I joined the JVP too late to get to spend much time with Brendan McInerney. But the few days that I did get to see him, he was nothing but delightful and fascinating. So, getting the chance to speak with the person behind such wonderful photographs was a great opportunity.
From talking to Brendan for just a little bit, I was able to tell how much of him is in his work. Brendan captures emotion with his lens in the same way a poet wrangles up feelings with words. He doesn’t take photos; he snaps haikus. And that’s only scratching the surface of Brendan McInerney.
What brought you to Rutgers? Originally I wanted to go to RIT in Rochester, NY because they have a great photography program. However, due to budgetary constraints, I decided to head to Rutgers instead. I had decided before I went off to college that photojournalism would be the best way to pursue an interesting career in photography while not starving to death. Since Rutgers didn’t have a photojournalism major, I decided to study plain journalism (unfortunately), though I never took their photojournalism class. Since the journalism ‘major’ only consists of 30 credits, I was done with it in a couple of semesters. I was also taking Spanish classes at the time. I had intended on it being my minor but I did the math and realized that I could double major. So, I did.
What sort of aspirations did you have growing up and which of these, if any, are you putting the most effort into making a reality? I’ve had a million aspirations growing up, I’ve wanted to be every type of scientist, a politician, a historian, I even considered majoring in African studies at one point. The closer I got to graduation, the poorer my idea about my future was. I have since graduated and I am now a ‘committed lost soul,’ as my dear friend Alejandra so deftly put it.
I started to look into photography at the end of high school although I had always enjoyed taking photographs. After I finished the journalism major, I realized that journalism was a big joke. To me, my professors made it seem that journalism amounted to nothing more than trying to keep people’s attention for as long as possible. Once you lost that attention, you move on to a different subject.
I heard few successful photographers speak and taking a class called ‘Engaged Anthropology’ with Prof. Daniel Goldstein, I realized that the work I want to do involves becoming a part of a community so that I can understand it and share that understanding with the rest of the world. Hence, I am going into the Peace Corps where I can, hopefully, engage and improve a community while creating a significant photographic work.
Did your professors say the same thing about investigative journalism? Not in so many words. Apparently, some students were taught about OPRA, but I was never taught about it. The classes I took consisted of the history of news media, how to strictly abide by AP style, how to put the most relevant information (and only information) at the top of the article and how journalism is a dying field so we’ll never get the same opportunities they did. The journalism department is waiting for some successful alum to give them money so that they can change the name of the school from SCI. But that will never happen as long as they are preparing their students so poorly for the field.
I feel that I am very self-centered when it comes to the things that I want to do with my life. The fact that I have left out music in this interview is a good example of my egocentrism. During high school, I was heavily involved in music. I went to Sparta High School and the people who taught me there are, hands down, the best teachers I have ever had. They really pushed me as a musician and helped me to achieve a great deal of success as a high school musician. During my senior year I applied to a number of schools as a music major but at the last minute I decided that I couldn’t do it. I regret that decision. It’s funny how even though the majority of my education from 5th grade to the end of high school focused on music, I often forget about it completely.
What was and what is your relationship with music like? At the moment, music is purely a hobby for me. I still pick up my clarinet occasionally (though I should do it more often) and I’m getting into blues harmonica. I like the harmonica because I can take it wherever I go and practice while I’m driving or waiting for someone.
What inspired you to not study music? Is the regret something that bothers you? I chose not to study music because I don’t think I have the right personality. All the successful music majors have an obsessive interest in music and nothing else, I just couldn’t dedicate myself to one field at such an early age. The regret doesn’t really bother me, I like to think that I would have done well in music but it can enrich my life as a hobby just as well as it would a career.
What sort of scientist would you have been? I wanted to be an astronomer, it was my ambition to gaze longingly into the night sky and to think up new and creative ways to measure the velocity of different sized rocks. It seems to me that most scientific fields consist of mind-blowing, universe altering discoveries in between months or years of mind-numbing, universe contingent math equations. I think I would be good at that; I may yet make a good astronomer. As Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”
What happened to being a politician or historian? I wanted to be a politician, but I stopped acting like a 5-year-old when I turned 6. Politicians are people who work for their own interests under the guise of helping others. Except for Barack Obama, that man can do no wrong. I actually want to help others. There’s nothing wrong with being a historian. I often consider pursuing a life in academia, but if I do, I want it to be in a field that will help others in a direct way. I’m not saying historians don’t help others; they do, just not in as direct a manner as I would like. If photography doesn’t work out, I want to study linguistics and preserve the world’s dying languages.
