Interview with John Keatley
All right. It is time for our special guest here in the studio. I'd like to welcome John Keatley. Thanks for being a part of this.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
All right-y. So John's brought some, go ahead and have a seat. John's brought some photos that we're gonna get into here in just a moment, but I just wanna talk to you for just a little bit, because I'm sure we got some people who aren't familiar with you and your work, and I've done some looking at your work and you've got some beautiful editorial, and commercial, and some fine art work. What sort of work do you like to do, and how do you see that fitting into the world of photography?
Well, I guess, if I look over my career as a whole, what I like to do constantly changes and evolves. Sometimes I feel like I'm too finicky. But I think I'm just a curious person, and as I grow and learn, my interests, you know, professionally and as a person change. So right now, I'm focused primarily on advertising and fine art, or just pe...
rsonal work in general, I guess you can say. When I started out, I started doing weddings and pretty much anything I could get my hands on, and then as I grew, I guess, dissatisfied with that, I discovered editorial photography and I loved the, you know, the mystery and the challenge of breaking into that. Then as I got more into that, I started, you know, learning more about myself and realized that I like to control things, and so advertising became kind of the next step, because you do get to control, it's more affected, it's more deliberate, whereas like editorial, which is hard for me, because there's so much that, it's just a surprise and you have to just, you know, you show up and this is the place you have to work in, what are you gonna do with it, kind of thing. I'm more of a planner and I like to know what I'm getting into. So that's kind of been the quick arc of it, and I guess, again, right now, what I like to do is I like to create characters. I like to create, I hate to say stories, but I like to create, kind of, images that focus on a theme or a topic that gets people thinking in a certain way.
So we're gonna be looking at some work here in just a moment. And I guess I kinda want to go to your creative process. And so, when you come up with an idea, and you make it real in photographs, how close do you get, or I guess how defined is that idea? Do you just kind of have a, I wanna do something in this genre, and you figure it out photographically, or do you like come up with specifics?
I usually come up with very specific ideas of what I'm going to do, but then what the end result is may or may not be that. Sometimes, it is exactly as I planned. I did a shoot a couple of weeks ago, and it was not at all how I planned, you know. I got there and just realized, like, it was much better in my head, and visually, it doesn't make any sense. I mean, this was a bit of an extreme example. When I got there, it was just like, there is no part of this one particular idea that made any sense. But the good news was some new ideas emerged and developed with the people I had in the location that I was at. And so I ended up getting two pictures out of the shoot. I was only intending to get one. I ended up getting two that I liked, you know, even better, I would say, but they had nothing to do, really, with the original idea. So, that happens, and I think you have to be, you have to be open to life, even for a control freak like me, you know In any setting, I think, if you're too focused on your ideas, and you have to live and die by the fact that you're not perfect and a lot of your ideas are not going to be good, but I do think if you're open, you could potentially always get something great, you know, no matter what the situation is, or what your idea was.
Yeah. Now, do you work alone, do you work with a team, do you have assistants? And I guess that, you know, kind of doubles up as far as your personal work versus your business work.
Yeah, I mean, yes is the answer to those questions, I guess. You know, my team looks a lot different if I'm working, if I'm working on my own on a project that I am funding myself, you know, my team is as small as possible. But if I'm working on an ad campaign, there could be a very large team, you know. And but then sometimes there's even ad campaigns that are smaller too. I very much take the approach of, I don't ever wanna have lights or people just for the sake of having lights or people, I think. I always try to have what we need to do the job well, you know. There's, it's just waste if you're trying to do it for, you know, to impress people, or whatever it is, you know. I like to--
For putting on a show.
Right, yeah. So, yeah, sometimes the crew can be quite large, but in general, there's usually myself, an assistant, and, you know, probably a hair and makeup artist or like a wardrobe stylist.
What are some companies that you've done work for?
Oh, goodness. I've done work for the San Francisco MOMA, I've done work for Mexico tourism, I've done work for Amazon, and Microsoft, and lots of companies, and you know, things like that.
And so, now, are these companies coming to you with their idea that they want you to fulfill, or are they wanting something for you to come up with something?
