Donna Killeen is an emerging photographer from Melbourne, Australia. She is a keen traveler who loves adventure, hearing other people’s stories and is passionate about photography. To date, her work has focused on portraits, environmental portraiture, events including concerts, photojournalism, and journalistic contributions, domestic and international street photography. Her work aims to observe and engage with her subjects to enable her to authentically portray them and their stories.
Donna’s images and journalistic articles have been published in numerous publications, and her work has been nominated and exhibited in the 2017 Maggie Diaz Prize and the 2017 Provocare Art Prize in Australia. She received a “Commended” recognition in the Australian Photographer of the Year Landscape section in 2016. Other Victorian exhibitions she has participated in include the Joiners Exhibition, Yarram Art Show, the Sandy Point Art show and Through the Lens Exhibition.
Internationally, Donna was accepted for the 2016 Coachella International Exhibition of Photography in America and for the Annual Digital Georgia Southern Exhibition Circuit “GASO” in America from May to August 2015. She is currently completing a Diploma of Photo Imaging at Melbourne Polytechnic.
Please tell us a little bit more about yourself. What interests you as an artist and specifically, as a photographer?
I became interested in photography in 2012 so I joined the local camera club. I didn’t take many photos, as I felt overwhelmed by the wonderful photography I was seeing at the club. I didn’t think that I could ever take pictures as beautiful as that, so I was really an interested onlooker for the first 12 months.
The club was friendly and I decided that unless I participate, I’m not really part of the club, so I started entering the monthly competitions. Once you break down the fear and become a participant, magic happens. The next thing you know I was receiving “Commended” and “Image of the month” for my photos. That was enough incentive for me to keep going. So in 2015 I decided to study photography full time and I continued on part time in 2016 and 2017. I am currently on a gap year in 2018.
In 2015, I received a study grant and was also accepted for an internship for the local newspaper, Open News. I continued to contribute to them after the internship ended. It was here that I knew that I loved photojournalism and documentary photography. I also learned that sometimes I like to write. As a result I am a regular contributor of articles and photos for the local papers.
I also photograph and write articles, on a monthly basis, for music concerts held by the Sandy Point Music Club.
What motivated you to apply to ROOSTERGNN Artist Residency in Madrid, Spain?
When I came across the ROOSTERGNN Artist Residency in Madrid, Spain and saw that ROOSTERGNN was part of a news agency, I knew it was the perfect match for my gap year, so I applied and was accepted. I was looking for an opportunity to get away from the distractions and obligations of one’s normal daily life that can get in the way of my photography and to see what I could do.
Could you tell us about the project you have been working on at our Residency?
When I arrived in Spain my idea was to continue on with my project of interviewing people who do work that almost goes unnoticed. To date, I had interviewed an Australian native wildlife rescuer and a local artist who is about to have a retrospective exhibition of his work. He has been painting since 1972 and is a prolific painter, especially in the last 20 years. I really enjoy hearing peoples stories. I am fascinated by what people do and I always feel privileged when they allow me into their lives.
Easy, right? Just do the same in Spain!
Errr…. not quite the same as I had imagined. I am in a very big foreign city, I have zero sense of direction and I don’t speak Spanish despite my six months of learning. That is going to make it very hard to interview people and so an unexpected fear quickly settles into my residency with me.
I once again decided that unless I participate I’m not really part of the residency or the culture so I had to find a way to face the challenge I set for myself. I started by immersing myself in the city. Then I came up with a written dialogue that ROOSTERGNN translated and printed for me. I also worked on my confidence to approach people. Once I tackled those challenges the rest of my project flowed, as long as I continued to put the work in. I decided that anyone can take a photograph but it’s the images that have courage behind them that make the difference.
What did you like most about the ROOSTERGNN Artist Residency in Madrid?
It was truly joyful to interact with the shopkeepers and artists. I thought with 90 million tourists a year that visit Spain, they could easily say NO to me. They didn’t. In fact they happily wrote answers to my printed questions or we would chat for ages in any broken language we could or tap away on translation apps. Language is no barrier! It was so rewarding to communicate with strangers and walk away feeling like you had just made a friend. When my photos have permission, I love them more.
What did you like most about being in Madrid, Spain?
Madrid is a wonderful city. It is friendly. It has an exciting energy and vibrancy, the architecture, the art culture, the food, a vino tinto, the soccer, the history, the honesty and most of all Retiro Parque on Sunday afternoon.
The residency has allowed me the freedom to absorb and feel the city, to face personal challenges, to work at my own pace with any support that I need and to grow as a person and as a photographer. All whilst in the comfort of my own self contained apartment in the midst of Madrid.
What more could I have asked for?