A Quick Sit Down With Photographer Christian Keen

Meet Christian Keen from Indianapolis Indiana. He is a quiet guy who loves his family, his dogs and his camera.  Christian got into photography a few years ago after being injured in Iraq serving his Country during the Global War on Terror.  Christian uses a Canon 5D Mark III full frame camera and immerses himself into many areas of photography.

Interviewer: So what first got you interested in taking pictures?

Christian: I actually always disliked having my picture taken and ran away from any camera being used through out my child hood.  I never honestly liked being in those situations.

 

Interviewer: Thats very interesting, so it is safe to say you didn’t think you would one day be an actual pro photographer?

 

Christian:  No, not at all.  Its funny how life sometimes works out.

Interviewer: What is your favorite type of photography? What do you enjoy taking pictures of? What pays the bills?

Christian: What I enjoy and what makes money are two completely different things.  Wedding photography, sports  photography, modeling shoots, those are paying gigs.  I don’t spend too much time in that area.  I prefer areas that other photographers shy away from.

Interviewer: Such as?

 

Christian: Such as street photography focusing on homeless people, PTSD survivors, people battling drug addiction or those that have persevered through some sort of tangible hardship.

Interviewer: Why?

Christian:  My Grandfather once told me there was no such thing as an atheist in a fox hole.  He was a decorated soldier in World War II.  He stormed the beach on D day. He fought in the  Battle of the Bulge. I never knew what that meant until I myself went to war.  During my time overseas I grew closer to God and I have continued that growth ever since.  The camera allows me an opportunity to document things I find important.  It also allows me a means to make people smile.  I pride myself in going into areas where others won’t go.  I have spent time with the homeless, under a bridge during a rain storm, through a cold winter night next to a building.  I don’t just show up and leave, I become embedded alongside them so I have a better understanding of what is happening.

Interviewer:  This sounds a lot like Gonzo Journalism to me.

 

Christian:  (laughing) Yes you’re correct.  Hunter S. Thompson has been a huge influence.  I can’t say I agree with everything he did, but I do find his style to be very influential with my work.

 

Interviewer: So you actually immerse yourself along side your subject matter?

Christian:  Yes.  For example I have always been fascinated by the motorcycle world.  The culture of motorcycle clubs, riding clubs, Christian clubs and the extreme opposite, outlaw clubs.  It has been a very hard world to penetrate  as an embedded journalist for sure.  In fact it has  taken years and years to gain trust for them to be comfortable around me, especially with a camera.

Interviewer: Why does the motorcycle world as you call it intrigue you so much?

 

Christian: They have their own vocabulary, their own linguistic coding, their own code. They look at the world through a different lens than most people.

Interviewer: I assume you mean the outlaw clubs you are talking about, not Christian Clubs.

Christian: Yes.  I am referring to the “1%” as they call themselves.  Not the Christian Clubs, or as they refer to them, “Jesus Freak Clubs.”

 

When I learned about Hunter S. Thompson being along side a dominate club for a year to write his book inspired me.  Theres actually an old interview of him with a member from that club where they talk about beating him up.

Interviewer: They beat up Mr. Thompson?

 

Christian: Yes.

 

Interviewer: I believe Ive actually seen that interview on Youtube.  It’s the Hells Angels if Im not mistaken and this was several years ago correct?

Christian:  (Christian didn’t respond to this question)

Interviewer: Do I at least have the Club right?

Christian:  (Again Christian refused to say anything.)

 

Interviewer: It seems I may have touched on a grey area for you, could you maybe explain that for me?

Christian: Sure, the thing that inspired me about Hunter Thompson is the fact he said he saw a member, a club member of a 1% club (an outlaw club) beat on his girlfriend or as they refer to them, “Ol Lady.”  This guys dog came over and starting barking at him so the guy kicked it. He literally kicked his own dog for trying to help his girlfriend who he was in the process of beating.  This prompted Hunter to come over an intervene. He basically told the guy he was wrong for hitting a woman, and for kicking a dog.  The club member didn’t care for that and he along side other members beat him up.  In the interview both sides agree that this happened.   What I found inspiring was the fact that he earned their trust and the ability to write a book about them but when he saw something that was blatantly wrong. Wrong against his beliefs, his ethos and the law, he did something about it regardless of what was going to happen to him. To me that is courage and a style of journalism I am interested in.