One big shift that I see in commercial photography is that companies aren't really looking for photographers anymore, because there's so many of us. Like, photographers are, I mean, if we're talking professionally here, there's a lot of photographers. So the value on a photographer has gone way down. So what I see happening more and more now is companies are looking for art directors, in a sense. Now, sometimes there's an idea and it's pretty specific, this is what we're doing, and they want you to put your own spin on it, whether it's like, we want you to light this in your way, or you know, illicit the response, or reaction, or mood that you typically do. So that certainly still happens, but there are other times when they present a very loose idea, or even a goal, you know. We're trying to use humor to drive more foot traffic to the stores, kind of thing, and they look to you for ideas, you know, along those lines. And there's certainly analytics and data and things that you have to look at, and stuff like that. But I'm finding that I get pulled into more of those strategy meetings now than I used to. It used to just be, take this picture, you know. But that doesn't happen so much anymore.
Interesting. So one of the questions that I wanna try to ask everybody that I get to interview, and that is, because I got a lot of people who are, you know, they're just doing photography for fun. But so many, almost everybody, who picks up a camera and starts shooting, starts immediately thinking, dollar signs. I can make money shooting. What percent of your work time is actually shooting photos?
Oh boy. Probably like 3%, more or less?
3%, okay that's, that's pretty terrible. So if somebody wants to just, you know, pick up photography and do it on Sunday,
They're better off.
I mean, I always say, you know, if I meet someone who does photography for fun, I always say, you know, that's the best. I mean, it should just be for fun, right? I mean, if you, and I think we live in a culture today where, and I do this to people all the time, if someone expresses any interest in anything, our first response is, oh, you should do that, you know. Like, I really love cooking. And people go like, oh, you should be a cook. And I was like, well, then I wouldn't enjoy it anymore. You know, like I do it because I like to do it slowly and decompress, and just, you know, calm down after work. I don't wanna be in a kitchen being yelled at or yelling at people and having to serve 200 people a night, you know. So sometimes, if you just enjoy photography, I think it's important to understand what it is that you enjoy about it, and you may actually derive more joy not having to rely on it for an income. So, that's my cautionary two cents, you know. But, yeah. I mean, it's a business, you know. Any business is hard. And I could talk about why I think business is even harder today than it has been in the past, but, yeah, if you want to maximize your time taking pictures, I would caution you before you get into doing it for a living. So.
Yeah. So, being a control freak, you work in a studio a lot, and kind of on sets a lot. So if you go on vacation, do you just like shoot pictures with your phone, or do you have like a casual camera, do you kind of like...
I have a casual camera. It gets used probably like three or four times a year. You know, like, I rarely am taking pictures if it's not like a specific idea that I produce for work or for myself, kind of thing. So you know, if we go on vacation, I'll take, like I have a small Fuji that's just, you know, I mean, I have other cameras I could take, but I specifically don't take them, because I don't want--
You don't wanna be tied down to all that.
I don't wanna do anything. Yeah, but lately, I take a lot of pictures with my phone, yeah.
So, with what you do, when are you most excited about what you're doing? Is it like in shoot, or do you like sitting down, planning something? What do you, what's the part of the process that you just dig into? Like, okay, today's good, today I get to do this.
I would say, I mean, I enjoy parts of planning. It's also very stressful. A lot of that's probably, you know, self-inflicted. Someone with a better demeanor and some more balanced than myself would probably enjoy it more. But I do enjoy parts of planning. I enjoy the shoot day immensely. That would probably be off the top of my head, my most enjoyable, because all the, you have to trust at that point all of the work that you've put in. You have to trust that it is what it is at this point. There's no changing anything, you know, we've already kind of figured all the details out. So you just enjoy the moment and you finally stop, or at least I finally stop stressing out, and I'm just there and in the moment, and I love that. And then, probably one of my least favorite is going through the images afterwards, because then I'm just a ball of nerves, and I'm thinking about all the things I did wrong and wish I had done differently. And I struggle with the editing process. I struggle with even just forcing myself to sit down and do it. But then, probably the next favorite moment, I'm giving you many, 'cause there are many moments that I enjoy, but I enjoy, I work with a retoucher, so I don't do my own retouching. I enjoy getting the images back, and seeing them finished.
The finalized versions.
Yeah, yeah. And that's exciting. And then more recently, what I've discovered is I love printing. I just did my first solo exhibition and kind of was forced to buy a printer and do it on my own and learn it. And I didn't wanna do it. It was a reluctant decision, but I actually, I had no idea how much I would love that process. Like, just--
What do you love about that? I mean, there's something very tangible, obviously, about making a print, you know. You experience the work in a different way, on a different scale, you see things that you, I mean, it sounds funny, 'cause I mean, you can see anything, obviously, on the monitor, but you really actually do see things that you never would have seen or noticed on a screen and, I don't know, there's just something very rewarding about that process, you know. Working with your hands, and seeing if it's a good result.