By Ginger DeShaney
John McCosh is a storyteller.
But he doesn’t use words to tell stories … he uses his camera, living by his philosophy of photo “fabula” (Russian for “story”).
“Photography is kind of like a poem,” said the owner of South Boston’s LightFlex Studios in the Distillery Gallery at 516 E. 2nd St., Suite 104. “Whatever you get with a poem, you can get with a picture. A thousand words for a picture, I would say make it 80 words and make it poetry.”
And every good story includes people. When John first started out, he was focusing on landscapes. “But you know what? People are the story,” he said. “The more you can get a human, relatable moment, the more it’s going to connect to people. Because people don’t connect with rocks; they connect with people.”
He loves doing all kinds of photography, “but the most reaction you can get is when you take pictures of people.
“I’ve had a few people who told me they had an emotional reaction, saying ‘That’s the best picture of me I’ve ever seen.’ That is so gratifying.”
John excels at finding — and telling — the story behind the image.
“I’m always studying how to pose people,” he said, noting that even the slightest change in a pose can be the difference between a great photo and one that gets passed over.
“You need to create the space for that to happen. When you see it, you feel it in your center,” John said.
“There are all sorts of rules in photography … but a lot of times I would just simply go until I feel it right in my core. That’s how I frame, too. I feel it. You want to have your general approach … but you really want it to be visceral.
“It really just comes down to how you, as a person, react to something.“
John received a BA in English and an MBA from UMass-Boston, where he met his wife, Kristen Donoghue McCosh. He earned an MFA from Boston University in screenwriting, another form of storytelling.
John, 54, who grew up in Quincy but has lived in South Boston since 1999, got his first camera, a Vivitar, in the 1970s.
“I’ve always enjoyed [photography],” he said. “My dad taught me how to manually focus.” The rest he taught himself.
In the 1990s, he started seriously studying photography. Every month, he’d buy an average of four photo magazines and devour them. “I learned from those magazines,” he said. He studied art books. He read camera manuals, which helped him advance in his photography techniques and skills.
John put his photography knowledge and skills into practice when he traveled through Hawaii, Australia, and Southeast Asia on a backpacking trip, where he photographed everything from landscapes, to volcanoes, to Komodo dragons. Later, his job at State Street Bank transferred him to London, and he spent his free time taking photos throughout England, Scotland, France, Germany, and Italy.
To this day, he’s still learning, always in pursuit of information and techniques. Whenever he goes to a museum or gallery, he looks for the photo exhibits. He still studies artwork.
“You can accidentally take a great picture, but you can’t accidentally paint a great painting,” he said. By studying what the masters of their craft do, you will learn a lot, he said.
“The most important thing is the lighting,” he said. “No one’s ever photographed anything other than light.”
His photography really took off in 2007 when Kristen was crowned Ms. Wheelchair Massachusetts and then Ms. Wheelchair America (2008). He was taking photos at the competitions for Kristen and for fun but he was also sharing a lot of the photos, including for pageant newsletters.
“People saw them and it was exciting but I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it for the people there. But it’s exciting when people consume your work.”
In her role as Ms. Wheelchair America, Kristen and John traveled around the country to events and his photography and storytelling really ramped up.
Now John is sharing his passion with the community. He is currently offering Holiday Photo sessions at his studio. A 15-minute mini-session, with a choice of three holiday sets, costs $59 and includes a link to all the photos John takes, plus three edited high-resolution shots.
John’s studio, which includes a group of local shooters, also does headshots (corporate, actors, social media), family portraits, newborn and baby photos, maternity shoots, weddings and engagements, sporting and event photography, and a full line of videography services.
John also started the Facebook group “Hometown Pictures, South Boston” for photographers of all levels so they can tell their own stories.