Thomy Keat is a photographer based in Paris. Although corporate photography makes up much of his job, Keat says street photography is “the thing that makes me want to keep doing what I do as a professional photographer.” Pulling strong stylistic influence from his commercial work, Keat’s street photography is full of contrast, bold lines and repeated colors. His images show a different and modern Paris far from the cobblestone streets and highly detailed architecture often associated with the city. Keat says that although he loves and admires the architecture of his city, he’s not fond of it as a background for his own work. “It’s too ‘charged;’ not simple enough for me. I think you can tell by looking at my pictures, I like things being organized and precise.”
I first met Thomy Keat in Paris while attending a photography program through the Experiment in International Living, where he served as our guide and darkroom photography instructor. Keat says he became involved with the Experiment through CEI (an educational center for international students in Paris). “I had already done some teaching for people in the community center, and I jumped into that new adventure. It was very pleasant for me when I discovered it was for young American students, first because it would help my English and second because I love the American people and the US. But the main thing is that I love to enhance knowledge; being able to help anyone of any condition to learn a new discipline.”
I spoke with Keat about his experience as a professional photographer, and the process of shooting street photos in Paris:
What started your interest in photography, and when did you start taking photos?
My first experience with photography was in elementary school, when we created photograms in the darkroom; exposing objects on light-sensitive paper to reproduce their shapes. I’ve always loved photographing and always feel better behind a camera instead of in front.
You’ve made a career out of photography; what types of work do you normally do?
I take portraits; I’d love to do only portraits for my job (maybe one day when I become famous, LOL), but for now, I do corporate photography. For example, event coverage, corporate portraits, still life for luxury products, portraits for the music industry and interior architecture photos for magazines.
People say it’s very difficult to make a career out of photography in the United States, because it is so competitive. Is that your experience in France?
France is where it all started for photography, so if it is difficult in the US, imagine how it is here, and more so in a city like Paris. I am sure that in the suburbs, it is way simpler than here. The thing is that we are still in the digital revolution; it has never been easier for an amateur to produce a good picture, and there are a lot of good amateur photographers. The only difference between an amateur and a professional is that, when a client asks you for a certain type of picture, you are able to produce it, whether you like it or not. The first rule in professional photography is to please your client-you are in second place. Photography is a real job like any other; most of the time, it is not very glamorous. Those not-so-fun jobs make personal work possible, and that’s the fun part.
Does street photography serve as a break from your regular work?
It is definitely a break from my regular work; it is like meditation, and I like to walk the streets, people or not, the proximity, the adrenaline when you feel that this picture can be nice. A lot of the time, it isn’t, but that is the challenge-the game-I am not expecting anything when I go out and, sometimes, nothing happens, and it is fine, because at the end, you did make the move and that is important. Never take it for granted. I always wanted to keep my eyes like an amateur’s; I live photography, I eat photography, I think photography. This is also why I like to keep hanging out in the same places, when I don’t discover new ones, because I don’t want to be “bored” by a place; there is always something you can find in that same place.
Where do you like to shoot in Paris? Why?
I like places where there is a lot of geometry; I am looking for a totally clean background. I love lines and touches of color, but it’s really the graphics of a place that I search for. Last year I discovered Beaugrenelle, an area in the 15th arrondissement and I literally fell in love with it. Large, pristine areas fascinate me, like the lower part of La Défense in Courbevoie.
Your photographs often have repeated colors throughout them; for example, the photograph of a man with a red bag, walking down stairs below a large Citroen advertisement which features the same shade of red. What is the process for getting these shots? Is there a lot of waiting?
I really pay attention to my background. I do this for my portraits as well; I always think that if the background is bad, it will ruin your portrait, as good at it may look, because the background can pull attention away. In the street photography/cityscape process, it’s kind of different because it can become your subject, but I try as much as possible to have a person in it-to give a little humanity to it.
I used to not wait very long but now, as I get older, I accept that I have to wait longer. Sometimes, I can wait more than 20 minutes in the same place without being sure that something will happen. In some way, it’s more like a meditation. I keep my mind concentrated, without thinking of anything else, and I like this kind of “slow pace.” I also like to push my luck; somewhere there must be a “force” that will reward that waiting... sometimes.