London-based photographer Ronan McKenzie was our second speaker at December’s Nicer Tuesdays, taking the audience through her portfolio of work to date, honing in on a recent exhibition she put on, I’m Home in October 2018.
For Ronan photography wasn’t a set path in terms of a career. “I kind of fell into photography,” she says, explaining how she initially wanted to be a stylist first but after assisting for three months concluded that, “I didn’t like clothes that much and realised I way preferred faces, people and stories.”
From there Ronan began photographing everyone she could, which was pretty much anyone who let her, eventually settling on only taking photographs of those who interested her, and only in natural light too. For a while she also coupled her photography work with retail which set her up for the task of going full time with her creative medium. “If anyone has worked in Stratford Westfield like I have you can kind of deal with any other situation,” she joked.
One quality of Ronan’s work she finds people pick up on is the diverse range of people she shoots. “I guess a lot of people say my work is diverse because I shoot a lot of races and ages,” she told the Nicer Tuesdays audience. But Ronan’s attributes this quality to shooting those around her, as well as a desire “to use people that look more like I do to create images that related to me,” she says. “I hope that if somebody younger or somebody sees they feel like they can be empowered by them.”
This was the motivation behind I’m Home, Ronan’s exhibition showcasing the work of black British female photographers. Inspired by a visit to the Tate’s Soul of a Nation exhibition, Ronan wanted to create a platform to not only create an opportunity to see the work of the creatives featured but also saw it as a chance to invest in her own work, “I might not be the first person that gets a job and it’s important that I put money into my own work not just to give me space, but other people too.”
From there Ronan emailed some of her dream collaborators, noting how she’s a “master of email and bargain until someone replies…” and created exhibition that was more of a living room than gallery space. I’m Home featured supper clubs, talks, workshops and a film night all to help people engage with the space. “To me, home is somewhere where I can kick back and read, and I don’t feel rushed,” points out Ronan. “I feel like a lot of times when I go to galleries I go in, I see the work, I come in and go out and I don’t relate to the space.”
Instead Ronan created the opposite, one that felt open to everyone.