 

 

Interviewer: Have you been put in a similar situation?

 

Christian: Unfortunately I have yes.  It wasn’t pleasant.

 

Interviewer: Can you expound upon that?

 

Christian: Yes I could, but I won’t.

 

Interviewer: Is there any particular reason why?

Christian: Several.  One of the reasons these guys trust me is that I am an Ordained Minister.  I have married Police Officers, Nurses’s, Cooks, and “outlaws” alike. In being a confidant, a journalist, a person of faith, many times these guys will come to me, sometime in the middle of the night and truly open up about the demons they face.  Its all part of building that trust to be able to get that eventual shot you want as a photographer.

There is a picture book that I use, well used until it was taken from me by the friendly local police department, that is all black and white.  The photographer spent a large amount of time with another outlaw club and came away with some amazing shots. It was truly a guide along side with Hunters work on how to proceed with what I originally envisioned.

Interviewer: This book was taken from you? The one you are talking about?

Christian: Yes. It was confiscated and labeled  as “gang paraphernalia.”

Interviewer: This was a legal book you bought?

Christian: This was a book bought at a book store by another photographer that is a mentor of mine. I was hitting an artistic wall and he found it in a book store outside of Chicago.

Interviewer: What Club is featured in this picture book you are talking about?

Christian: (Again said nothing.)

Interviewer: If it is a legal book that one can purchase at a book store I don’t see the harm in telling me what the name of the motorcycle club is thats featured in it.

Christian: If people want to really know they can find out, although it is a very rare book, it was done in the middle 1980s.

Interviewer: Im riffing here, but you mentioned it was black and white and Chicago so Im guessing it’s the Outlaws Motorcycle Club?

Christian: Its black and white because the photographer was smart enough to know that using black and white pictures makes the viewer engage their imagination.  Have you ever seen two kids that are strangers to one another? They meet at a park or at a party or say at the play area in the mall and they are instant friends.  Adults have lost that ability for a multitude of reasons. A big part of that is the use of our imagination.  Black and White pictures  encourage you to use your imagination when answering the unknown presented to you when looking at shades of gray, black and white or sharply cropped images.

 

As far as what Club, You are right the Club is fully shown at parties and riding events alike.  I told you it was bought in Chicago. I also mentioned it was black and white.

Interviewer: So If I’m understanding you correctly  it sounds like the Outlaws from Mccook Illinois?

Christian:  (laughing) Use your imagination, but you may be onto something there.

Interviewer: I guess I still am mystified as to why it was taken from you. You said your local police took it? Do you know why?

Christian: No, you’d have to ask Malachi, Doug, or Ron that.

Interviewer: I assume those are the Police Officers that took your book?

Christian: No. Those are the guys that you don’t want to piss off because they can and will do everything they can to ruin your work.

 

Interviewer: Sounds like a love hate relationship.

Christian: I have the utmost respect for Law Enforcement in general, but the bad apples that are out there, those that abuse their power, that lie, that falsify records, that break the spirit of the law knowing they can get away with it. The few, the 1% that play outlaw biker on the weekend, that go after bikers that have done nothing wrong.  I don’t care for them no. Not one bit.  Im sure the feelings mutual, and that fine.

Interviewer: You seem upset.

Christian: I am disappointed not upset. I have seen a biker for example ride with a handkerchief  around his neck and mouth at times when riding a bike for medical reasons, for personal reasons.  I have seen him pulled over and ticketed for a law that prohibits a person from covering their face in public.  It was designed for use against people robbing a bank or gang members out in public.  It isn’t a law to be used against a guy who couldn’t afford a full face helmet and instead used a handkerchief to cover his mouth to keep bugs and rain away.  Had he been wearing a full face helmet he would have been fine.  I have seen that happen with my own eyes.  I actually asked the cops why they were targeting this particular group of guys and they themselves told me “any one wearing a diamond on their chest is going to be followed and if they break the law, ticketed or arrested.”

Interviewer: This was in Indiana?

Christian: This was out east, in a tourist town, on a beach, late summer, early fall 2014.
This particular rider that got the ticket actually even looked up the State laws before traveling from Indiana out there as any good citizen might.  There was none listed concerning this. It was a local ordinance that no one knew about.

