Photography by John Keatley


One Hour Photo Featuring John Keatley


Lesson Info

Photography by John Keatley

Well, let's get to some photos. And you've got a great collection here. And talk to us just a little backstory about these first few photos that we're gonna see. Sure, so this project or series I titled con man. And I really enjoy coming up with ideas or kind of, I often say, what-if moments like thinking about what would it look like if this had happened, or even something as simple as if I was in a restaurant and I just, sometimes people are talking to me, and I'm not there any more because I'm imagining what if the waiter came over and said this socially inappropriate thing or whatever it is. And so, In this particular point, though, I was thinking a lot about identity, and so this project was a very kind of superficial visual question or exploration on identity in terms of how we view others. Let's bring up the second photo. People can start seeing the similarities here. So if you haven't figured it out, this is a series where it's the same person in every single picture. The...

re's seven or eight final images in this project, and basically we used wardrobe, hair and makeup, and some just very like prosthetics if you will, like moles and wrinkles and things for aging. And so I wanted to see what was the range of one human face, and how do we respond or judge or view that person simply by, you know, what they're wearing and how they look, despite the fact that it's actually the same human being, you know, underneath. So, that's the backstory on this. And this would be one going back to a question you asked earlier where this turned out exactly how I had planned, I think. Usually a lot of my closeup portraits, they tend to go exactly how I'm planning. When you start to pull back and you see more and show more in a photograph, that's when things don't always end up exactly, because there's just so many more moving pieces and things to consider. So this a personal project, correct? Yes. And so what is the status? What are you doing with this project at this point? Well, at this point, ultimately I'd love to show this at a gallery. You know, show the prints in a gallery. I think this particular series at least three, if not all of them need to be shown together, so. How many do you have in the series? There's seven or eight. There's seven, and there's an eighth one that's kind of a spinoff, but it could go with it. So, basically that's where I'm at right now. I just mentioned I did my first show in January. It was a different project. But, it's going back to how much do you shoot. It's just a lot of work, you know, putting your work out there, showing it to people, talking to galleries, finding, hopefully eventually, you know, a gallery or curator that connects with that work and sees a fit. So, right now it's just showing it and talking about it and doing this kind of thing and hoping to find people who connect with it or it's something that resonates with them. And so, with this actor/model, was this done in one day, or is this done over weeks? This was done in one day, yeah. That must've been a heck of a day, 'cause I know you're working with makeup artists-- Right. And a number of, a team to get this done, and it would seem like it would take quite a bit of time to get from one to the next. Well, and this goes back to, again, you're asking about crew size. This was a personal project. So, would I have liked to have done it over two or three days? Yes. Could I afford to do that? No. So you kind of have to just work with your constraints in reality, so. Yeah, I think fantastic photos. I mean just individually, they're very nice photos, excellent, but as a group, it's really fine. Thanks. Especially, I love hiding the fact of what it is at first. Because you actually did a show here and had the photos up, and I wondered in and I looked, and it took me, you know, I'm not gonna say how long it took me, it took me a period of time to figure out, okay, I got it. I got it. And it's that revelation is a lot of fun. All right, so we have some other different work here, and this is looking like Death Valley to me. It is Death Valley at Bad Water Basin. And so, the photographer in me just wants to jump out and say, "How did you get the water out there?" Well, there actually is, at least when went there was some water-- Oh, okay. Right around the parking lot at Bad Water-- Okay, 'cause I been there a couple of times. There was no water, so I was just wondering if you said, "Okay, we're gonna need water." And so you had to bring out water tanks (laughter) and put that out there, and how do you legally get around all that. Yeah, I mean-- But this is just naturally there? That was naturally there. I mean I'm not-- Did you get lucky, or did you plan for that? Did you scout it out? Well, I scouted it out online. I mean, just I had never been before, but I knew that I wanted to do something like this. And so it was just a lot of looking around online and trying to figure out where, you know, and there's the Salt Flats in Utah, and Bad Water Basin, and there was some places, I can't remember all the different places I looked at, but this was one that I was really drawn to. So I planned a road trip out, and I think was there for maybe two nights and three days, and was up every day before sunrise, and out every day, you know, 'til sunset just driving around. So we spent the first couple of days just kind of scouting while we were there, and then on the last day shot this. And it was actually more midday that this image was shot, but it's so flat and barren and just bright