Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Where When How Wednesday - Keir Siewert

Welcome to 'Where When How Wednesday'. In these weekly posts I'll be interviewing creatives about their journey into the creative world, their works, and what makes them tick. This week I'm interviewing Keir Siewert, a talented photographer based in Kilburn, London.

Hi Keir, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. We should probably start at the beginning, when and how did you come about getting into the world of photography?

"Well, I’m actually a filmmaker by trade and by training. Film making is a very different science from photography even though there are obviously cross over elements. The first thing most photographers miss when transitioning into film is the importance of both movement within the frame and movement of the frame. You’re not creating a single image, you’re creating a sequence of images. It sounds straight forward, but the tools of photography don’t really teach you these sciences. But on the other hand the thing I found fascinating about photography was the concept of the impact of a single image. That is something which is very important in film, the necessity of a single image to resonate with the viewer and hold their gaze and attention.

I started making a style of music video I cribbed from the music video auteur Mark Romanek (his music videos include Nine Inch Nail’s Closer and Jay-Z’s 99 Problems) which I refer to as Collage Videos. Essentially it’s where you create a large amount of thematically connected images that while not directly related to each other, add up to a mood and feel. Example would be this video I made for The Love Zombies:

The exciting thing that came out of that was attempted to create singular images with punch that could kind of stand on their own and I really liked the screen shots I was getting out of it. So I’d always been interested in photography as an art so I decided to try and experiment with it and see if could translate some of my skills shooting videos into shooting stills and it’s almost been a year now."

Photography, especially online, tends to fall into specific genres and/or gets described as being a specific style. The trouble with this is it's quite subjective, the style someone views an image to be can often differ to the style the person creating it views it as. How would you describe the work you are putting out there?

"I think it’s hard because I have my influences and interests and I’ve certainly never set out to have a style or fall into any camp. Truth is I’m a bit like a magpie, I see something I like and I want to try it or put my own spin on it. The fact that it always comes out looking like something I’ve made probably shows my limitations still as a photographer. But I’m always keen to learn.

I certainly have preferences. I started off shooting actors and musicians so I tend to direct people rather then pose them. For me it’s about energy, movement and attitude. I like to try keep moving and find the image, so it’s always an organic process and I like to start a shoot with clothing options and props and we work it out as we go. I guess for me I like the images to have a raw energy rather then be pretty and perfectly composed. I’d so say the goal is always striking, rather then beautiful. And I’m interested in people more then anything, so I like the image to be about the person I’m shooting."

Model: Dani Ford

Photography can have it's share of problems. I personally have a particular problem with self confidence. This confidence issue can and has caused me issues with my photography. Do you find any aspects of photography particularly challenging?

"My technical knowledge is still pretty limited. I have a sort of “punk-rock style” (not my words) so it kind of suits the more gritty stuff I’m interested in. But to be honest I feel like I’d be lost if you asked me to take wedding photos or events photos. I just don’t think I have the technical understanding to create something as glossy as what the client is likely to want. And occasionally I feel like I butt up against it when photographers are talking cameras and specs. I respect people with intricate technical know-how, but I also think sometimes it can be a mask for taking dull images. I think I’d always gravitate towards an imperfect image with compelling content, rather then a technically perfect image with nothing very interesting to shoot."

In my series 'Foto Inspiration Friday' I share the people, images, places etc that I find give me inspiration. Who, or what, or where do you draw inspiration from?

"This is probably not a great answer, but honestly the photographer I take most inspiration from is Terry Richardson. I’m fascinated by the raw sexuality he captures from people and his images have this kind of insane intensity to them. I love how they sort of meet in the middle of the beautiful and grotesque. The fact that he’s always shooting celebrities too means he brings something unguarded and really primal out of them which doesn’t feel glossy and posed. I know he’s a controversial figure and I wouldn’t try and stick up for him as a human being but I can’t deny how much the images fascinate me.

Otherwise I’d say filmmakers like Mark Romanek and Spike Jonze are huge influences in terms of what I’ve been trying to do with music videos and how that translates into photography."

Sometimes images hold a special significance to us. It can be the first image we ever made, it can be an image drawing attention to a cause close to our hearts, it can simply be an image of someone we love. Do you have an image or images that hold a special significance to you?

"I wish I had a good answer for you, but honestly I love the process and care very little once the photos are done. Strangely it’s never really about the final product for me as much as it is the creation of it. I can share images that I like but I’m not sure how many of them truly hold a deep significance for me. I’m not a sentimental person.

I have film moments that move me. My father was a Texan, I was partly raised in New Mexico, so the Old West is a big part of my heritage. There’s a famous shot at the end of John Ford’s The Searchers, where John Wayne brings back his kidnapped niece and reunites her with her family and he pauses at the door and then walks off into the wilderness. As an image it moves me tears every time I see it. It is everything about the dying way of the west and the men who built summed up in one image. Their savagery and violence created civilization, but they have no place in a civilized world. The film is a fucking masterpiece."

Model: Dani Ford

Photoshoots can sometimes leave you open to scary or funny situations. What's the scariest or funniest situation you've found yourself in because of photography?

"I’m gonna cheat here and talk about a video shoot, because it’s a good story. I was shooting a music video in the California desert about 4 hours north of Los Angeles and it was a small guerilla crew. We had no permits and no permissions, but I figured we were out in the middle of nowhere and what’s the worst that could happen? We were shooting an execution scene with a replica gun and everything was going fine. All of sudden out of nowhere I hear a loudspeaker voice say “you with the gun, drop it and everybody put your hands up.” So I turn and see there’s two California State Troopers with real guns pointed directly at us. So the actress drops the gun and we all put our hands up.

I tell the officer I’m in charge and he asks me to approach him and everyone else to get on the ground. He checks me for weapons and puts me in handcuffs. Then his partner watches me as he goes and checks the replica. I’m just super polite and compliant the whole time, so I’m not giving them an excuse to fly off the handle or get pissed off. After he see’s the guns not real, he tells us we just need to drive ten miles up the road and walk further into the desert. He then starts talking to us about how U2 shot the cover for Joshua Tree near there. After about 5 minutes of him and his partner chatting to the actors, I asked very politely if it would be okay for him to take the handcuffs off.

Here’s a link to the video:"

We've talked about your start in photography, we talked about your current work, let's quickly chat about the future. What have you got coming up this year, more of the same? any special projects? And in regards to a more long term plan, where are you hoping your creative journey will take you in the years to come?

"To be honest I do it for fun, so my only real goal is to get better. I’d like to do more stuff with multiple people, up the ambition and scale of the photos but my main source of income and work is still film making. I’m shooting a web series at the moment based off my award winning short films, Let’s Have a Threesome and Let’s Make a Porno (both can be seen on YouTube). The web series is called Let’s Do It and the first two episodes Let’s Do Cocaine and Let’s Get Naked have both been shot. I’m wanting to shoot 5 more before I release it. I’ve got multiple scripts I’m looking for financing on. I also want to help support my girlfriend who just made her first funded short called True Value which she directed from a script I wrote and that’s just about to start the festival rounds."

Model: Lajze

We can't really talk photography without discussing gear, so...what is your 'go to' equipment that you find yourself gravitating towards the most on shoots?

"I personally shoot on a Canon 5D MKII with a 24-70 as my prime lens, but I’m not much of a tech-head to be honest. Coming from a film background I don’t like shooting with a flash, I prefer continuous light I can control. I like my little overhead lamp, which creates the vignette effect I use a lot. I also prefer to do things in camera as much as possible, so I do practical things like put vaseline on the lens. I shoot with a mixture of small soft boxes and natural light a lot.

It sounds a bit dick-ish but I kind of always liked the quote John Lennon said “I'm an artist, give me a tuba and I'll create something worth listening to.” So from my stand point, no matter what tools you give me, I’m going to try and make something that works with that. I’ve been saying for years someone could make a feature film on an iPhone if they just went about it the right way and low-behold last year we got Tangerine. Now does it look like it was made on an iPhone, yeah, but it’s fucking compelling. To me the most beautifully composed photo of a beautiful model will always be less compelling then an image of war captured on an iPhone. We can’t allow ourselves to forget the importance of content."

Now for the shameless self promotion part of the interview...where can people find you and your work?

"You can find all my video work at either;

Find my stills at;

My official facebook fan page is;"

I'd like to thank Keir again for taking the time to answer a few questions for me, be sure to check out all of the links for more of his work.


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