Ed Power talks to the 20-year-old photographer who’s worked with McGregor and Macklemore about going green
Photo credit: Hannah Gaynor, Sarah Foley, Lee Bramble and Rianna Lyons, first year students from Lucan Community College with young photographer and music video director Christian Tierney.
WHEN Christian Tierney was 15 years old, he emailed the management of rapper duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The hip hop partners were en route to Ireland for a concert and Christian wanted to arranged a photo-session.
On the internet, nobody can tell your age and, assuming they were dealing with a seasoned professional, Macklemore’s people gave the green light. It was only when the fresh-faced teenager turned up at the venue, on a half day from school, that the truth dawned.
“I would look up the music listings and see who was coming to Dublin,” says Tierney, from Lucan, in west Dublin. “I used to send hundreds of emails. Once I got Macklemore, things started rolling.” He was slightly ahead of the curve, as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were thoroughly obscure at the time. A few weeks later they released their mega-hit Thrift Shop (you may recall its annoying video in which Macklemore jumps around in a heavy fur coat). Everything changed — for them and for Tierney.
“I’d been listening to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for a couple of years. Then I went and did the video. I had a half day from school on a Wednesday. I was telling everyone in my class — but nobody had heard of them.” Tierney, now an ancient 20, is one of Ireland’s most sought after music photographers and video directors. He has snapped the Electric Picnic and Longitude Festivals and has an ongoing working relationship with singer Gavin James.
Recently, he announced an awareness-raising collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency. “The Story Of Your Stuff” is a campaign to increase understanding among secondary school students of environmental issues by having them trace the origins of everyday items and document the project with photography, video, “comic book” illustrations etc.
“The message is to encourage young people to consider where stuff comes from – and where it goes,” says Tierney. “The environment is getting exponentially worse. It’s something we all need to consider. For instance, Real Madrid played a game where their jerseys were 100% made from recycled plastic bottles. I watched Leonard DiCaprio’s global warming documentary, Before The Flood. It really is striking to sit through — especially at a time when so many politicians in the United States are in denial about climate change.” Tierney’s 17-year-old brother Alex has watched his sibling’s rise with pride – but doesn’t see himself as having anything to prove. “I’m glad he is doing so well,” he says. “I’m not jealous or anything. I’m interested in music, like him. But he was always into photography and video as well. It’s fantastic to see him have such success.” The future is clearly bright for the photographer. His long-term ambition is to go into feature films and to perhaps specialise in documentary. As he is aware there is a well-trod path for video makers to Hollywood, with David Fincher, Michel Gondry and Spike Jones among the one-time wunderkinds making the transition.
“I’d like to do narrative style videos,” says Tierney. “The issue is that in Ireland the budgets are often limited. And I’d like to make documentaries too. I’m just back from meetings in New York, so I have some exciting things coming up there.” One of the most enthusiastic responses was for portraits he took of rapper Kendrick Lamar at the 2016 Longitude festival. Lamar is softly spoken and self-contained, with little of the typical hip hop swagger. Yet Tierney’s images caught something of the inner turmoil, which the performer expresses through his music.
“He’s quite reserved and doesn’t have the typical rap personality. I’m a massive fan. It helps when you admire the music.” Tierney doesn’t have an entourage or a lot of paraphernalia When shooting celebrities — he has also worked with martial arts star Conor McGregor — the priority is to put them at ease.
“You see people coming in with lights and all of this stuff and spending 20 minutes setting up. The problem is that, if there are to many things for the artist to consider, then they aren’t going to be comfortable. You need them to be as relaxed as possible.”
His parents were understandably nervous upon hearing that, after completing secondary school in Lucan, Tierney wanted to go full time into photography. They would have preferred he take the sensible option and continue to third level. Nonetheless, they didn’t stand in his way.
“Had I gone to college, I’d be in second year now,” he says. “Ever since transition year, I knew [further education] probably wasn’t for me. Obviously your parents may not see things the same way. They’ve been very supportive – which I realise is a luxury a lot of people may not have. I told them I would try photography for 12 months and see how it goes. That year went really well so they let me keep at it.”
Christian Tierney will judge entrants of the Story of Your Stuff Competition, which runs until March 30. More at thestoryofyourstuff.ie
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