that it didn't really matter, so. Nice, all right, let's go on to the next one. All right, so I need a little explanation here. This is really just right place, right time. I mean... (laughter) This was, so actually I should mention the last shot was a composite as well. The diver was shot on a separate time from the location, and the same with this. This is, currently I'm working on, I call these conceptual landscapes, and this was one of the first ones that I did. And I was collaborating with a retoucher and just kind of exploring the opportunities of this new world to me as I discovered retouching, you know, and kind of telling these ideas that are bigger or outside of what's possible in reality. And this picture actually was taken just randomly, like a snapshot on a, we were on a whale watching tour, my wife and I. And then later on as I had this idea of exploring, there's three images in the series called Falling Bodies. This was one of the images. And I shot the other images for this, but this was an image that I had in my archive already. And we've got one more that is part of the series here. Now, did you photograph the people, or is that like a painting? No, the people, that was probably the hardest part of the whole shoot was finding a woman who would was willing to jump naked on a trampoline. (laughter) 99% of the time, if someone asks you to do that, you know-- Was that a Craig's Listing? (laughter) I mean it sounds like Craig's List ad. Most people turned me down for good reason, but I found someone who eventually was willing to do it. And what I learned in hindsight was, fortunately, she was a personal trainer and incredibly fit. And I rented a professional gym where I think some athletes would train and things like that. And they had like an Olympic trampoline. And so we rented it after hours when it was closed down. I had no idea how hard, I was just thinking I'd get someone jumping and take some pictures. And I realized very quickly when they're jumping up, their hair is flowing down. That doesn't look natural. If you catch 'em at the peak when they're moving the least so there's less camera, less blur-- Right. I was thinking that would be ideal because then I don't have to worry about the body blurring. Well then everything's kind of suspended, so that doesn't look. So then I realized I'd actually have to catch them falling down. And then the problem became, even on a trampoline a human is not gonna just let themselves fall, because you're gonna brace yourself, you know? No one's gonna, you just can't let yourself trust that you're. So it became really difficult to get these images to actually work and feel like they were falling and feel like they had really given up in a sense. And then the other thing that I realized was how painful and difficult it was to actually jump and land on this trampoline because these large trampolines we were using were like thick strips of cloth, and so her back was just like waffle at the end. Would you in retrospect, would you have chosen a different way to shoot the falling body? I mean no, I don't think there's any other way to do it that I'm aware of. But it was more difficult-- I was just thinking like you could have, it's a one time thing, but you could have someone jump off a high dive and just fall backwards. But background is hard, and it's one time and then your hair's wet. I mean it's like a belly flop on your back. I don't know that that would be any-- Well if you do it on the three meter dive or the two, the one meter dive. Yeah, maybe, yeah. I don't know, but that's a tough one. All right, what else we got here? So this was a shot I did. This was for an ad campaign for Mexico tourism. This was last, a little over a year ago. This is Patricia Heaton from Everybody Loves Raymond. I can't remember the new show she's in. But basically, I was contacted by an ad agency who was working on a campaign, and they had a series of commercials for this campaign too, but this was right after Hurricane Patricia, and so, people didn't want to travel to Mexico 'cause they heard this hurricane and things were terrible, so they did a campaign called Patricias Welcome. And they had a contest where anyone named Patricia could enter and win a free trip to Mexico. And so the idea around the campaign was to show everyone that it's fine, and you know, there's nothing to worry about. It wasn't that big a deal, so that's where this came from. All right, so a little geek talk. Lighting, she's really well lit here. I mean it almost looks like a composite. It is a composite, yeah. Is it? Okay. 'Cause I was wondering, how did you light that up on the beach so well, and so it is a composite. I mean yeah, it's the kind of thing where you're working with celebrities, especially in conjunction with film sets. You know we had about five to ten minutes with her, and it was on a break from filming. So we went out and scouted several beaches a couple days in advance and shot hundreds of plates of beaches and things like that. And then once we decided on the plate, we lit her to match. So I have assistants standing in, and you try to get an idea of the angle of the light on them and that sort of thing. Right, right, right. And then you mimic that and enhance it in studio when you light it, so that ideally when you put her in, it will look as natural as possible. Right, right, right. Excellent. This was a shot that I did for another ad campaign for Seattle Humane. And so they were creating an ad campaign to raise money for a new facility they were gonna build. So, the concept behind this one was called Animal People Can. And so it was