How would you describe your relationship with photography? Photography is the easiest way of sharing with others the beauty that I find in the world. I’ve also tried poetry, but I generally I find the poems I write to be pretty corny. Alex Webb is one of the photographers that I’ve seen speaking about their work. He said, “if I was any good at writing, I wouldn’t have to trouble with photography.” I’m most proficient at sending a message visually, so I use this proficiency to help people in any way that I can.
How did you develop an interest in helping others? I have no idea why I have an interest in helping others, I’m also pretty good with children, though I couldn’t tell you why. I think its just part of being human, we are inherently social creatures and the drive to help one another is an evolutionary feature that has helped us survive.
What about people who seemingly hurt others? I don’t know really; there are always things like greed and mental illness that overcome the desire not to hurt others. But I think that those who hurt others lack an understanding of the world or an open mind about people. They don’t realize what it is like to be in someone else’s situation, or else they would know the damage they are doing. Really though, I’m not sure.
What was your first encounter with photography like? I’ve attached the first picture I ever took (which I’m quite proud of). I remember when I went to Ireland for a few months the summer after 6th grade to visit my relatives and explore the country. My mom had given me a bunch of disposable cameras to take pictures of my trip. When I got back she was pissed, “where are the people? How come you didn’t take any pictures of people?!” There isn’t one specific moment that I was hit by some divine inspiration to take photographs, it has been a gradual progression. I got into photography in high school and then I got into it more in college. Soon I hope to get into it in a way that will help me support myself.
Who are some photographers whose work you enjoy or appreciate? I don’t enjoy any other photographer’s work. I’m inspired by others, but its always tempered by jealousy.
I heard a great joke once:
Q:How many photographers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Five. One to screw it in and four others to stand around and say ‘I could have done that.’
That being said, there are many many photographers that I admire. Of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern ‘photojournalism’ and James Nachtwey, the current grand master of photography, if you will. Emilio Morenatti is another, he has really striking and unique images, I’ll never forget seeing this image on the front of the New York Times. Julio Mitchell has captured the essence of an entire continent although he has lived in relative obscurity until recently. Peter van Agtmael is my real life inspiration whom I saw speak with Alex Webb recently (Alex Webb was caught by the border police a couple of times because he was following illegal immigrants over the border to shoot photographs of them). If you look at the list of photographers on the Magnum website, you can pick any one of them and I can tell you why they are incredible and I want to be like them. I could go on for days.
How did you change over the course of your time at Rutgers? Over the course of my time at Rutgers, I recognized the value of a good education and the need for one to pursue wisdom and knowledge, not just have it given to him. I had this idea as soon as I got to college, but I didn’t really act on it until my second or third year. As I went through college and learned more about the world, I realized that the more you know, the less you know. Which is a pretty tacky phrase, but still one that holds some truth. I hope that I can continue to know less and less every day.
How has your education helped you seek knowledge and wisdom? If four years of education has taught me anything it is that I truly know very little about anything. This makes me want to know more, as futile an effort as that may be. Think about every single book you have ever checked out, every song you have ever listened to, every movie you have ever seen and every person you have ever listened to. I feel like a silverfish chomping away at the corner of a page of a book and my goal is to eat everything in the library. But it’s not just school, I think that listening to people has helped a lot too. Living in New Brunswick, there are few moments that someone is not trying to speak to you. It makes you realize that, although you may not agree with something someone is saying, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. People are much too quick to discredit one another these days.
So, how’d you find out about the JVP? I remember working with Mike Stuzynski at the Daily Targum and always having him talk about creating a publication in opposition to the Targum. I think he used to use the phrase doppelgänger, though I’m sure he’ll correct me if he reads this. I slinked in and out of the organization until Alex G took over, he really pushed me to produce content for the site.