Joseph D.R. O'Leary at the opening reception of Portfolio Showcase 2013.
Whether in painting or photography, Joseph D.R. O’Leary has always loved portraiture. He finds himself attracted to images that “hint at the life, interests, or story of an individual.” Though portraits have always had a significant role in photography, the contemporary practice of studio photography seems to have fallen out of vogue in favor of environmental portraits. O’Leary’s gorgeously rich series, Of Beards and Men, has renewed the appreciation for beautifully lit portraits for non-commercial purposes. The entire series is made up of 130+ portraits of men with beards. On the surface, this theme is a documentation of the current trend of facial hair that has become an overplayed motif of hipster-dom. But on a deeper level, the work is cohesive and fascinating, telling stories and creating characters.
Jake B. 127
I was looking for a commonality that would "make it easy" for an average guy to want to step in front of the camera for longer than a simple candid. Men with beards are proud of their facial hair. It's a brotherhood. The idea of focusing on beards seems to put the average guy at ease; because it is perceived that the session is not about "him", but rather "his beard"— he's just along for the ride. Incidentally, the man behind the beard ends up taking center stage.
Nicholas K. 84
O’Leary’s goal was to make each of his portraits tell a story. “I want all the men I photographed to be proud of their portrait. Often my portraits are taken from a low angle; this is an intentional vantage point as I want the viewer to sense this person is ‘larger than life’.” The fact that his prints are 24”x33” definitely also helps convey that “larger than life” feeling. Although The Kiernan Gallery has only seven of these large print on display as part of its second annual Portfolio Showcase, the full project on can be viewed online. O’Leary would also like to make the images available in print as a book, for which he has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign.
Nicholas G. 140
Though Of Beards and Men has been garnering a lot of positive attention, O’Leary does not see this project fitting neatly into the contemporary art scene just yet. He is concerned that polished studio photography is not accepted as fine art, but is instead viewed as purely “commercial work” because it lacks the “reality” of some street or documentary photography. “Perhaps the environment is less ‘real’, but there's almost an exaggerated ‘realness’ that seems to emerge.” Thrilled by the evolution of this series, O’Leary sees success as a state of mind, “I just want to create work that moves or excites me — that's success.”
The Of Beards and Men Kickstarter campaign is open through August 16, 2013.
Of Beards and Men is part of The Kiernan Gallery’s second annual Portfolio Showcase, on view through July 27, 2013.