Interview with Documentary Photographer, Misty Keasler

September 13, 2011

in Guest Photographer Judge

Post image for Interview with Documentary Photographer, Misty Keasler

Our Guest Photographer Judge for this week is Misty Keasler, a documentary photographer from Dallas whose resume includes assignments from the New York Times and TIME.

Misty writes: I am a photographer based in Dallas, Tx. and my work focuses on intimate portraits of people and the spaces they occupy. Projects include orphanages in Russia, garbage and e-waste dumps in several countries, my own family in East Texas and the Love Hotels of Japan, which was the subject of a monograph published by Chronicle Books and accompanied by a solo museum show. I shoot magazine assignments and clients include the New York Times Magazine, Harpers, TIME, Dwell, and The London Telegraph Saturday Magazine. I’m very interested in personal and intimate spaces as an indicator of the values and sensibilities of the people who use them. I believe our spaces describe us.


Misty’s Photography Journey

I got my first camera when I turned 7 years old, a clunky Polaroid that I carried around with me everywhere. I saved up my money and bought photography books from the used book store in our neighborhood and poured over the rich work of Mary Ellen Mark, Richard Avedon and Diane Arbus. I documented everything that seemed slightly interesting, but it wasn’t until I took a photography class in college that things began to open up for me. I went to high school in Plano, Texas where heroin usage shocked the country when stereotypical suburban all-american teens began using and dying from the drug. I began photographing several of my fellow classmates from high school who were addicts and that project really took off. I was incredibly fearless (though my 33-year-old self would now say “reckless”), following them into dealer’s homes and gas station bathrooms to photograph junkies shooting up. The images made the cover of the city magazine here and MSNBC did a piece on the young photographer shooting inside the Plano heroin scene. I switched my major to photography and finished my degree studying with incredible documentary photographers. When I finished I began shooting personal projects like the orphanages and was picked up by a strong gallery. I started pursuing magazines I wanted to work for and things just seemed to fall into place. It is a wild ride sometimes — the publishing industry has had a tough few years and freelancers really feel it, but I love what I do.

Q&A with Misty

  • Where do you find inspiration to keep your photography creative and unique? I love following certain Flickr accounts and enjoy looking at the sweet films being made with the DSLRs right now — A beautiful and haunting example. I also make sure I see photography shows at the museums around the Dallas and Fort Worth area. And I watch what the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago is showing as well as the International Center for Photography in New York.
  • Do you have your camera with you wherever you go? No. I used to document every moment I thought significant or interesting, but I’ve since learned the importance of living many of those moments without a camera in front of my face. I do always have my iphone camera and regularly use Instagram – like Facebook for posting photos only and I love it. It’s a great way to keep up with others with images.
  • Is there a particular photographer whose work inspires you?Absolutely! It changes all the time, but right now I’m particularly impressed with Will Steacy’s work and I’ve always been a fan of Alec Soth.
  • Do you have a “most embarrassing” photography moment you can share with us? I was on assignment for a British magazine at a 400 square mile ranch with working cowboys in New Mexico. I’d been there a couple of days and as I was about to leave for the airport one of the cowboys came in and asked if I had time to photograph him and his 10-year-old son roping and branding a calf. I thought it sounded great and figured I’d catch a later flight. They loaded up the horses in a trailer and we drove several miles to the area where the maverick had been spotted. Once we arrived the cowboy mounted up and told me to get my camera loaded (I was shooting film) and that they’d be coming from my right and would pass in front of me to rope then brand the calf. A few minutes later they were galloping across the horizon to where he said they’d try to rope the calf, but he and his son were chasing two cows. I asked his wife if the larger of the two might be the momma and she said that was most likely the case. They pulled out their ropes as the other cow dropped away and I started framing my shot with the two cowboys on horseback and the large calf. I was shooting a Hasselblad with a waist level finder so I looked down into the camera and started shooting just as they were lassoing the calf. I was working away, completely engrossed when I heard heavy steps getting closer and closer. I looked up to see that momma cow running full speed at me, horns locked in my direction. I caught my breath. I pressed the camera to my stomach and began running backwards screaming “NO NO NO NO NO!!!.” I had one hand holding the camera and one arm stretched straight in front of me. I figured if she got to me I could keep her horns at bay by pushing her back with my hand (obviously I wasn’t thinking a half a ton animal stampeding my way might not have a problem getting through my arm!) The cowboys heard my screaming and started galloping my way but they were too far to do anything. I ran backwards into a 6′ mesquite bush and down into a ditch and landed with the Hasselblad at my gut and both shoes several feet away from me. The cow jumped over me seconds after I fell. I was terrified. The cowboys came rushing up to me and once they saw I was okay they couldn’t stop laughing.
  • Do you have any tips for us?
    I know this is really basic, but photography is really always about the perfect light. I think the most important thing you can do is look at light. And to play with light. The greatest thing about digital photography is that you aren’t paying for each frame (like film) so you can play and shoot tons of pictures to see how things look in the camera. Last year I was lucky enough to see Mary Ellen Mark give a lecture. She suggested photographers put black tape on their LCD screens on a digital camera so that you aren’t relying on the screen to see if you got what you want but instead you shoot every possible interesting angle. I love that advice!

For more tips from Misty, visit her website as well as Redux pictures.

Misty’s gear:

My workhorse these days in a Canon 5D Mark II. I shoot still on it and have begun shooting video – I’m in love with the way motion looks in this camera! I have a 28-135mm lens and a 17-40mm lens. But I still shoot lots of film on my Hasselblad 503CW with an 80mm lens and a 40mm – this one is great – the equivalent to a 20 or wider on 35mm with very little distortion, and the very sexy Super Wide C (this is a very wide Hasselblad body and fixed lens. And occasionally I will pull out my Sinar 4×5 View Camera.

I use Photo Mechanic to import shoots and edit them. I absolutely love this software. Great for everything you need to do on the computer with photographs aside from manipulating images. And it’s very economical (about $120). Camera Raw is a must have – it has saved me a few times when I wished I’d tweaked an exposure. I don’t do any manipulation to my photographs 95% of the time but if I need to do any I use Photoshop CS5.

We are so glad to work with you as our Guest Photographer Judge, Misty! We can’t wait to see which photos you choose as your favorites from our Back to School Challenge.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Zyril | Business Card Magnets September 14, 2011

This is a very interesting and informative post about how a person can get into photography. I think the most useful part of the interview (at least for amateurs like us) was the Q&A portion, where Misty gave her insights about what a good photographer should have and what they should look for. It really helped me a lot. Nice post indeed.


Patrizia Corriero September 13, 2011

Inspiring interview to a documentary #photographer


Adrienne in Ohio September 13, 2011

Such interesting perspective–and I loved the cow story. (SO glad you and the camera are okay!)

Regarding your thoughts on our spaces describing us, I wonder what my daughter’s bedroom might say about her?


Jillian McDermott September 13, 2011

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I always love to hear about the journey of fellow photographers. You are an inspiration:)


amy September 13, 2011

Love having locals from Dallas on here. Thanks for joining us this week! You’re work is inspiring.

-Amy, Co-Founder I Heart Faces


Cindi Murphy September 13, 2011

I’m in Clovis, NM now and probably live close to that ranch you were on! Great story and wonderful images to go with! Thanks for sharing!


Jen September 13, 2011

I’m from Dallas and live just down the road from Plano! I loved reading about your photography journey. Thanks so much for sharing!


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: