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Brilliant In It’s Simplicity: John Keatley

We were first introduced to the work of photographer John Keatley by our friend Kevin Knight. We were talking about some of our favorite current photographers and Keatley was pretty much at the top of Kevin’s list. He was actually surprised I hadn’t heard of him. It was one of those “Well, duh…” moments. “I can’t believe you don’t know Keatley,” he said. “He’s amazing.” He sent me the URL of a Photography Talk that John had done, insisting that I watch it immediately. After watching both parts of the video, I was even more intrigued and I spent the next hour or so looking at the work on his site. I’ve been a fan ever since.

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I think what I like the most about Keatley’s work is the simplicity of it. That part of it, according to Keatley, is definitely by design. He says he is always trying to simplify his photographs, to stop and think about what he’s trying to take a picture of and what is it that he’s trying to say. Anything that doesn’t contribute to that, should be cut out. Take for example the photo of chocolatier Peter Crabtree. Rather than create an elaborate, staged, overly produced photograph, he simplified it down to the bare essentials required to tell the story: a young man and chocolate. The result is brilliant in it’s simplicity, yet is a perfect example of the tongue in cheek sense of humor that pervades so much of Keatley’s work. His work is clever, but again, not forced. His style seems to be simply the byproduct of how he sees the people he photographs, rather than something that’s deliberate or even contrived.

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In listening to John speak about being a photographer, it’s as if he feels a responsibility to tell us as the viewers who the person in the portrait is, not just what they do. In proceeding from that standpoint, the photographs are often more interesting in that they capture subtleties of an expression or a glance. As many photographers will tell you, the stories behind the photographs are often just as interesting as the photographs themselves. John is no exception in this area, for example the portrait Annie Leibovitz, which came about as a result of photographing John Waters, or the portrait of Tim Gunn, which was shot in a janitorial closet. (You can watch John tell both of these stories here)

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In addition to the celebrity portraits and advertising work, John has recently completed work on a fantastic campaign with MiiR Bottles designed to raise awareness and build wells to provide clean drinking water to villages throughout Liberia. It’s an amazingly powerful set of images that have helped make the campaign a success. See them on John’s website.

John Keatley

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