Interviewer: And they still gave him a ticket?

Christian: Cops will use a phrase, “Ignorance is no excuse for the law.” I totally understand that, but that attitude in general builds a wall between the community they are there to serve and those targeted.  I watched this guy, a good guy, a family man, a hard worker have years of trouble all from this ticket.

Interviewer: All because of a ticket?

Christian: It caused a downward spiral of events that all lead back to that.  He doesn’t  blame the Police for anything, nor am I speaking for him. I am talking from a civilian point of view, as an embedded journalist who witnessed it all first hand.   And it bothers me. It bothers me a lot.

Interviewer: So you are emotionally attached to this area of photography?

 

Christian: I am defensive of individuals being wrongfully targeted. Just by saying that, just by speaking the truth, it puts a target on my back as if I am one of them.

Interviewer: Then why say it?

Christian: Because right is right and wrong is wrong.  Because I was raised to stick up for those being bullied. Because it is what Hunter S. Thompson would have done and did do, because it’s the Christian thing to do.  Thats why.

Interviewer: Just so we are clear, actually lets back up, I didn’t want to interrupt you. A few moments ago you mentioned the cops said they were targeting anyone wearing a diamond, what does that mean?

Christian:  Sure. So generally speaking a motorcycle club member wears a leather vest or “cut” as they call them.  The back part of this vest has a centerpiece patch of their club name, a top section or rocker identifying the name of their club, a bottom back piece of the area they are from or live, and somewhere on the back or the front they will sometimes  have a diamond that displays a 1 with a percent sign and then the words “er” in it.  It identifies them as a “one per-center” or outlaw.  This is what the cop meant when saying they were after “diamond holders.”

Interviewer: Is that illegal?

Christian: To wear a diamond? No. To be in a motorcycle club that is outlaw in nature? No.  It puts a target on your back and brings unwanted attention I suppose but there are several individuals that are current or former diamond holders or as they call themselves, “one percenters” that are all law abiding citizens.   In fact there is an overwhelming number of former cops, corrections officers, lawyers, and doctors that are in or have been in outlaw clubs.  Jesse Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota, was a Mongol while still in the US Navy seals.

Interviewer: Governor Ventura is a member of an outlaw club? You said a doctor as in medical doctor?

Christian: I have never spoken to the man. All I can say is he has written about it in a book, and mentioned it in several interviews. During one such interview with Joe Rogan he goes into great length about being a Mongol, which is a big outlaw or One percent Club, prior to leaving the United States Navy.  He still carries his Mongol ID or card in his wallet and pulls it out and shows Joe Rogan himself.  He mentions riding and this particular club during the interview at a time when he left Political Office.  The entire interview is online. And yes, in Indianapolis one of the dominate clubs has a member whose road name speaks for itself.  He is a highly respected, very intelligent guy whose day job is being a medical doctor.

Interviewer: Im sorry to spend so much time on this subject, it is just fascinating to me.

Christian: (Laughing) I get it, I do, I really do. It’s why I have spent so much time on this one particular project because they are so misunderstood.

Interviewer: What other projects are you working on currently?

Christian: Having my images and property of this project taken from me has derailed it tremendously almost to perhaps a point that is not recoverable. The cost has been great this far and it is hard to know if further harassment to me, more importantly my family is really worth telling the story any further.

Interviewer: What do you think your mentor would say, or Hunter would tell you?

Christian: My mentor thinks Im bat sh&*t crazy and he may be right. Hunter? Who knows. Maybe take a drink? Relax. (laughing) Which is hard for me to do as I don’t drink.  It definitely has been hard on everyone around me.

Interviewer: But in terms of other projects, what else do you have going on?

Christian: There is a  local rock musician that was using chemicals in his blood stream quite regularly and partying hard. It caught up to him, his wife left with the kids, it was bad.  He hit rock bottom, went through rehab, got sober, is now heavily involved with the church, back with his family and doing awesome. I have some intense pictures of him along the way.

There is another project involving p.t.s.d. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that I was working on but I’m taking a break from it.

I have a few others Im working on but I’ll keep them close to my chest.

Interviewer: (It was at this I noticed a distinct difference in Christian when he brought up PTSD I wanted to ask him but his body language changed so much I did not want to upset him.)

Interviewer: Well I had several more questions for you but we spent a lot of time going down the motorcycle rabbit hole so I guess I’d like to end the interview.

Christian: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I appreciate it. I really do.

Interviewer: You know I genuinely feel that from you but I just have to, I have to ask. It seems something changed in you when you started talking about p.t.s.d.

Christian: Sure, and you’re right. Its something that I deal with personally. I have been through a lot in my life. Something recently  happened, just a week or so ago, and I haven’t slept well since so I suppose that broken record of reliving it just started playing in my head.

Interviewer: Could you briefly elaborate?

Christian: I guess the point of my photography is to get a reaction out of people. Usually a smile. I am happily paid with them in lieu of money and I am ok with that. Another aspect of my photography is awareness.  People with PTSD are sometimes judged by others. I suppose I hope my work in some small way, when Im completely done and gone, will leave some good impact for someone somewhere.

Interviewer: That makes a lot of sense.  Ok, well lets wrap this up, oh one last question.  For the gear heads out there, what gear do you use?

Christian: Sure, great question. I use a lot but my primary camera is a Canon 5d Mark III, full frame dslr camera.  My main lens is a 50 mm prime lens, which has great focus but cannot be zoomed in or out. This means pictures that are taken with it are all very similar in that you can tell how far away or how close I am to the subject matter.  My other two lenses I carry are a Canon 70mm-200mm 2.8 aperture, and a  Canon 16mm-35mm 2.8 aperture. They are both zoomable where is my 50 is a prime, its rock solid.

 

I use a Peak Design 30 ML back pack to carry every thing when Im on major projects that require a lot of different angles.  When I am working street photography stuff, I typically  “stay light and get native.”  Getting light means I only carry my main camera and my 50 mm lens and a strap, thats it.  Getting native means “I get local” or try and blend in as best as possible.  Generally this is a ball cap worn backwards, t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.  Nothing that exciting really.

Interviewer: I know we didn’t touch on this but post editing? Do you use any filters?

Christian: Yes, I use Adobe Lightroom but I use it as little as possible. Basically I use it  to make the images look exactly how I see it in my mind. Usually its just some basic edits to clarity, saturation, highlights, shadows and contrast.

 

Interviewer: I think that wraps it up! Anything you would like to close with?

Christian: Treat others as you want to be treated and love your family especially your children. Hold them close to you and tell them all you love them everyday.

Interviewer: Thanks for your time Christian.

Christian: God bless.

Interviewer:  I found Christians words interesting at the end, not that the entire time wasn’t amazing, I just notice another change in him when he mentioned children.  I asked him about this privately and he opened up to me much more than he did during the interview.  He explained a lot more about some personal observations  I made of him, specifically his poor eye connect with me and his distant stare he displayed at times. He asked that the majority of that conversation remain private but in learning  of one of the reasons he had some issues when talking about ptsd and children I insisted I share this part of the story.  Initially He refused but eventually  Christian agreed for me to say the following.

Recently Christian was placed in a situation where a young child drowned at a Hotel swimming pool he and his family had just checked in.  When he learned of the situation Christian ran and helped the best he could. In Christian’s mind some of his physical injuries precluded him from performing at an optimal level.  Although Christian assisted in CPR and other ways the Child unfortunately passed away two days later.  A link To this tragic situation is attached.  Christian mentioned to me that there were several other adults that did more than him and two in particular that were primary with respect to  CPR.  He constantly downplayed his involvement as it appears in the news link.

This piece was originally supposed to be simply about a local photographer from Indianapolis but It turned into so much more.  We hope Christian feels more comfortable in opening up and discussing his projects and his life as they seem to be intertwined together in the future.

Christian Keen Has some of his work on his “outdated and silly” Photography website, Images via Christian Keen.

 

https://imagesviachristiankeen.zenfolio.com

 

Christians work can also be found on his Instagram  page by typing in christian_keen_imaging or searching his name.

He does have some personal more fun work listed on his social media page, Images Via Christian Keen. https://www.facebook.com/christiankeenimages/

Finally an interview that shows the down to side earth of this former military contractor can be found  on this link.

 

https://wtvr.com/2018/07/21/man-performed-cpr-on-boy-pulled-from-henrico-embassy-suites-pool/