Thursday, December 31, 2009

My oh my, what a decade...

So around this time ten years ago it all started for me photography wise. I walked into Photo 1, a professional lab and studio near my hometown with a print and strip of negatives. I handed them to the girl behind the counter and asked if she could darken the print for me. She took a look at the print and then the negative and then replied with something like "well I can darken it but first I am going to show you what it is really supposed to look like". I asked her what she meant and she replied that the print I had was not even close to right. I asked her again what she meant and she then told me that she would show me. A few minutes later she handed me a back a print that looked great.

You see, not long before this I had taken head shots of my then-girlfriend, Brandi, for a beauty paadgent she had been ask to be in that Christmas of 1999. She was told that she would need a current headshot but didn't have the money to pay a professional photographer to do them. I mentioned to her that I had been pretty good at photography as a kid but had never shot people. I suggested that I try doing some and ended up shooting four rolls of her one overcast December afternoon. I really had no idea what I was doing; I had not touched my Canon T70 in years. I put on my 100mm "portrait lens" and let it rip. Lucky for me Brandi was easy to photograph -- about as fast as I could focus she would be ready to go for another shot. Well, I took the film to a local Winn-Dixie to get it processed and was pleased to find that about ninety precent of the shots came out looking really good with some being a little overexposed or soft but most looking pretty good. This brings us back to Photo 1. One of my favorite shots from that day came back looking overexposed -- I thought it was my screw up. The girl behind the counter and daughter of the owner of the lab, Amanda showed me it wasn't when she handed back the new correct print. It looked soooo much better -- she didn't even charge me. I thanked her and left there with my mind racing -- the light bulb inside it flickering. Here is that shot:

And here is another favorite of mine I got that same day:

I came back up to Photo 1 soon after that with all the negatives from that day of shooting and had them all reprinted -- I was a new customer. After doing so I met Gene Shearl, owner of the place and photographer. He looked at the shots and mentioned that I might should look into photography as a career. I showed them around and other people seemed to think the same thing. The light bulb went off in my head -- at last it felt like I had something to concentrate my efforts on that made sense and felt right.

After that I set out to learn everything I could about photography. I contacted Don Farra -- who I credit today for having such supportive parents when it comes to photography. He had told them years ago that if I had ever expressed interest in photography as a career to encourage it. It was him that that gave my dad the Canon T70 and a couple of lenses to my dad one year before Christmas and told him to pass them on to me. My dad tried to pay him for it and he replied by asking them to just donate the money to a charity of their choice. He continued to give after he found out that I had rediscovered my love for photography -- sending tons of books and magazines on the subject, tons of film, a medium format camera, even a dark room setup.

Gene took me under his wing, too. He allowed me to come along with him to weddings and shoot for him as a intern. He would give me film and just let me shoot and watch him. He allowed me to be in studio with him while doing portraits. He taught me more than I could absorb it seemed. Here is a shot I did of Gene with his cousin Kenny at a wedding we were shooting probably sometime in 2000 (that is Gene on the left):

I asked both Gene and Don back then what or how I could pay them back for their generosity and they BOTH responded by just making me promise to do the same for somebody in the future that is trying to learn and I have tried my best to live up to that request.

I made the decesion in the fall of 2001 to invest in a very well respected advertising/photography school at the time called The Creative Circus here in Atlanta. I started the program that fall and it has been such a ride since then. So many ups and downs. I have changed so much since then -- for the better I think -- but I have paid my price for it. Today marks the end of a decade -- a very scary, wild, fun and emotion filled decade. I have so much and so many to be grateful for and to respectively.

So this blog post is my very own written formal thank you to all those that have helped me along the way. The teachers that have influenced me the most: Don Farra, Gene Shearl, Greg Strelecki, Benita VanWinkle, Robert Rostick, Joe Boris and Carlos Garcia. The talented classmates at The Circus that made me want to work harder in an effort to keep up with you. My friends -- I feel so lucky to have such a cool and diverse group of friends. My family for being so supportive and loving me no matter what and to Jill. We have been dating now for almost three years and you seem to love me regardless of my ups and downs financially and emotionally -- it means the world to me. And last but not least all of you who have hired me in some form or another over the years to work for you in the photography industry -- thank you for having faith in me getting the job done to your liking. All of you have encouraged me in one way or another for the past ten years and for that I can't say thank you enough.

I guess my status update on Facebook earlier today says all of the above in a much more concise way:

"So around this time ten years ago I dicovered a new calling in life -- photography -- and had no idea then how much work and sacrifice would go along with it at that time. I owe a huge thanks to all those who have supported and helped me along the way with it -- here's to another ten years."

