After speaking with Sean Kelly Conway, I am no longer convinced that he is a photographer. Yes, in a traditional sense, he makes a business of creating photographs. But following our conversation, this title alone no longer seems sufficient in describing him. He’s a surfer and traveler, but here, those things are kind of a dime a dozen. He’s a small business owner, sure. But Conway’s mostly a people watcher. Maybe a part-time beachcomber, too. Oh, and a bibliophile. He’s a multiplex dude, is what I’m saying.
Conway grew up along the coast of Northeast Florida and attended Flagler College. After earning a degree, he skipped town, venturing to southeast Asia and delving into a world unknown, camera in hand. For five years, Conway explored the region, honing his street photography skills before returning to his home state.
“I would say that photography at its best for me would be treated like a practice,” Conway explains. “To go out and try to get a fresh perspective on something… when I was living in Asia it was easy because everything was brand new; but when I came back it was a little more work. You have to look a little deeper, which actually probably makes for way more interesting work in the long run.”
Conway combines his affinity for the coastline with his anthropological spirit to create seaside vignettes and emotional portraiture. Walking the line between fine art and documentary photography, Conway’s work often highlights the quirky characters and subcultures found in and around the waters of Northeast Florida.
“I grew up on Vilano which has always been a little scrubby, especially back in the 90s,” Conway says. “It’s always been sort of charming to me. I like things that are a little worn, a little crooked, a little unkempt.”
After returning to Florida, Conway decided to undertake a new business venture, taking over a boutique fine art printing and framing shop by the name of Imagine Fine Art Printing. Located just minutes away from the beaches of Vilano where he spent his childhood, Conway breaks away from the shop to return to the water.
“I’m super busy with the shop so I was trying to do some different kinds of work than usual—just as a way to sort of relax and have a creative outlet,” Conway says. “Growing up being a surfer I never really tuned into the beach, I was always just looking at the waves. But it’s a place that’s really rife for good photographs. It’s kind of a fun discovery of something that has always been in front of me.”
As Conway’s business continues to grow, he aims to give back to the community that helped shape his photography by providing a space for other artists to display their work.
“I really want to curate a group show of contemporary seascape or beach-related work,” Conway says. “I think it’d be fun because it is really something that unites everyone in this area.”
This feature originally appeared as the Water Column in the December 2019 issue of Void Magazine, “The Photo Annual” under the headline “Beach Street Photographer.”