Irish photographer Tony Kelly began his career capturing celebrity culture, honing in on the fast and luxurious lifestyles of famous figures. His signature photography style oozes with vibrant colors and uses provocative scenarios to brazenly photograph the private leisure time of the wealthy.
Vitality, beauty, sex, prurience, money, relationships, and ecstasy are all key elements to Tony Kelly’s work. His photographs demonstrate his ability to think big and execute ideas, propelling the subjects of his shoots to step out of their comfort zone and have spontaneous moments captured through his lens. Tony Kelly’s bright and unmistakable photography have been commissioned by the likes of Vanity Fair and GQ, as well as commercial campaigns for BMW and Estee Lauder.
Tony Kelly was born in 1975 to a Roman Catholic family in Dublin, Ireland. Indeed, his earliest artistic memories come from being, as he described it to Forbes, “dragged to mass every Sunday morning” and staring at the stained glass windows of the church. This experience was at considerable odds from where his photography career ended up taking him, despite the formative influence of religious art’s vivid color palette.
Once he finished school, Kelly was already sure that his future was in photography, specifically photojournalism and, at age 19, he became the Dublin Evening Herald’s youngest staff photographer. By the time he was 21, Kelly had already found himself working for two of the biggest newspaper publishers in Ireland, and voluntarily travelled to Afghanistan and Rwanda to cover the conflict as a freelancer.
Tony Kelly’s move to celebrity and fashion photography happened towards the end of the nineties. This was thanks to a candid shot he took of Bono and Liam Gallagher kissing outside of a club in Dublin, which quickly became one of that year’s most notorious press images. From that moment on, he quickly realised what appealed to him about his chosen medium: “I like the creative aspect [of photography] and I realised that I could have more control over the subject and setting when shooting fashion than over the rest of the jobs you get as a press photographer.”
To emphasize the start of a new chapter in his life, Tony Kelly moved to Barcelona, working as an assistant to director and photographer Jose Manuel Ferrater. It was Ferrater, in fact, who suggested that Kelly’s fashion photography rely on his reportage techniques, particularly when it came to capturing images on the fly to tell a story.
The sets of Tony Kelly’s photoshoots are known for their extravagance and, as a result, his photographs are famously alive and exuberant. His photography offers a juicy story behind each moment, waiting to be devoured by the viewer. His contemporary vision fits in seamlessly with like publications and higher end galleries that display his work.
So it stands to reason that Kelly moved to Los Angeles to fully immerse himself in the California sunshine and the celebrity lifestyle. Making new connections on the other side of the Atlantic also allowed him access to glossy magazines like Cosmopolitan, Vogue, GQ and, most notably, Playboy. It was the latter publication which commissioned a run of cover images which helped Kelly make his name and revamp the ailing magazine’s fortunes.
Tony Kelly has organized shoots with the rich and famous around the world, as well as commercial work — which is fitting, considering the fact he has cited “old advertising from the 60s and 70s as inspiration”. However, LA is, as the artist himself puts it, “a natural backdrop to the images I create”. He published his first book of photography, Tony’s Toys, in 2014, followed by Taken! Entertaining Nudes by Tony Kelly, two years later.
The photographer has also pivoted to a more artistic style, applying the same love for color and detail that imbue his magazine and advertising work. Tony Kelly’s photographs have been exhibited in galleries across Europe and the United States, depicting a range of high-concept luxury landscapes.