“My work is unapologetically aesthetical. My goal is to make beautiful pictures, but hopefully without crossing the line to the trite or cute or bland. I want to convey emotions, but I believe the world is challenging enough already, so I typically avoid political statements or divisive themes.”
Keith Dotson (born in 1963) is a fine art photographer currently based in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. He began learning film photography and darkroom practices in high school. In college, he studied art and design, with some basic photography mixed in, but beyond high school, he’s mostly self-taught.
Keith Dotson’s work is currently on exhibition at “Wallspace LA Gallery” in Los Angeles. Wallspace LA also represents his work to the film and TV industry. His photographs are also available for sale as prints and for licensing through “Bentley Global Arts Group”. Keith Dotson is represented in London by Advocate Art.
“I take simple photographs of things I find beautiful, interesting, or unusual.”
Interview with Keith Dotson
Keith, what was your most memorable moment shooting pictures?
I’ve been shooting pictures my entire adult life, but in 2006 on a trip to Boston, using my first digital DSLR, I experienced an epiphany. Some of the photographs I made there are still among my favorites, and the experience renewed my passion for photography and made me want to improve my skills and knowledge. It was a new beginning.
Why did you become a photographer?
I became a photographer because I realized it’s the perfect medium of expression for me (or perhaps I should say it became a obsession?). For years I was a painter, using watercolors, acrylics, pastels – you name it. Not until I reconnected with photography did I finally feel connected to my true medium. One of my favorite things about photography is that it combines my passion for making images with my love of the outdoors, hiking, history, and travel.
What does photography mean to you and what do you want to say with your pictures?
My work is unapologetically aesthetical. My goal is to make beautiful pictures, but hopefully without crossing the line to the trite or cute or bland. I want to convey emotions, but I believe the world is challenging enough already, so I typically avoid political statements or divisive themes. Some of the themes I do revisit time after time include ecology, history, and water (which is sure to become a more scarce resource in decades to come). I enjoy shooting in ancient places, such as native American mound sites, because I seem to sense a connection to the spirits of those ancient people while I’m there. I think it helps me keep a perspective about my petty problems when I see the world in the long view of time.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
This is a tough one. There are so many brilliant photographers, and artists in other media, too, who inspire me. If I had to select only one, I’d probably say Bill Brandt, because his use of light and shadow was so evocative, his eye so keen, and his compositions simply amazing. William Henry Fox Talbot made stunning images at the earliest beginnings of photography which in their beauty still have not been surpassed, even with all our fancy equipment today. And of course, the same can be said of Julia Margaret Cameron.
What’s your favorite photography quote?
Which of my photographs is my favorite? The one I’m going to take tomorrow. Imogen Cunningham
How would you describe your photographic language and creative process?
My goal as a photographer is to communicate a little of the essence and spirit of the places and things I photograph. While I rarely photograph people, I hope humanity is present in my work. As a photographer who specializes in black and white, texture, atmosphere, mood, light and shadows, and contrast are important in my work, and over time, I’ve learned how to envision my subjects in black and white.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic voice?
I believe your voice develops over time, through much work. It doesn’t need to be forced, it emerges as an artist works, tweaks, perfects, and critiques their own work. What comes from that effort is an authentic voice.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
I’m passionate about black and white photography. I believe that while a color photograph may show us reality, a black and white photograph shows us truth. Author Ted Grant said it well:
“When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. When you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls.”
Grant’s statement applies to landscape photos as well, and yes, I believe landscapes often have “soul”.
What qualities and characteristics does a good photographer need?
That varies somewhat depending on the type of photography, whether it’s weddings, commercial, portraits, journalism, or fine art. But of course, all photographers need an eye for composition, the ability to bring a fresh viewpoint, a mastery of their tools, and that intangible quality I’d call “soul”. The best artists have the ability to read the spirit of the subject and to capture truth with empathy.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes? Especially keeping in mind the over abundance of photographic imagery in today’s society.
A great photograph may have many things that help separate it from a typical snapshot. It may have technical mastery. It may have required extreme dedication of time or personal risk to make the shot. It may make us gasp with shock or amazement when we see it. But in my opinion a great photo must give us a new insight and show us something like we’ve never seen it before, and it must be unforgettable. In some way, a great photo changes us.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
I draw inspiration for projects from constantly looking, and thinking, about potential ideas for photographs. Since much of my work is based on traveling to places I want to capture, my projects sometimes shape travel plans and travel plans shape photography projects.
What kind of photography equipment (camera etc.) and photographic supplies do you use?
I have a variety of film and digital cameras and lenses. I always use natural light.
What’s your favorite website about photography?
I like Lenscratch.
What photography book would you recommend?
“On Photography” by Susan Sontag, because it was so influential in making people think about photographs. Even though Sontag later refuted many of her own ideas, the remains influential.
Audio Book Review: “On Photography” by Susan Sontag (Author)
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a (professional) photographer?
Do it for the love. And learn to think about photography in a new way. Everyone has access to excellent photographic equipment and software now, so a professional must deliver something more.
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