In August 2017, Ronan O’Dornan, an art teacher from Ballymena, was involved in a serious car crash that left his beloved, restored ’78 Opel Kadett destroyed, and Ronan with several injuries. He was unable to work, drive or do the one thing he loved more than anything - pick up a camera and take photographs.
Ronan was given his first camera by his mother when he was eight and, from this moment, he was always taking photographs - capturing people and experiences through a new perspective. He was hooked but didn’t realise then how he could turn his hobby into a full-time career so he threw himself into teaching after graduating from university.
Photography may have taken a back seat, but Ronan continued to practice his craft at every opportunity, volunteering for various community initiatives and taking on paid photography work in his spare time away from teaching.
“I was fortunate enough to have worked alongside an extremely talented professional photographer as an assistant throughout university,” Ronan reflects. “He had a raw, natural talent and taught me how to light, compose and capture still images while I was assisting him on shoots. He invested a lot of time in mentoring me and the interest in photography I had developed as a kid soon grew into a burning passion.”
Following his accident, Ronan used the time to reflect and plan how he could use the experience to become more appreciative of his life and was determined to make every day count. He continued to take photographs as soon as he was physically able and with photography helping him through his experience, he decided it was time to give everything to pursuing his passion.
"Surround yourself with great and talented people, believe that you can, and never look back."
Ronan would tell his students that 40 years is a long time to be doing something you don’t enjoy. He encouraged them to pick something they love and give it their all, instead of choosing the expected and the boring. The accident was his wake-up call to apply the same logic to his own life and it spurred Ronan on to leave behind his teaching career for good and focus 100% on becoming a successful and well respected photographer. It was a bold move, but Ronan knew that the one thing he needed to rely on in order to succeed, would never let him down - himself.
“I was driven to stop at nothing until I’d achieved what I’d set out to do,” explains Ronan.
Ronan launched Stillpoint in 2017, a creative imageworks dedicated to capturing quality commercial and documentary photography and hasn’t looked back since. With commissions from big brands that sees Ronan travel all over the country to capture the stories of Ireland, the former art teacher is prioritising each day and fulfilling his lifelong dreams.
Although he uses digital cameras for commissioned work, Ronan is a firm believer that the concept and content make the resulting image. He loves seeing how the development in smartphone cameras has opened up a creative outlet to everyone. “The evolution of mobile photography has profoundly changed our ability to document people, moments and experiences. Everyone now has the ability and the tools to tell amazing stories through photography.” Some may see this evolution as a negative, but Ronan thinks it opens so many more opportunities and says we need to focus on the potential of Instagram and similar platforms to have fun with photography and tell stories in a way that’s accessible to everyone.
With an unrelenting drive to be good at whatever he does - be it teaching or taking photographs, Ronan says, “I want to leave a mark in the world and inspire other people to do the same. That’s something I’m incredibly passionate about and I hope that my former students will see me following my dreams and do the same.”
To those who have yet to carve out their own path, Ronan advises; “Surround yourself with great and talented people, believe that you can, and never look back.”
Ronan has collaborated with Bushmills to host ‘Black Bush and Photography’ at the House Bar, Belfast on Thursday 21st June. To register, visit the events section.