John Kealey is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Ottawa, Canada who works in Toronto and New York as the head of the content studio no hands inc. Despite his decidedly modern job and North American homebase, however, Kealey’s knack for visual storytelling has proven that he can dig deeper, exploring relics of the past with his lens.
Kealey’s entry point into photography was skateboarding, so he’s got a soft spot for community-oriented sporting events. Through his personal photo essay “Fronton Blvd,” Kealey shares his obsession with the relatively obscure jai alai. The game originated in the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain’s Basque Country nearly four centuries ago and currently enjoys a modest following around the globe.
Florida is home to a small, dedicated jai alai community, but Kealey anticipates that the sport will fizzle out in the coming years. As such, he’s taken it upon himself to document the game in all its glory, snapping everything from the players, to the cancha (jai alai courts), to the frontons (stadiums). His photos are bursting with colour and life, which is perfect for the subject. After all, “jai alai” translates to English as “merry festival.”
What inspired you to start shooting sports?
Initial inspiration for the project came from my childhood. My father would take us to see the matinees while in Florida over the winter breaks. More recently, I made it a point to travel to [the legendary Miami fronton] Ocala Jai-Alai while in Florida — just to see it. I grew up playing sports, some competitively. Skateboarding is what inevitably led me to photography. For that reason alone, I’m drawn to photographing sport and the culture surrounding it.
Why are you interested in jai alai specifically?
Jai alai is a beautiful sport. It’s honest and full of heart. These players aren’t celebrated like most athletes and they continue to show up every day, playing in front of a handful of spectators. The cesta (racket/basket) and pelota (ball) are still made and maintained by hand. The sport is very much overlooked, and probably in its final years of existence in the US — with the exception of Dania Beach. It needed to be photographed now, and luckily the management and support staff granted me that access.
What camera did you shoot on?
All images from the jai alai project were created using various Canon 5d (MKII, MKIII, 5DS) camera systems.
Are you purely a photographer or do you have other creative pursuits?
I’m primarily a photographer, but I’m working more and more these days as a director for motion-based projects.
How does your gear help you as a photographer?
The ability to shoot and not worry about the camera functioning as intended is paramount. I need to constantly rely on my gear to work in various conditions. From shooting tethered in the studio to shooting in the Arctic, Canon camera systems are flexible and reliable. They just work, so I can focus all of my attention on the subject in front of the camera.
If you could go anywhere to shoot, where would it be and why?
I’ve got the Pyrenees on my mind lately. I would love to go there and continue shooting the project from where jai alai originated.
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For more of John’s work: