In the Studio – David Keller

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We are so excited we got a chance chat with our August artist, David Keller, about his upcoming show, The Free Portrait Project. In late summer of 2012, David was shooting a roll of black and white film when he ran out of subjects to photograph. Wanting to finish the roll to see his images, he came up with a plan. David quickly rushed to a friend’s studio in downtown Portland, Oregon armed with a slab of cardboard and a sharpie. He constructed a sign that read, “Free Portraits” and sat on the street corner. Over the next few days, he sat on street corners around town taking portraits of complete strangers, in exchange for only their name.

Duplex: Tell us a little bit about your background, where are you from?

David Keller: I was born in Virginia, raised in Oregon, and now I live in New York. I’ve spent most of my life in Portland. I went to Portland State and got a business degree, and spend about a year after college working in Portland. It’s a creative place, and inspired me to do more personal projects. Definitely part of how this all came to fruition.


D: Taking a portrait of a stranger can be a very specific experience, (awkward, intimate, exciting) have you learned anything about the nature of this interaction especially compelling?

DK: I’ve learned so much about approaching strangers and talking to them (sorry mom!) For me, it’s a total rush to ask someone if I can take his or her picture. Likewise, this project began when I sat on the side of the street holding a cardboard sign for free portraits. It is equally as satisfying to see the people that stop to read your sign and take you seriously. It’s genuine, and I like that.


D: How did get interested in the juvenile detention portion of the project?

DK: I was contacted by a Project Manager for the Hope Partnership at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility. I was invited out to the grounds to do portraits of any of the youth who wanted to have their picture taken. That day, I shot 56 portraits, and met some incredible people.

D: What cameras do you use?

DK: I mainly use a Mamiya 645, medium format film camera. Sometimes I’m only carrying a 35mm camera, and so some of my portraits have been taken on the smaller format.

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D: You moved to New York! Have you kept the project going there?

DK: I’ve taken a number of portraits out here as well. Still letting people come to me to request portraits.

D: What else are you doing in New York?

DK: I have a day job. I work in operations at a start up in the city.

D: What is it about the portrait, specifically the black and white portrait that interests you?

DK: Color can be distracting. I feel more connected with the end image when it’s in black and white. There’s also something about stepping into someone’s personal space with a big, intimidating camera. When done correctly, the images are intricate and beautiful.


D: You don’t take any money for these portraits; do you accept film donations, gas money or other help?

DK: That’s right! Its all donation based. Most recently, I’ve received plants, poems, and hugs.

D: How many different people have you shot so far?

DK: Great question. Definitely over 200. I haven’t counted.

D: Who was your favorite/most memorable?

DK: Trick question. I’ve met a lot of great people, who’s stories I’ll never forget.


D: How do you find your subjects?

DK: They come to me via my Facebook Page and Tumblr.

D: How long do you foresee the project going? Is there an end goal?

DK: I get this question a lot. I foresee this project continuing for a while. I want to include everyone that wants to be included, but that’ll take a while. Let’s say, as long as I can buy film.

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