Ed Keating, Pulitzer Prize-winner, career photographer of over thirty years and mentee and friend of Robert Frank (the most celebrated American documentary photographer probably ever), is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. I filmed and edited this exclusive Fstoppers interview, as his insight was just too good not to share. No matter what type of photographer you are, I’m sure you can all take something of value away from this video interview.
I live in New York, still one of the most vibrant, crazy and wonderful places I’ve ever spent time in. Living here gives me the ability to occasionally connect with some fantastically talented photographers who also live here, and then share that experience through Fstoppers and the wider community.
Ed has been a working photojournalist, portrait and documentary photographer for over 30 years.
His interview on Mark Seliger’s “Capture” show last year (see below) piqued my interest in his work, career and personality, so I reached out to him. Fortunately for all of us, he found the time to sit down and talk about his career, his life and his photographic journey.
What I came away with is that Ed is one of those unique photographers who, even after shooting for 30 years, is still deeply passionate and motivated by what he does. Even after his successes and accomplishments, he is still very much driven towards his goal of why he set out on his photographic journey all those years ago. Figuring out his reasons behind this longevity, how he managed to stay inspired, and how we can apply these elements to our own photographic journeys, was invaluable, and was the main reason I wanted to speak to him in the first place. As it turned out, he had great stories as well as fascinating insights in other areas to share, as you'll see yourself.
Part of what was fascinating to talk about, is that he’s extremely adept at moving with the times. Our conversation began with Ed’s use of Instagram (he uses it to great effect, capturing wonderful moments around New York City, and of his travels)
He talked about shooting private client work using his phone (I can't mention numbers, but he was paid very well indeed for a wonderful book he created using his iPhone and shot on the street). He explained how mobile phone photography, and the use of color and square format frames in Instagram had revitalized his passion for photography, breaking him out of the mold of black and white work he’d been focused on.
Not many photographers with such career history and longevity have bridged the gap into the world of digital and social media, or maintained their passion for creating images so strongly.
He discussed his career pathway and the role of having photographic mentors, how he grew as a photographer as a result, and how to survive and thrive year in year out as a working photographer. Not many people can count Mark Seliger and Robert Frank as their friends, peers (and at times, mentors). Robert Frank, known for his seminal book "The Americans" is one of the greatest documentary photographers of all time. Hearing how they came to meet one another and subsequently developed their friendship was incredible. Their friendship led to Ed helping Frank take his first digital photograph, which is hanging in Ed's office.
Ed talks about personal project work, and his epic 11-year long "Route 66" project specifically. He also mentions how he discovered (and very nearly didn't even photograph) his Pulitzer prize-winning shot of a tea set covered in the dust from the World Trade Centers after the September 11th attacks. His anecdote begins as he searches for an images to define the horror and unprecedented destruction around him, and ends with a contemplative image that he only shot quickly, at the last minute. It is truly an inspired story about the importance of listening to your inner voice.
All of these experiences are applicable to every one of us, regardless of what type of photography we practice, whether we are full time professionals or hobbyists, and it’s why he was so fascinating to speak to.
Please let me know if you enjoyed this interview and if you got anything out of it. If there is enough demand for it, I’ll look to create an ongoing series of interviews like these with other photographers I happen to connect with. The work involved in setting up, shooting and editing these is long and arduous but if there is enough call for it, I’ll provide them for the community. Please drop me a line or leave a comment below if you liked this and want to see more of them.
Special Thanks / All Images Copyright: Ed Keating