I first saw John Dolan’s work on the Backpage of Brides magazine. It was a portrait of a bride and groom, blurry and beautiful, different than any I’d seen, so I immediately went to his website to see more. I then lost track of time as I flipped through the portfolios, feeling awestruck at how much I loved every.single.image. By the time I reached the Olivia gallery, a beautiful collection of portraits of his daughter (made more powerful by the fact that it’s not in chronological order), I have no shame to admit I was full on crying. I had fallen in love with his art, and a number one fan I became.
Since then, if someone happened to ask me the photographer I admired most, I wouldn’t hesitate to say John Dolan. No one, however, really asked me why...until two weeks ago, when the lovely and talented Cat Thrasher asked me just that. My answer? “Um, it’s amazing. It’s perfectly imperfect. No, scratch that. It’s not imperfect at all. It’s perfect because it’s...it’s..” I sounded like a bumbling idiot, unable to describe the very work I so admired.
Which led to this line of questioning: What is it that draws us to a certain photographer’s work? Why is it that a photograph has the ability to stop you in your tracks and put goosebumps on your skin? Is it the composition? The color? The story behind it? Every person could have a different response, but nonetheless, one should be able to answer the question.
After that prompting to understand my own taste in photography, I realize that it’s emotion I’m always seeking in an image. I want to be able to connect with what I’m seeing on a personal level. I like images that “break the rules,” and blurry ones are often my favorite. I’m drawn to a photographer who’s able to connect with the subject in a way that seems personal, whether that be done in a classic portrait setting or a candid scene.
John Dolan’s work is all that and more.
Take, for example, Dolan’s image of a father and his baby. The movement and tilt is what I first loved about it. A new baby in the house causes the old sense of balance to falter and stillness becomes rare: how beautifully this shows that. This image also tells a story, one of a dad helping, taking a moment to cuddle his babe before passing him on to the mom who seems to be positioning herself to feed him. I look at this image and immediately become nostalgic thinking of my own husband carrying our wee ones over to me propped up in our own rumpled bed during those first few months of their lives. As for the baby in this image, there is nothing sweeter than a new child in this pose. The classic “on the shoulder” position of nurture and trust. No head control, his tiny body leaning for support and looking so peaceful in the process.
In short, today if anyone asks me why I admire Dolan’s work, I can confidently say this: he creates beautiful, real images that make me feel. His work is alive, and one can’t help but experience the emotion of the subjects and have all five senses align with the scenes he creates. To me, that’s what real photography is about.
Hopefully after reading this, you're inspired to think more about just why you admire certain artists and their work. If someone asked you to name your favorite photographer and tell why you loved them so, what would you say?
Also, I bet this snippet of John Dolan’s work left you wanting to see more, so do yourself a favor and take a moment to visit his site. If you’re anything like me, that moment will probably turn into hours, and you may just want to bring along the tissues.