This blog post is a much more personal thank you to those of you who have been with me along the way and kind of a visual diary of the past ten years for me photography wise. Here is some of my favorite images I made over the past ten years:

My friend Lynn. This is the first photo I had printed larger and framed nicely for display -- at the time I loved the composition and lighting as well as her expression. I still love it and have the same print hanging on my apartment wall today:

"Forbidden Fruit" This photo is literally the answer to a prayer and was made during a very tough period for me. It's very personal to me and represents kind of a turning point for me in photography school which was everything to me at the time:

This is another really personal shot to me. I couldn't sleep late one night while in school and went out in search of a good photo and came up with this. I call it "Burnt". It is a self-portrait. No photoshop here either - everything that you see can be done in camera with a film like Velvia:

I ran into this man one day at the Cherry Lake crossroads just down from my parents place. I saw him and thanked God that I had my camera with me, went up and introduced myself and then ask if I could make a portrait of him. He said yes and inside of ten minutes I watched him just light up with pride -- it was as if me taking his photograph made his whole year. It was a great reminder of how good I could make somebody feel through making a portrait of them:

My goddaughter Maddie. Her mom and long time friend of mine, Anne, asked me to do a conceptual portrait of her and this is what I came up with. And no, this is not a composite image -- she was actually in the dryer. She was only still for about two seconds -- which is when I caught this:

My nephew Peyton:

My other nephew and Peyton's older brother Dixon:

My buddy Jack's daughter Skye:

I'm torn between the two of these -- so I decided to post them both -- I just love the interaction of father and son in them. This is my friend and client Mace and his son Chapman:

One of my favorite music photos: Coy Bowles of the Zac Brown Band (prior to him joining ZBB). This reminds me of a Pink Floyd album cover -- I would love to do more work like this:

One of my favorite guitarists, the late Sean Costello. I feel lucky to have known him, worked with him and seen him play so many times. He was soooooo talented and such a humble, down-to-earth nice guy. Had he not passed away I think he would have been the Buddy Guy, BB King, Hubert Sumlin etc of the future. He suffered from biopolar disorder -- to learn more about it and hear his music click here:

Jill and I -- a very creepy looking shot -- but I love it. We were just having a good time in a old abandoned house:

My dear mom. My goal one day was to do a portrait of both her and my dad that said something about them. Well, my mom is the most religious person I know so I had to include her Bible in the shot:

And my dad. A geezer amongst geezers, he is. I love this man to death -- he is my hero. One of the most kindhearted and laid back people I have ever met and the expression on his face captures him to a tee. He collects and restores old radios and the cap on his head cocked to the side is just him:

A shot from a series I am doing. This was a church sign here in Atlanta -- I love everything about what it says:

And one of my most recent favorites is this shot of my friends Geoff's son Logan. To others this just might be a picture of a cute kid having a blast while being dangled upside down by one leg. To me it represents the idea of trying to keep a positive attitude even when all that is around you is turned upside down and out of control by anything that life might throw at you.

So here is to another decade of craziness in the world of photography for me. I hope that things will be as interesting as the last.

Cheers and Happy New Year,



Amanda Merritt said...

Keith, your blog post is such a heart-warming look into your journey to becoming a photographer. Thank you so much for sharing that! Your photos are amazing and I cannot wait to watch your career continue to skyrocket! Your blog made me miss the Photo1 days though :)

Joe Boris said...

Well said, my friend. Thanks for sharing, and best wishes in the year(s) ahead!

Debbie Smith said...


This is such an honest and wonderful story. I loved every picture. Some are my favorites though. Sean for sure, but you already knew that and thanks so much for the link. Then your Mom and Dad. (You look just like your Mom.) Your Dad is adorable. Sean had an old radio of my Dad's in his apartment. When we finally open the POD with all of Sean's things in it, I'll have to let you see it. Finally, the last one. There is nothing more genuine and hopeful than a baby and the sentiment is beautiful. Thank you for all of your kindnesses and for your gift.

Jack said...

It's amazing to me that it has been ten years. I remember those nights sitting at the Hampton talking about your renewed interest in photography, that old T90 that you were knocking around with, those early portraits, that first phone call from Atlanta traffic after your meeting at the Circus, those midnight conversations while you were in the darkroom and I was trying not to write research papers. It's been a struggle and at times unbelievably frustrating for you, but you have accomplished far more than you realize at times. I say to you, good job my friend--I am quite proud of you.