Bob Kelly rediscovered a passion for journalistic photography a dozen years ago and has been documenting people ever since, including the protesters who spend their Saturday afternoons down in Port Jefferson demonstrating for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
When Kelly was at Power Memorial High School–a Catholic school in Manhattan–he lettered in journalism, where he photographed with a press camera on the streets of New York City.
“My resurgence was about 12 years ago with the birth of my first of seven grandchildren,” he said.
As a child, Kelly spent summers in Rocky Point and when he retired from IBM in 1993 he and his wife moved to Long Island, first to East Setauket then to Port Jefferson Station.
“Just as I consider myself to be a cultural Irish Catholic,” he said. “I also consider my self to be a native of this area.”
He now photographs for some local nonprofits and his own artistic indulgences. Kelly calls his style, "impromptu photography." To hone his skills, he worked with when photographing weddings and events.
“I had hooked up, for a while with Mark Kaufman, did a few weddings with Mark, mostly candid,” he said. “I decided that I really liked candid photography and impromptu–there's that word–photographing people.”
In 2005 Kelly met some people from Port Jefferson’s nonprofit community, Stephanie Constanza from the Suwasset Garden Club and Lyn Bolland and Alan Varela from the Port Jefferson Documentary Series.
“They invited me to photograph their events,” he said. “And I've been photographing the North County Peace Group since 2006 when I ran across them on Bennetts Road in Setauket.”
He said that meeting the North Country Peace group helped him discover his interest in street people as a subject.
“I think that this is important and it started me towards photographing in the streets,” he said.
Kelly describes his “impromptu street photography” as a state of mind more than a style in itself.
“It’s about being set with your mind conditioned to grab a photograph on the fly,” he said.
He cites two examples (seen in the photo gallery accompanying this article) of photographs he snapped while walking down the street when he found opportunities appear right in front of him.
“A few Julys ago I was in Orchard Beach walking along with my camera pre-focused and aperture set,” he said. “The man and girl in the attached photograph ran in front of me and I took the shot.”
He said the image took place in under a second, with the actual shot in 1/125 of a second. Then the subjects were gone.
“Impromptu, with preparation,” he said.
The second photograph happened in Jackson Heights, Queens.
“When I was growing, this neighborhood was basically an Irish neighborhood,” he said. “I was over there a year ago and took this shot, unplanned, of people waiting for the light who are Muslim, Hindi, Buddhist, etc., all together. It speaks of the wonderful diversity in Queens.”
He says that his work photographing Occupy Port Jefferson and North Country Peace Group is slightly different.
“Most of the work that I do in Port Jefferson and Setauket is more correctly categorized as 'Impromptu Street Portraiture,’” he said.
He feels that his work documenting the Occupy Port Jefferson demonstrators is important.
“Occupy Port Jefferson is, in my opinion, a great topic for photography,” he said. “I think that, in a photojournalistic way, they give a good message that should be chronicled.”
Kelly is retiring from his job as Director of Journal Information Systems for the American Physical Society at the end of the year. He plans to spend more time “improving my impromptu street skills as well as several photography projects.”
“Carrying a camera and identifying my self as an ‘Impromptu Street Photographer’ helps break the ice,” he said. “I like being in the street, meeting interesting people and learning to tell a story.”