Origin: New Jersey
We love meeting aspiring artists that are also from New Jersey! Kohl Donnelly plays with shadows and warm lights in his work, especially his nighttime work. We had the chance to talk to him so check out a snippet on our IGTV / Youtube of the interview or read the full interview below:
Who is Kohl Donnelly? Where are you from and what do you do?
That's me. I'm from West Milford, NJ. I'm a photographer. I try to partake in other arts like graphic design but photography is my main thing.
What school do you go to?
I just graduated from William Paterson.
What did you study while you were there?
My major was graphic design but in the end, I just really liked photography, not really much graphic design.
Why did you start taking photos? When was the point in your life you wanted to put more effort into it?
I started a pretty long time ago. In high school, I took darkroom classes. At the time, I was just messing around doing whatever, taking pictures of friends, skateboarding, stuff like that. Then, I got into digital photography and took a lot of pictures of whatever I was doing. Once it was time to apply for school, I didn't think that I was going to do that and all through the school. Until I had a professor push me and say "hey, I like what you're doing, you should pursue this, try that." And that's when I got serious about it.
What attracted you to night photography? When you shoot in the dark, what do you specifically look for to execute a photo?
It started when I stopped making excuses. I would go to class and I couldn't shoot over the weekends because I had work till this time and it was too dark out so I couldn't take any pictures. And I decided ok, let me take pictures in the dark. Let me see what I can do.
I wasn't really planning anything. I didn't look for certain things. I just went out and things would catch my eye and the light of the cliche gas station. I would see something and it would resonate with me in a way. I would just pull over and take a picture and kept going from there.
To clarify, you shoot film correct?
I do, yes.
What is your favorite film to shoot with? Do you have a specific one you prefer over another that delivers a better result?
I've only used other films like once or twice. I kinda use the same Portra 400 for everything because you put it in and you know what to expect and that's really it.
I noticed in your bio on Instagram you are a skateboarder. Skate culture has a large artistic following like skate videos, pictures etc...did skateboarding have any influence on you and your work?
Absolutely, I'd say it's pretty much the main influence. I always see on Instagram somebody is doing something that I'm also interested in doing, whether it's photography, music, or something like that. And then, I'll follow them for that reason and then you find out that they used to skate or they still skate. I feel like skateboarding is an introduction for all creative fields, pretty much for everybody.
A lot of your daytime work plays around with contrast, shadows, and angles ...do you plan your shoots, or do you have a specific time of day you go out? Or are you someone who likes the spontaneity of photographing?
I never really plan anything. Usually, things that I try to plan don't work out. Pretty much everything I got lucky. I had a camera at the time. I try to keep a camera as often as I can. If things work out, I just find it and that's it. Obviously, the classic golden hour, sunset, blue hour, as they say. Everything just looks amazing. You can look at nothing and it just looks good.
I noticed you play with shadows. Is that something you do when you're walking around? Do you like the see the contrast within shadows, etc?
I definitely look for colors and light. Just the way light falls on something, whether it's a certain texture or material. I feel like daytime photos are somewhat different in that sense for me where it can be really anything. As long as there's a nice warm light on it is what strikes me.
What got you into graphic design?
I was really interested in that in high school. It was kind of the same thing where I sort of had a talent with it. I was in the class and they made me feel good about it. They made me feel like I knew what I was doing and I could continue with it. When I got to school, I decided to try my luck with that. I'm into it but I can't really express myself as much with that. I feel like it ends up being too commercial and too hard. Obviously, I can make things on my own. In high school, I used to make t-shirts and stuff with my friends. That was our main thing. Once I did some internships, I realized not what I wanted to do.
Is photography something you want to pursue professionally, or are you looking to pursue another career and have photography as a side hobby?
Even though I just graduated from school, and it would be best if I had a really nice answer to this, I'm working as a photographer now. The stuff I do, and post on Instagram is totally unrelated to that. And work is work so it's not really as much of creative expression. I would work in graphic design. I still do some freelance things because it's a way to make money, and it's fun and opportunities present themselves. Long term goal, I would like to teach photography. I would like to be a professor.
I feel like the connections that I've had with professors and high school teachers where you feel like they care to teach you and they care to help you to make the best things you can yourself. I'd like to hopefully, at some point, inspire that in some kids that I end up teaching.
You seem to travel quite a bit, do you have a dream place you’d like to travel to/photograph? What is the draw to that place, and why do you think it would be a great place to take photos?
I try to travel as often as I can but I've only left the country like one time. Pretty much every place I go to, I just drive to. I've never been to California. That would be great honestly. I like Texas a lot for photo purposes. There's nice other things in Texas but there's a lot of nothing. To take pictures, I like to go to places like that, where it's more desolate.
Some of your older work on Instagram has more people as the subjects rather than landscapes, in the future do you want to bring people back into the frame? Or you prefer taking landscape shots? What is the reasoning behind your answer?
Those would be the times when I was exploring more and just doing whatever I was doing. I would be skateboarding with my friends a lot so I would take pictures with my friends in it. I still do that occasionally. At some point, I plan on making another Instagram and post a million other photos that I don't post. I'd like to introduce people. I don't know necessarily if I'm willing to stage things and set things up sort of Gregory Crewdson style because that always seemed very fun to me but also a lot of angles to pose in this way and do all that kind of stuff.
Nite X works a lot with music, does music inspire you and your work? Who are some of your favorite artists and why?
Yea, music is very inspiring. Usually, when I'm out at night, I like to drive and listen to music. The music I listen to really inspires whatever I'm doing. It can totally change the mood. You put on one song and it can make you interested in this or that. You can change it and not have the same interest.
For older stuff, I would say the Velvet Underground. I like Bob Dylan a lot, Daniel Johnston. Newer stuff, I went to see Kurt Vile recently and Cate le Bon, who I didn't really know before but she's great. Ty Segall. There's a whole bunch but if you look into that genre, I pretty much like all of them.
What/who is your biggest inspiration in life?
Photographer wise, Stephen Shore, William Eggleston, and there's a whole long list of others. At least their work, not to say they are my idols but the stuff they do definitely super inspiring to me and everybody else that's involved in this.
Your photos almost seem very cinematic (shot wise) are you someone who takes inspiration from movies? Do you have a favorite director or movie that has influenced you at all?
Definitely, I watch a lot of movies. I don't know if I can pin down one movie but I'll list a couple. One that was super inspiring and made me want to go to Texas was "No Country for Old Men." Another one by them, "The Man Who Wasn't There", which is in all B&W. Really good movie, I hear nobody talking about that but it's super good. "Taxi Driver," a classic. It's almost like driving and taking photos is like being in "Taxi Driver."
Do you ever see yourself branching out into film and becoming a DP?
I would love to. I haven't explored the possibility of any sort of direction towards doing that. If I somehow come across that, I would definitely do it. Working with movies, being a cinematographer or anything like that, I would li
Don't forget to check out Kohl Donnelly on Instagram.
Photography by Kohl Donnelly.
Interview by Madison Everett.