showing people kind of from all walks of life and how animals are just part of their life, good and bad. So this one was something along the lines of you don't need an alarm clock kind of thing. So they were trying to show that animals make life better, It doesn't mean that life's gonna not be messy at times, you know? (laughter) Some of the images were a little more wild. But that's where this image came from. Yeah, and I can see how they would contact you for doing these types of images. Now this one is the one image of the group that you submitted that just seems different than the rest. Mm-hmm. So, tell me about this one. Well, I'd be curious to hear from your perspective why, but-- I am a big fan of something you have in a lot of yours, is I love symmetry. I love everything's very, very, for the most part, extremely clean. Here we just have a little bit more lifestyle. Right. And it's a little bit more of a loose shot, Right. and so, yeah, that's why I'm curious about this one, and the wig on the dog. No, I appreciate that, yeah. So this is, again, same campaign. It's kind of, again, showing how animals become part of your life, and so here we see this individual. You know, you get a sense of their lifestyle and what they're into, and it kind of shows, like again, how the dog is part of that lifestyle. It's a companion. You know, it's deeply connected to who you are. So, we were trying to show that bond and that connection between the person and the animal. This, it's interesting. I think this shot was taken in a home that we did another shoot for, and I picked, I think probably, what the first location we shot, which was a family, was probably the most balanced and symmetrical and clean environment in the room in the house that we were in. And so then it was like how do we take another shot not in the same place, that doesn't, we were trying to differentiate everything. So I think my options in that sense were a bit limited. And this just made the most sense to me, but it is much looser than what I typically do. And I think sometimes I have to force myself to do that because sometimes when you're so focused and so narrowly holding on to this one certain thing, you can lose, you know, Gotta change things up a little bit. Opportunities, yeah, so. Now did you have to wait 'til evening to shoot this? Because I see the purple light just seeping through. No, this was shot midday, but going back to kind of what you were talking about earlier with strobe and continuous lighting, you know strobe is so powerful you can black out daylight essentially. So, the sun was I think on. There's a fence right outside the window. And if I remember, some of that we did just do in post, but we did use light to knock everything down quite a bit. So we, even though there was daylight coming from the window, you're only seeing strobe. So we put a gelled light outside the window. Okay, nice. And so we've got your final series of photos here, which I think are great. So tell us, we don't have too much time, but kind of the background on this. This series is called Uniform. And this is kind of a continuation of the con man images that we talked about earlier where I'm exploring a little more than simply visual identity, but it was in a nutshell, trying to kind of figure out how something like war and the military became this plastic toy that, you know, marches-- Toy Story Toy Story, it's just, you know, there's no context, there's nothing controversial about it, but if you start talking about real human life in war, it's very controversial. So, for me, it was an exploration of humanity, you know? There's these toys that are clearly human, but we don't have much regard for them in the sense of the humanity of them. So what I wanted to do is create this iconic graphic image that we all recognize, but with humans. So, and especially when they're printed large and you can kind of experience them like we're talking about in physical form, the humanity really kind of jumps out at you, and so that was the idea in the exploration behind this. Well, I think they're fascinating. It just really bridges two very different worlds. I mean toys and war, and it draws a connection that I haven't seen before. Thank you. Which I think is really fine. I think very fascinating.

Class Description

Click here to ask John Greengo your questions for future One Hour Photos!

Every month, John gives you an hour of expert guidance and immediate feedback with ten questions and ten critiques in this exciting new series we're calling One Hour Photo. John will also sit down with one guest photographer to offer insights, advice, and industry knowledge, and this month's guest is John Keatley.

In this hour, John responds to questions about shooting around the Grand Canyon area, a camera suitable for left-handed people, Lensbaby lenses, the benefits of mirrorless cameras, and lens recommendations for portraits.

John Keatley is a well-known commercial photographer based in Seattle, WA. He often self-characterizes his work as a reflection of himself, rather than the individual he is photographing. In recent years, his journey of self-discovery has brought clarity to emotions that have always been present yet were previously unknown. Anxiety. Fear. Isolation. Not Being In Control. Keatley capitalizes on the correlation between these emotions and humor. It is a fine line, sitting in the pain of the emotion and understanding that pain can also be humorous. Yet John beautifully executes this dichotomy in his work, as the viewer is invited to stay a moment longer and ponder the unexpected. Check out his CreativeLive class here.