Thursday 18 January 2018

Donegal teen (18) beats thousands to be selected for final 12 in Sky Arts' Master of Photography series

Molly Keane is juggling photography with the Leaving Cert

Molly Keane (18) has made it into the final 12 on Sky Arts series Master of Photography
Molly Keane (18) has made it into the final 12 on Sky Arts series Master of Photography
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

An 18-year old Leaving Cert student from Donegal has beaten stiff competition from thousands of amateur and professional photographers from across Europe to make the final 12 on Sky Arts series Master of Photography.

Molly Keane is the youngest contestant on the second series of the show which is offering one photographer the chance to win €150,000.

Her eight portraits wowed the producers and the judges - renowned documentary photojournalist Darcy Padilla, Guardian picture editor Caroline Hunter and Italy's Oliviero Toscani - who had the ultimate decision on whittling down the final 12.

"It's such a prestigious jury - it was amazing to know that those three people chose me based on my photographs," says Molly, who applied online before facing a Skype interview and then a further wait to hear if she was selected.

Self portrait. Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Self portrait. Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

"The Skype interview was incredibly daunting," she says.  "Our Skype wasn’t working properly.  I live in the Barnsmore Gap in Donegal and our internet is a bit dodgy at the best of times!  I couldn't see them but they could see me!  But it was actually a good interview in the end."

Dodgy internet aside, Molly clearly impressed as a week later, while sitting in music class at Abbey Vocational School in Donegal, she found out she was heading to Rome for the competition.

Suspend. Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Suspend. Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

The series takes place over eight weeks culminating in a final in which four photographers vie for the prestigious prize. 

Each week the contestants face a series of tasks which test their abilities, skills and instincts in a range of styles and disciplines including street photography, travel photography, celebrity portraiture and erotica at a variety of locations including London, Hamburg, and Sicily.

Old famine workhouse Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Old famine workhouse Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

Molly was up against professional photographers, some who had won World Press Photo Awards, had had exhibitions, or years of hard graft experience.  However, she felt she had an advantage in some ways.

"I'm only 18 so I'm not tied to a particular genre of photography," she says, "My style is still developing so I kind of saw that as an advantage.  Obviously my lack of experience is a slight disadvantage but I felt I was more kind of open to exploring different genres."

Old famine workhouse Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Old famine workhouse Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

Molly had just two weeks to prepare for the series so she felt like she was "on a bit of a whirlwind".

"It was really crazy knowing I wasn’t going back to school after Christmas but not knowing for how long.  It could have only been a week or it could have been two months."

Dogs legs Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Dogs legs Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

Of course, Molly can't reveal how far she went in the competition, but win or no win she had to return to school after her stint on the series.

She had missed her mock Leaving Cert exams and had some catching up to do, although she says her teachers were incredibly supportive as were her parents, radio documentary maker mum Alison and television director dad Gary.

Cobalt mirage - Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Cobalt mirage - Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

"In terms of coming back to school it was a really strange experience," she admits.  "I had been living completely independently in Rome in an apartment just being completely immersed in photography so it was difficult to come back to school.

"But my teachers were really great and helped me out on anything I had missed, anything that was stressing me out."

Cobalt mirage 2 - Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography
Cobalt mirage 2 - Photo: Molly Keane, Sky Arts Master of Photography

Molly, who has two brothers (Eddie, 15 and Tom, 11) admits she's "not too worried" about the Leaving Cert exams as she applied to IADT Dun Laoghaire - where her parents both studied television and met and where her boyfriend is now currently studying - to study photography and earned the maximum 600 points for her portfolio.

"I’m debating now about whether or not to go to college or just move up to Dublin from Donegal and try to actually make a stab at working as a photographer for a year and see how it goes.  I’m not 100 per cent sure what to do," she says.

Since Master of Photography she has set up a website and is getting quite a lot of work.  Whilst speaking to Independent.ie she was travelling to Dublin for two photoshoots.

"I’ve been more proactive about working since I came back from Rome," she says.  "I travelled up to Derry to Martin McGuinness’s funeral.  I'm interested in photojournalism.  I’ve sent my photos to different publications and set up my website which I update with new material every week or two and that has helped me get jobs."

She adds, "I got so many amazing opportunities to work with other photographers through Master of Photography.  I might be going to New York at some stage to work with a photographer which would be amazing. 

"There’s actually so much I took away from the whole experience.  It really was a life changing experience in so many ways.  I met so many photographers who I will stay in contact with for my whole life between the jury and the other 11 contestants themselves who I really admire.  It's amazing."

Master of Photography airs weekly on Sky Arts from Thursday 25 May 2017 at 8pm

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