution of the photography business and technology becoming a whole new paradigm for folks to have to re-educate themselves about. I’ve always been passionate about learning and trying to see what’s coming down the road not only for my business but for the entire industry. That’s why I jumped on board early on in the 80′s with multimedia. It has always been about creativity for me; what’s the latest and greatest. Back then this meant producing big presentations with multiple slide projectors and images fading in and out to synchronized music, or producing super 8 film movies for the music industry. This started for me way before the days of the internet or the invention of Adobe Flash technology. Because I was interested early on in my career in developing new techniques to highlight my work and the work of others, I kept doing my homework. As a result, I became more and more interested in sharing what I had learned. I started teaching photography on the community level and went from there. Now I teach to various different levels of interest and skill  in various workshops and certified programs dedicated to the professional around the country. Being an educator is part of my core identity. I believe anyone should have an opportunity to learn and grow as an artist and as a business person if this is their passion. I find that I learn the most when I am teaching. The people I interact with bring new ideas to the table, and stretch me more than I would be stretched without their insight and input.

Q: You’re currently on the board of the ASMP and have been its past president. How has this experience been for you?
A: I’ve been a member for years. When I set up shop in Pittsburgh, I eventually became the president of the local Chapter of ASMP there. I initially had no inclination to run for the national presidential office. I told myself that I wouldn’t run unless I felt like I had something to contribute to the conversation that was important for my peers to hear. With the urging of my colleague and then-president, Judy Herrmann, I finally felt I was ready to enter into this leadership role. I was elected in 2009 and remained in office until spring of this year. My main emphasis was directed toward education and promoting best business practices in the industry. There was a lot of push-back from the older establishment at the time, so it took a lot convincing and patience to get the ball rolling in that direction. I feel we made some significant headway toward making continuing education and collaboration with our current membership one of our major missions as an organization. Overall, it has been a very fulfilling experience for me personally.

Q: This is your first time teaching with RMSP. How has the experience been for you here? 
A: It’s been fantastic. I’ve been to western Montana before when I stayed in the Flathead Valley for a couple of summers back in the 90′s, so I’m familiar with the natural environment here, which is terrific. I’ve been impressed with the seriousness and focus of the students at this stage in their learning in such an intense learning environment. This has been a learning experience for me as well, as I’ve had to adapt my material to this compressed and comprehensive format. I worked closely with Judy Herrmann who preceded me in the curriculum so I was able to provide more relevant information. Really, I’ve left it up to the students and asked them what it is they wanted from me, so it’s been somewhat of a mentorship experience. The one thing I emphasize with them is to get out there and collaborate with other people in the industry. The more collaboration, the more each of the individual parties bring to the table and what they collectively can achieve. It’s the nature of social networking and marketing these days that connections are important to any creative business such as photography. The students really get that and are hungry for this information.

To see more of Richard’s excellent work, visit his website at www.richardkelly.com.