Showcase Your Process: Interview with Keenan Rivals from Detroit

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Keenan Rivals is a street photographer and blogger hailing from Detroit. I’ve been very impressed with his hustle, his passion, and dedication to street photography and the community. Learn more about Keenan and his creative process below:

Dear Keenan, wonderful to have you. To start off, how did you discover street photography, and what initially drew you to it?

Hey Eric, thanks for having me.

I’ve always enjoyed looking at street photography. Back when Flickr was the go to website for photographers I would just type in Detroit street photography to see what was created. I came across Jon Deboer and Brian Day and I said to myself “I can do that”.

I always thought street photography was easy, I mean it looked simple enough. As someone who wasn’t as skilled with the camera that was the first thing, I dabbled into.

After a while, I began to meet people and make connections. It was a different form of creation for me. I enjoyed it.

I found out that it wasn’t easy and that every moment wasn’t guaranteed. I knew I liked it because it was hard, yet I continued to shoot. I understood that involved a high level of skill as well as a little bit of luck. The more I practiced, the luckier I became I guess. But I still have a long way to go.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations in photography, and how have they influenced your work?
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I don’t consider myself influenced. When I use to read other people say this I’d be like “this guy’s lying”… But it’s true, I don’t look through a lot of photo books or visit people’s websites. I just take pictures.

What inspires me is passion, I’m really into passionate people. I don’t care what you’re passionate about, as long as your passionate. I spend a lot of time watching videos and movies based on people who really invest in themselves and it just empowers me to do the same thing. One of the most important things I’ve picked up from this type of content was to document, not create. I don’t look at my individual pictures as creations. When I snap a photo I’m not creating a moment, I’m recording one. When I take my last picture then I want everything that I documented to be my creation.

But if I had to answer the question, Vivian Maier. I obviously read your blog earlier on and then current photographers like Chase Jarvis and Emily Soto give me hope.

Describe your thinking process when you’re out shooting on the streets — and how would you define ‘street photography’?

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I’ll probably lose followers for this answers, but again I try to be honest and vulnerable in my work. My style of shooting is based on the snapshot. It’s very fast paced, I’m more interested in who shooting, than how I’m shooting them.

I compose when I’m in an area in which I can control, but if I can’t control the area then I just fire off. With that being said I know how to compose, I understand what elements make a great photo, but that’s not my intention. I capture it how I see it. My goal is to show you what I see, what stood out to me, in the manner that it stood out.

I have little to no fear when out. Whatever happens, happens. Yet I’m also respectable of people’s space. In my time of shooting, I only had 2 altercations, one which can be seen here:

I look at what I do as documenting my city and to me, that’s what street photography is, a documentation of a certain time. I also know that the genre is perceived in different ways. Some people think it’s about creating a moment, but to me, it’s just about sharing reality.

I tend to stay away from this argument, I learned to do this when people would debate about who was hip-hop and who wasn’t. At the end of the day, it’s subjective, go out and shoot and create what you think is just.

Why did you decide to start a blog on street photography, and what do you want to share with others? And how do you come up with ideas for blogging?

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I never liked the idea of sharing my work online. I wasn’t brave enough to post on public forums, simply what I created sucked. I didn’t want to share work with my friends because I was never a creative, so I didn’t think they would accept that I was trying to be.

However, I knew that if I kept my images on my hard drive, that I myself would never look at them. So, I created a website where I could document my own growth, share my work with myself and stay away from the online critics.

As I continued to shoot I ran into problems. My photos would come out blurry, or some images would have bokeh while others wouldn’t. I would blog about those obstacles and how I overcame them, it wasn’t the typical here’s how you get a better post, but more like I suck too and here’s how I overcame it.

That’s how I got my content, it was trial & error. I think my blog grew because people could relate to it. It was honest and inviting, as I grew so did my audience. It’s been a fun, unexpected experience.

How is it like shooting out in Detroit? What makes the city unique from anywhere else in the world?

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My city is special because it’s empty. We don’t have billboards or storefronts, we don’t have fancy stores and outdoor shopping malls, we have a lot of construction and people headed to work. I know that sounds like a street photographer’s nightmare (and at times it is), but it’s rewarding knowing that once you capture an image it likely can’t be captured again.

When people are the main focal point of your shot then their emotion or reaction in the photo is only going to happen one time.

My city is unique because you never know what you’re going to get. It’s unpredictable. I think in other cities people have routines or a certain way of living. In New York you can do a cab project, in Chicago, you can capture people shopping, in Detroit, anything can happen, you just have to go out and see what the city offers you that day.

What are some tips or advice you wish you gave yourself if you started street photography all over again?

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To focus less on gear. I picked up my first camera in 2014, but I spent so much time trying to find the right kit that I didn’t start shooting until 2015. When I finally got that full frame Canon 6D and 24-105L lens I realized the entire setup was too big and immediately went back to something smaller and less expensive. Essentially what I started with.

The reason I went full frame was because I kept comparing myself to others. So, yeah, I guess that’s tip #2. Stop comparing yourself to others. After roaming the streets and shooting for myself I realized that different elements play into different areas. I don’t live in Korea, so I may not be able to get those compelling commute trips that Josh White captures. You have to shoot your environment and make the most of it.

And finally, remember that at times, you’re a fan. Some of the work I like I wish I could create, but when I attempt to I remember that I’m not emotionally connected to that work, I’m just a fan of it.

I enjoy looking at photographs from Martin Parr, because of the humor he captures in his images, however, that’s not the kind of content I enjoy creating. What entertains you doesn’t necessarily have to be created by you, shoot who you are, that’s what I’m trying to say.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own photography blog?

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To focus less on pride and more on humility. What I mean by that is don’t just show your best work, show everything, this isn’t your portfolio.

Your blog should be a hub to showcase your process, the internet is full of beautiful images, but how did you take them? I don’t want to just see the final product, but the steps you took to get there.

Any shout-outs you would like to give?

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Oh yeah, haha. Detroit is a really strong photography community, I don’t know about other cities, but we really root for each other. I have a ton of people I’d like to shoutout, but I’ll narrow it down to the ones who’ve been there for me:

PhotoVentureBoy (Chris), Bryan and Jermme. Those are my guys, whenever I need something they are there, if I have to pitch an idea, or film a video or if I just need some tough love, they always got my back.

In terms of who I like right now, Completd. He’s a local Detroit as well, but his photography is really inspiring to me. Especially his street work, I think I like it so much because that’s not his area of expertise, but he dabbles in it and the potential is so real.

Any last words?
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Just a thank you. Again I appreciate the opportunity to be interviewed. I hope everyone enjoyed my story.

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