David Lykes Keenan: “I fell in love immediately with street photography”

Your “Fair Witness” is a series in black & white and You are using a small and unobtrusive camera out on the street. This is not a mainstream traditional in American photography…

When I was a teenager I used a Nikkormat SLR camera, a camera that was typical for amateur photographers of the time. My grandfather was a pretty serious photographer with an amazingly well equipped darkroom — and a very extensive Leica kit.

Grandpa often let me borrow his M3 and any number of its accessories. At the time I wasn’t aware of the mystique surrounding Leica cameras but I certainly recognized that it was something very special.

When I returned to photography in 2003 after many years as a software developer and entrepreneur one of the first things I did, with the help of eBay, was to recreate Grandpa’s kit. This set the tone for my newly reborn life as a photographer, as a Leica photographer.

Whether is would have been a natural development or a development influenced by the heritage of Leica, I fell in love immediately with street photography.

While I still have the M3 I purchased in 2003, I have cycled through numerous models of Leica M rangefinders and now use a Monochom — which by definition is a small, unobtrusive black and white only camera.

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness01

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness02

One person or object often makes the keystone of a picture. You say that you like to be alone too.

I rarely take a picture that doesn’t include at least one human figure. Looking back at the PAW 2013 gallery on my web site, only 10 of the 52 photographs did not depict a person somehow.

Generally I find photographs without a human element, to put it in a single word, boring. I guess that is probably the single biggest reason why I just don’t get what passes for fine art photography these days. These enormous color photographs of nothing don’t interest me at all.

I have been, for one reason or another, a loner during my life. I have often felt like I am on the outside looking in at much of the human experience that people take for granted. I have lived alone and worked more-or-less alone for the majority of my adult life.

The camera, in recent years, has opened the world for me in significant ways. As for what I predominately choose to photograph, it is pretty clearly driven by an attempt to connect with the social side of the human experience however vicariously it may be.

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness04

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness05

Do you try to reflect your own personality in the figures that you frame into the picture?

I wouldn’t say this is so much the case when considering my street photography which makes up the bulk of the photographs I have taken and shared over the past ten years. I don’t necessarily identify with the people I photograph. More, I find the situations I photograph to be interesting in some way and the best of them tell little stories.

However, in the case of my LOOK At Me series, the answer to this question is more complex.

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness08

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness09

Your photography book LOOK AT ME is a collection of portraits of young men. Why only men?

That is correct. The age range is 18 to somewhere in the mid-20s. Each of these guys, there is somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 of them so far, I encountered more-or-less at random in public places like coffee shops, on the sidewalk, and on the subway. I approached them, briefly introduced myself and my project, and if they showed some interest, I’d give them a card with my contact info.

I do not ask to photograph them immediately but instead ask them to contact me later if they’re interested and arrange a mutually agreeable time to meet. I am not a studio photographer so these portraits are taken in public places much like my street photography. It requires a commitment on the part each subject and we can end up spending several hours together. No one get paid for their time (except in the currency of coffee or a sandwich) this becomes a true artistic collaboration between me and each young man.

The openness and extremely natural look of my LOOK At Me guys is a product of this collaboration. This sense of who each of these guys are would not be possible without this collaboration.

The way these photographs reflect me, my personality, answers the “why only men” question. I’ve been told on numerous occasions that people see me reflected back in each of these faces. It’s even been suggested that the empty half of the frame represents a place for me.

The faces in the young men of LOOK At Me are my definition of beauty. On a deeper level, they might be thought of as stand-ins for something I have longer for my entire life but have never had.

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness10

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness11

Are you a „serial“ shooter, or your images that you select for LOOK AT ME series are singular, contemplated shots?

I’m not sure I understand the question. Perhaps the following provides an answer…

I usually take between 100 and 200 exposures of each guy in LOOK At Me in maybe half a dozen different settings or so. The quality of the light, all natural, and the background determine where I may take a series before moving on. Everything is done on the fly with little to no forethought.

Later comes the task of reviewing the complete series of each guy. The affect provided by the seriously out-of-focus background is critical so I begin by looking for the most intriguing of these and then hopefully I find a face within one of these backgrounds. If not, I move on the next most intriguing, and so on.

But always only one portrait will emerge from all the exposures that were taken.

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness12

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness07

How long does it takes to run a series of photographs like that?

Again, I’m not sure what you’d like to know with this question. I may have answered it already.

I spend anywhere from an hour or three or four hours with each of my LOOK At Me subject. It depends on a number of factors including the weather, our respective schedules, and how strong the collaborative connection between us turns out to be.

I have befriended several of the young men I’ve photographed. I like to think that all of them enjoyed the experience of being in front of my camera and that each learned a little bit about themselves in the process.

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness03

Lykes Keenan David - Fair Witness06



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Posted in folioPORT Mag, Interviews