When John Keatley was contemplating a career as a musician or computer programmer, the manager of a photo lab told him he had a ‘special eye’ for visual imagery, something clicked inside of him, and he shifted to focus in photography, never looking back. The world became lucky for that moment, since Keatley became an amazing professional photographer with many awards, great clients and important appearance in different publications. Between the journalistic and fine art photography, he explores the world through stunningly interesting projects like Uniform.
"Uniform is my latest project in a larger series where I am exploring identity. In Uniform, I am curious about how stripping away layers of identity and humanity allows us to become callous to life and difficult issues. In part, I am talking about war and the military, though this is really a much broader issue of how we judge or draw conclusions about others outside of context. A portrait series about real soldiers would be talked about with a certain reverence and respect. However, we dipped our soldiers in green plastic, and shrunk them down, and context went out the window. It’s much easier to push something to the side when it’s not staring you square in the face, and that is what seems to have happened with green army men toys. But when we are confronted with a human life, and a real face, it becomes a completely different story. How do we respond to that image, a green army man toy, when humanity and individuality are reintroduced?"
What did you want to tell or make the people see with this collection?
Uniform is the 3rd series in a greater body of work where I have been exploring identity. In Uniform, I am exploring human identity and how it is tied into facial features. What causes us to relate to a human form? I don’t believe it is the form or shape of a human. I suspect, our eyes have a lot to do with it, and I wanted to reintroduce humanity into the green army men toys because I feel we have somehow become callous to an object that really represents some of the most significant aspects of human life, being life, death, and war.
Why did you use this style for this project?
My work is usually dictated by the subject matter. For this idea to work, I needed to combine the look of those iconic green army men with real humans so that the images felt familiar, but at the same time, a slightly uneasy feeling as well.
Where do you find your inspiration for your works?
I am inspired by life and what is happening around me. Typically when I am not thinking about work, and when I am in a new location or situation. I haven’t actually thought about that before, but now that I think about it, all of my ideas have come when I am outside of my usual routine. Maybe my mind is open to new ideas when I am not in a repeating pattern.
How was your workflow developing these images? What gear did you use?
This was by far the most difficult project I have done so far. There was a lot of production on the front end, including painting all of the clothing, helmets, and various items. I also had two makeup artists painting each of the models faces, arms, and hands.
All of the portraits were shot on a Hasselblad digital medium format camera. Quite a bit of post production was also required to make sure the green paint color was consistent across all subjects.
How would you define a good portrait?
For me, a good portrait makes me feel something, and shows a clear point of view by the photographer.
How did you start in photography? Would you have any advice for people willing to start in it as a professional path?
I got my start in photography because someone was kind enough to pull me aside and give me a few words of encouragement. This came at a time of life for me where I was desperately searching for something to pour my energy into. After this encounter, I never looked back.
My advice to someone who is considering photography as a profession is to go all in, or don’t do it at all. It takes so much work, and a lot of time. There are no shortcuts either, so you have to look at the big picture. Otherwise you will burn out really quickly.
Which is for you the best part about being a photographer?
I feel compelled to create. It’s something I have always felt, even before I had a camera in my hand. Photography is an opportunity for me to express myself in a way that feels most authentic to who I am, and there is something very satisfying about that.
I also enjoy the opportunities that come along to go places and meet people I would never otherwise have if I wasn’t a photographer.