Nick Kelsh is one of the artists featured in PL130 Gallery's photography show Off Topic, a photo show about the unassigned work of photojournalists who worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News since the 80s. This week we caught up with Nick to learn more about his work and experience.
How did you first get into photography? And how did you make your way into becoming a photojournalist?
My father brought a Leica home from World War II and taught me how to use it when I was in high school. I knew I wanted to be a professional photographer when I was in 10th grade. The first newspaper job I had was In my hometown, Fargo, North Dakota. Yes, that Fargo.
When speaking about your photography, do you describe yourself as an artist, photographer, or photojournalist?
I describe myself as a weird photographer because I’ve written books for amateur photographers and now I teach photography on the Internet. At this point, to be very honest, my favorite camera is my iPhone. I’m not proud of admitting that but I love it.
In what years did you work for the Philadelphia Inquirer or Daily News?
1983 to 1985, something like that.
Do you have a favorite story of an encounter with a subject either on an assignment or a personal project?
I am a huge Buddy Holly fan, partly because I am from Fargo and he was on his way there when he died. So I grew up with him, sort of. Anyway, long story, I spent a day with his widow shooting the glasses that he was wearing when he died. (For Rolling Stone) This was at her home. I set up a little still life table in her living room and she sat and watched me and asked me all kinds of questions about photography because she happened to be taking a photography course. Then, at the end I asked her if I could put the glasses on which she was completely comfortable with. Then because she was doing a photography class she took my picture wearing the glasses. So I have a picture of myself taken by Buddy Holly‘s widow wearing the glasses Buddy Holly was wearing when he died in the plane crash. It’s pretty crazy. I wrote a long account of this for the Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock Texas and the Director of the museum called me up and said that was one of the most amazing stories that they had. The glasses are now the premier exhibit at the museum.
In what ways is photographing on assignment different from personal editorial work? And what are the biggest differences in your approach and considerations between personal editorial projects and assignments?
It’s difficult to get to the point where you completely don’t care what other people think of your photography but that’s what personal work is for me.
What are some subjects and themes that you are drawn to photographing while not on assignment?
Weird abstract Jackson Pollocky kind of stuff.
What piece of advice would you give to a young photographer who is interested in photojournalism?
Do your very best to become friendly with great writers and get a handle on what good photographic storytelling/journalism actually is. Always be asking yourself “what is the story here”.
Is there anything else that you would like to add about yourself or work?
I think you folks are onto something with this project. There are a bunch of aging photographers out there who do things that nobody would ever imagine. What a great bunch of photographers this is! So proud to be involved. Thanks for including me.