American Photographer Settles Near Newcastle And Runs His Studio From There.
An Annalong-based photographer has spoken to Down News about his exciting career which led him to photographing many famous American names to the ordinary people on the streets of Belfast writes Laura Barr.
Now, there are photographers… and there are photographers, and John Rooney, owner of Spy Pond Photo Space in Newcastle, has had the incredible privilege of meeting and capturing iconic moments of famous American political figures, musicians, sporting stars and celebrities.
The married father-of-three grew up north of the Bronx in Scarsdale, New York, during the sixties, and he fondly remembers his first encounter with photography aged just eight.
“My father who was a Chrysler dealer used to give away goody bags with new car sales and in the bag was a small black instamatic camera with 12 exposures that you sent in when you shot them all.
“They developed the negatives and would send back prints and a new camera.”
John said that he quickly learned the limitations with that camera as most of the pictures didn’t come back too good.
However, with each camera, he got a little better at improved exposures.
Then at the age of 17 and during his senior year in High School, John was shown some black and white prints taken by a good friend which had been entered into a photo competition.
“The photos were extremely good, and I can remember one of a woman at a train station leaning into the wind and rain with her umbrella which was nearly at breaking point.
“It was very dark and moody and sparked something in me.
“Soon after that, I got my first camera – a Nikon 35mm.”
John worked in the family automobile business after finishing high school all the while delving into portraiture and street photography.
He explained: “Merging my love of cars and photography together, I picked up my camera along with loads of film and took a journey into America.
“My rule was to only take smaller, less travelled roads so no highways and I would stop and talk to people and ask them if I could take their picture.”
When he returned from his travels John applied to State University New York with the images taken on his trip and an essay about his idea to create digital images, something which hadn’t even been heard of back then.
The promising photographer was accepted, and that September he began working at a professional photo studio in NY while undertaking his studies.
“Here, I learned the fast paced and extreme technical aspects of photography while at university I was learning about the history and artistic side.
“The first day on the job I saw the first test print of an advert that showed Rachel Welch in a bikini.
“It was riddled with the scribbles, marks and instructions of all the corrections that would have to be done.
“I learned that it was then to be sent to a retouching house and would cost $20,000 for the days of work it would require to get this to a final print for production.
“That was really eye opening.
“Today all that work would take just a few clicks here and there with photoshop and completed in a matter of minutes for a few dollars. “
John worked at this studio for four years full-time and another four years freelance. During his time there he shot food, products, portraits, and architecture.
Celebrities would sometimes endorse different products and John would shoot the portraits for that.
John then established his own business… Spy Pond Studio and began working with various clients including models, actors, musicians, sports, and political figures.
However, opening his own studio came with many trials and tribulations.
“When I worked for the larger studio, they had account executives and art directors who brought the work to me, constantly.
“When I was on my own it was solely up to me to find those jobs.
“It was risky to go off on my own and risk that flow of steady work and in the beginning when I hit the slow times of year I got worried that I may not get any more jobs.”
“During all these years (1995-2010) I taught an annual two-week Mid-Winter photo class to high school students near Boston.
“This was an intensive and extensive education about photography from the invention of photograph to hands-on lessons of the technical aspects of camera, films, processing, printing and all the way to final exhibition.”
John and his family moved to County Down in 2010 with the intention of staying for five years but are still here today.
The family opened Spy Pond Photo Space in 2015, a new art gallery in Newcastle for local and international artists to have a venue to exhibit their work.
The gallery has exhibited the work of 53 artists and had 22 openings since 2015.
In addition, John wanted to provide a professional photo studio to clients throughout Northern Ireland.
“We shoot events, portraits, products, architecture, interior design and provide museum quality scanning, retouching and restoration work in-house” John added.
Prior to lockdown measures in March, Spy Pond Photo Tours were about to launch, giving participants instructional photography classes combined with tours of the local landscape for photographers and enthusiasts of all levels.
“This has been put on the back burner for now, but we are still doing small group and individual socially distanced versions of the photo tours.”
John’s advice to anyone starting out in photography or those who wish to advance their skills is to “keep looking, keep seeing and keep shooting.
“See what evokes something in you, it usually will have an effect on others too”.