If you’ve seen any photos of Kennett over the past several years, you’ll have seen the town through the lens of Dylan Francis. Meet the poet, philosopher, and adventurer behind the camera.
Writer’s note: I first met Dylan Francis in the fall of 2018, when we started working for Kennett Collaborative (then Historic Kennett Square) on the brand-new Meet the Merchant series. We’ve now told over 50 of these stories together, I with my notebook and Dylan with his camera, celebrating the passion, creativity, hard work, and expertise of Kennett Square’s small business owners and KSQ Farmers Market vendors. Dylan has taken beautiful photos in dark rooms and designer boutiques, in snow and wind and summer heat—all while connecting with people from all walks of life and across language barriers.
Dylan has done dozens of other photo shoots for Kennett Collaborative, too—of the town and its people, programs, and events—and these photos have appeared in numerous print and online publications. If you’ve seen any photos of Kennett over the past several years, you’ll have seen the town through Dylan’s lens.
“You’ll love Dylan,” I always reassure people who are reticent to have their photo taken. And they do. It’s a pleasure to share some of his story with you here. If I’ve in any small way done justice to introducing you to this incredible human being, you’ll love him too. —Tara Smith
As a kid growing up in Oxford, Dylan Francis watched movies as homework. “My dad was a movie connoisseur,” he says, and as he immersed himself in cinema culture he sifted and absorbed the vernacular of cinema to find deeper, almost religious, meanings. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, teaches a lesson about innocence,” he says, “about following your gut and not selling out.” Francis’s father was a keen observer of life and adventure lover, and his mother has a particular love for mountains—all qualities that Francis has inherited.
On a trip to Colorado with his father in 2017, Francis experienced a moment of reckoning. “I was 21, and I realized that if I’d been born in a different time I would have had a trade and been on a path towards something. But I hadn’t started anything real, and I knew then and there I needed to decide on a career path.” He knew that he wanted to be able to travel, make money to support himself, express himself artistically, and have a positive impact on the world. “Photography ticked all those boxes,” he says. The next day, he started studying and bought himself a camera.
The career he embarked on from there has brought Francis to meet people and travel to places he couldn’t have imagined, and keeping those four objectives in mind has helped him maintain life balance. Shooting a documentary on sustainable beekeeping in the Amazon, for example, more than compensated for what it lacked in terms of financial remuneration with extreme adventure and opportunities to express himself artistically and make a difference. But whether he’s shooting a video in a crocodile-infested river or composing a shot at a picture-perfect Southern Chester County wedding, Francis remains conscious of the power of image and memory. “Capturing these moments preserves them forever—to pass on, to put you right back in a place you wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” he says.
Though his wide-ranging assignments now bring him around the country and across the globe, Francis’s work in Kennett Square has served as both a launchpad for opportunities and a warm, grounding community to return home to.
All roads lead (back to) Kennett Square
Bartending at Kennett Brewing Company as he learned his art in the early days “Gave me huge, unbridled access to the public,” Francis says, smiling. “I told everyone that I was a photographer.” These conversations led to Kennett Collaborative (then Historic Kennett Square) hiring him to do his first professional job—their inaugural “Meet the Merchant” shoot with Chris Thompson at Philter. “I’m grateful to Mary Hutchins and Claire Murray for giving me my start,” he says. “This steady work gave me the chance to practice people skills and get experience shooting different subjects in all kinds of situations. It’s been like my apprenticeship.”
Through a Kennett connection, Francis recently received a call from someone in Florida who had heard he was a food photographer. Though he half-jokes that photo shoots at cafes and restaurants, where he enjoys eating what he’s photographed, are his favorite kind of job, “I’m not a food photographer,” he says. “But I have done food photography, and part of what this work for Kennett Collaborative has given me is lots of confidence taking on new jobs and a broad portfolio of work and experience.” In addition to portraits, product shots, and photos of food, lifestyle, fashion, and even a construction site, Kennett Collaborative has also engaged Francis to take photos at outdoor festivals like the Kennett Brewfest and Winterfest, Third Thursdays, the Memorial Day Parade, and the Holiday Village Market, as well as capturing Christmas in Kennett, the beauty of Anson B. Nixon Park, and some now-iconic streetscape shots around Kennett Square.
“These projects have given me incredible insight into the community we have here. I’ve been blessed to spend time with these people in their stores and tell their personal stories,” he says. In addition to his technical skill and artistic sensibility, Francis’s insatiable curiosity and intuitive ability to connect with people enable him to capture his subject’s personality and the essence of their passion for what they do—whether they’re standing over a sauté pan, pouring a craft beer, or sitting at a potter’s wheel. Francis is so much himself, it’s nearly impossible not to feel at ease with him—even in front of his camera—and through his work he’s played a role in creating and expanding the kind of community he loves here.
“Dylan has a knack for capturing special moments honestly, but always in the best light—and that makes him a vital partner in our work as we seek to tell the story of Kennett,” says Kennett Collaborative Executive Director Daniel Embree.
Saving the lungs of the planet
Francis has packed a lifetime of experiences into his 27 years. When he’s not behind the camera, soaking up the sun, or sitting in his favorite spot at Talula’s, Francis might be found scuba diving, spear fishing, hunting, reading (his favorite author is Herman Hesse), playing online chess, or rock climbing. “It’s a very scary sport, I hate it,” he says as he describes the addictive pleasure of scaling new heights, fingers cramping, hands sweating. Francis, who wrestled at Oxford High School, also loves the camaraderie and challenge of Brazilian jiu jitsu.
When National Geographic Explorer Jon Cox invited this adventurous modern-day Renaissance man to go to the Peruvian Amazon in 2022 to shoot a documentary on the beekeeping efforts of an indigenous group called the Maijuna, Francis recognized an opportunity not only to travel but also to make a difference. “Cox is interested in understanding different ways of living through staying with indigenous cultures and using the mediums of photography and videography for environmental conservation and awareness,” Francis says.
Illegal logging, overhunting, gold mining, and more threaten the very existence of the Maijuna. But their complex method of beekeeping, which is mutually beneficial for the forest and the bees, offers hope and a sustainable source of income for the community. Francis taught himself videography and immersed himself in the culture in order to be able to tell the story of the Maijuna. He also ran film workshops for kids, teaching them to make movies to tell their own stories.
Francis is in the process of seeking funding to finish editing the full documentary, and this teaser gives a glimpse of the critical role it will play in raising awareness and helping the Maijuna and other groups to build sustainable economic structures within their communities. There’s an urgency to this work, Francis says—both for the people who call this place home and for all of us who depend on the Amazon, “the lungs of the planet,” for survival.
While Francis is passionate about making a positive impact for these people, they taught and impacted him far more. His epic stories feature strange insect stings, incessant rains, and seemingly endless fevered nights as well as countless joyful moments with all generations of the Maijuna. “I spent three months in Peru last year. So much happened—the highs and the lows,” he says, “from being hospitalized with a parasitic infection to hiking in the High Andes. If the bad things that happen don’t destroy you, they transform you.”
Another way to support the sustainability efforts of the Maijuna people of the Peruvian Amazon is to check out the handmade Chambira hammocks they weave. Clean Slate Goods will be carrying them starting in March.
Headline photo above (by Ben Hemmings): Francis filming the making of a traditional canoe in Sucusari, Peru.