Today, I have the honor of featuring an interview with photographer Kate Keen. She is a Bournemouth-based photographer, who also suffers from Crohn’s. I came across her work through the #getyourbellyout group (check them out on facebook). On her website she is featuring a series of pictures of Crohn’s and Colitis patients, proudly and defiantly showing their scars. As she is in England and I am in Portland, I sent her my questions. Here are her answers:
A general question first: What excites you about the medium photography? How do you see your role as a photographer?
I started to get into photography in school and fell in love with how I could capture a moment and show it in any way I wanted. I’m studying on the commercial photography course at the Arts University Bournemouth and my style has changed and progressed since I’ve been there. I see my role as a photographer as an exiting and also daunting one, because images can be interpreted in so many ways- it’s hard to make a point with your images and for it to be understood in the way you’d intended. I think being a photographer there has to be mutual trust with the subject especially with sensitive subjects like my latest projects to portray them in a non-judgmental and non-negative light.
What was the inspiration for your Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness photo series?
My inspiration for my latest series was definitely the people. I was so inspired by people I had met at the hospital and people I had talked to through social media I wanted everyone to see how brave, inspirational and strong these people were fighting a daily battle against their own bodies. The issue with Crohn’s and UC is that they are invisible illnesses: Everyday we wake up and put a smile on when we could be having a really rough day but look so well. By showing the surgery scars or colostomy/ileostomy bags of these people it makes the illness real again for people that don’t have first hand experience with IBD or couldn’t imagine the consequences.
How did you find your models? I imagine that people are very sensitive about being photographed with their scars or stoma?
When I had the idea for the project I knew it was going to be a hard ask for people to come forward and want their photographs to be taken, scars and all. I put some ads out on the CCUK and ‘Get Your Belly Out’ forums and had an overwhelming response from amazing people that wanted to help raise awareness. I had people offering to help out from around the world and ended up travelling the country to meet these guys. It was an amazing experience meeting people like me, and seeing what possibly my future holds which makes it a lot less daunting. They were courageous and strong individuals that saw the brighter side of the illness and didn’t bat an eyelid at being photograph showing their scars or stomas to help others, which is a beautiful thing.
Your models have a variety of body types- was this something you took into consideration when you were recruiting or was it a coincidence?
When I started the project I knew I wanted to show the illness in all forms, shapes and sizes purely to make the point that look here we are, we have been cursed with this disease but we are all still beautiful and more importantly alive. I wanted to reach a widespread audience that gives a little bit of confidence back to people suffering, so hopefully you can liken yourself to one of these guys and not be afraid to be comfortable in your own skin or go on holiday and wear swimwear just like everyone else can. If these guys can do it, so can we!
How much did your models participate in the shoot? (e.g. some are looking directly into the camera, some are at a slight angle, some smile, others don’t).
I honestly don’t think the project would have resulted in this final outcome if the models hadn’t been as strong and inspirational as they are. I traveled to each of the models’ homes and they welcomed me (and all of my camera gear, ha-ha). I started photographing them as they were and tried all varieties of shots, some smiling some not, some looking to and away from the light and chose the most emotional image. I wanted the models to look heroic and strong and sometimes standing tall and smiling doesn’t always get that across.
You seem to be rather minimalistic in your approach: The two photo series that I like the most- the awareness and “Liberty” series- focus on an individual or an object. Is less more, or what made you choose this approach?
It’s interesting to hear you say that as I’ve never thought of my work like that but I guess it’s true. Both Liberty, dealing with the issue of dementia, and the Crohn’s and UC campaign have a concept of invisible illness and when dealing with such sensitive subjects I do think less is more. I think with both of these projects having a really busy image wouldn’t have got my point across, I did think about doing the Crohn’s and UC portraits in their homes without a backdrop but I decided against it and I think they are more powerful as a series when nothing is distracting from the model. With “Liberty,” I shot so many images and kept going back and forth to her home but found the minimalistic images to work and gel together with the portraits of her much better than the wider shots with lots of objects in.