New York-based photographer Sean Gallagher has captivated art and decor enthusiasts with his signature feather and skull prints. Every piece is enticing and holds a deep sense of grace, beauty and power. Sean grew up surrounded by birds, as his father built countless birdhouses around the world–all to say, he’s no stranger to stunning feathers of all colors, forms and textures.
We recently chatted about his inspirations, creative journey and the juxtaposition of his two unique jobs.
What’s your story, Sean Gallagher?
The usual…born, grew up, still trying to figure it all out, do it right and be kind. I’m living in Brooklyn, working as a lighting guy and property master for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah by day, and a photographer and insomniac-dreamer by night.
Initially, it was mundane. I live in a small apartment and things like feathers, skulls, butterflies and flowers are nice and small; but fairly quickly, I came to see how neatly they danced around and dovetailed with the notion of impermanence, which has shaped much of my life. I lost my sister pretty young, and one result is that I spend lots of time thinking about what is, what was, and what stays behind. The feathers, skulls, bones, antlers, dead leaves, wilted flowers really resonate. I’ve been referring to what I’ve been shooting as “impermanents.” They’re what’s left after the lives they lived. I find it poignant, lovely and heartbreaking.
Take us through your creative process.
My lighting setup is always ready. I can just tweak it depending on what I’m shooting, and what I want my background to be. Because of my background in production, I’m pretty methodical with prep, vision and choosing what I’m going to work on beforehand, so when I’m shooting, I’m very clear on what I need to do and how. After I’m done in the studio, I let it sit for a few days, then return to it with fresh eyes to choose what I want to work on in post; and with that, I look for a character or feeling, something reflective, longing, or wistful or playful. Then, when I’m backstage [at the Daily Show], I generally have enough downtime to retouch on my laptop while loading audiences, prepping or between cues and on breaks. It’s a real luxury. I don’t do much in Photoshop beyond color correction or spotting. My images in the camera look much like what’s on the wall.
In your eyes, what role does art play in a home?
I’m no decorator, but anywhere I’ve lived I’ve kept the room fairly simple and used the art on the walls and shelves as the main points of focus, conversation pieces, or the big splashes of color. I’ve also come to discover that big pieces are great places for me to begin to simmer up some inspiration…
As an artist, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?
What I seem to do over and over, whether subconsciously or otherwise, is to take something small and so commonplace that it’s practically invisible, isolate it and make it really large so you can sit and study it, get lost in it, find all sorts of things you’d missed every other time you looked. I’d like to think I’m trying to serve as a reminder to really see what you’re looking at. Sometimes, people I work with make fun of me, call me “feather guy” or whatever. But shooting feathers and finding whole worlds in them really pushed me further along a path in life, and showed me how much I miss every day. Mindfulness has been pretty much rendered a meaningless corporate buzzword for daytime TV producers, but to hundreds of generations of very wise humans, it has been an incredibly important way to live. I am merely another one of them, and for me, it’s found is best expression in feathers.
Explore Sean’s newest prints, now available on Citizen Atelier!
This interview has been edited for length.