Ohio University

Interview with Gary Kirksey

Interview with Emerging Artist: High School Photography 2020 juror Gary Kirksey

KMA Educational Programs Coordinator Lisa Quinn (LQ) asks Emerging Artist: High School Photography 2020 juror Gary Kirksey (GK) for insight into his selection process and helpful tips for emerging photographers.

Professor Kirksey


LQ: What are some of the things you look for when choosing the photographs for the High School Photography exhibition?

GK:  I look for photographs in which the students take a creative approach to the subject matter such as a point-of-view that isn’t necessarily centered or eye level. If there are photographs with similar subject matter, I look at how each person handles the subject matter – what is their point-of-view? Often professional photographers will choose to focus on simple or common subjects so that their creative skills stand out.

LQ: What are some common mistakes student photographers make?

GK: Taking the average composition of the subject. One of the things young photographers do is look at the back of the camera and stop. They should keep going and take more images to “up” their creativity. There is a tendency to stay on a safe, conservative plateau, but one should take risks in the composition and techniques, such as point of view and lighting. You can learn from your mistakes and expand your plateau.

LQ: Can you discuss the difference in approach to commercial as opposed to fine art photography?

GK: In commercially directed photography you are confined to make a clear statement of what your client wants to say - the photograph is a very persuasive form of communication for advertising. We often use a team of people to make that happen. In advertising the team includes marketing and art directors who provide specific guidelines of where things need to be placed and how much space you need to allow for type. Some photographers may follow the layout exactly and then also offer a different approach. Ultimately the client decides which one is best for the campaign, the photographer does not have control of the final decision. One of our recent guests in the Kennedy Lecture Series, Corey Richards, related to students his regret for burning bridges early in his career by giving negative comments to clients. He came to realize that it takes team work to get the best possible image.

In Fine Art photography the photographer has total control over the feelings they want to express. You are working in your own cocoon most of the time and the freedom of self-expression is most important. The fine art photographer shares their point-of-view of the world via museums and gallery shows. Art photography has become challenging in the last 10-20 years because there are so many images out there with cameras on our phones, but truly good work still stands out. It’s still about the quality of what you do in real time, about technique and craft. A big part of what makes you a professional artist is the printing. Some artists go against this on purpose, but I am more conservative, I make collector quality prints.

LQ: Can you describe the different areas in the School of Visual Communication at OHIO?

GK: In Vis Com (Visual Communication) there are four tracks that include Photojournalism – the truthful documentation of events to be published in newspapers or magazines (you cannot manipulate anything in the image) and Commercial Photography – where everything is controlled and organized to contribute to the commercial use of the image. There is also Information Design: Interactive and Information Design: Publication, which are merging because students need to learn to lay out issues as well as how to design apps and webpages. In the first semesters, students are given assignments in the various areas to help them decide which career they are interested in.

LQ: Who are some of your favorite photographers that students could research?

GK: Richard Avedon, a fashion and art photographer; Helmut Newton – his images are very good for delivering a story; Peter Lindbergh, a fashion photographer and film director; Albert Watson; a fashion and portrait photographer; photojournalists Eli Reed and Sebastião Salgado; and Pete Souza, Professor Emeritus of Visual Communication at Ohio University who was the Chief Official White House Photographer for President Obama and the Director of the White House photo office.

Gary Kirksey is an associate professor in the School of Visual Communication at Ohio University. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Miami University and a Master of Arts degree in Photography from Ohio University. Kirksey has more than 25 years of experience in the field of commercial photography and has had numerous clients over the years, including Proctor & Gamble, Longaberger Corporation, The Washington PostThe Atlanta Constitution, Miami University, Real Simple and the Cincinnati Reds. In New York City, he worked as a studio associate for Hashi Studio, a studio manager for Kan Photography. He also worked as a photographer for Lighthouse Productions in Cincinnati.

Kirksey’s photographs have been published in numerous books including Committed to the Image: Contemporary Black Photographers and publications such as Life magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. His work has been exhibited widely across the country and are included in more than 40 public, private and corporate collections in the United States including the Brown Forman Corporation, Louisville, KY; the African-American Museum of Art, Dallas, TX; and the Avampato Discovery Museum, Charleston, WV.