Kim Keever

Painting or Abstract Photography?

A two-year-old thought turned into reality when art photographer Kim Keever was searching for a way to create atmosphere in his tabletop landscape images. Having tried smoke and clear plastic, Kim’s eureka moment came when a friend was throwing out a 100 gallon aquarium. He decided to start experimenting with painted water and his unique approach proved to be a hit. 

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“I was a painter for a long, long time and eventually I got bored. I didn’t feel I could add anything more to the history of painting,” Kim lamented, explaining why he turned to photography.

“I actually thought about trying my technique for two years before actually going for it, but once I did, I thought ‘oh my god, it looks great!’ I love the randomness of it. That’s what is most pleasurable; it’s always a wonderful surprise. I choose the colours, but they go their own ways so I never know what the final picture is going to look like or what shapes will come out.”

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Kim admits that his process is an odd way to work, as with conventional art the artist or painter builds the image, while Kim simply waits to see what happens. His creations take on a life of their own once the paint enters the water and it’s one of the features of his art that he enjoys and draws most inspiration from.

“The tank, filled with water, almost becomes a painting machine. I pour the ingredients in and snap away,” Kim explains. “It’s simple, but it requires a lot of work.” As simplistic as he describes it, his work takes an immense amount of patience and meticulous attention to detail. Kim will shoot anything from 10 to 100 shots every time he fills the tank, and then looks through each 100-megapixel file, scanning for shapes and compositions that catch his eye. Kim often spends months working on the selected images from a single shoot and has taken over 35,000 shots with his current abstract series.

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Inspired by the work of American photographer Cindy Sherman and her approach, Kim began experimenting with different takes on landscape photography.

He chose to start shooting tabletop landscapes where the challenge is to create scenes with depth and scale, despite their miniature size. But Kim faced one challenge in particular. “I couldn’t get an atmosphere,” Kim recalled.

“It was a real problem. So at that point I began surrounding the tabletop with clear plastic, and I played with having a roof over the top of it. That helped because it allowed me to create a fog with smoke and so on, but eventually it seemed to make sense to try paint in water to solve the challenge of creating an atmosphere.”

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The resulting evolution of that early technique that Kim stumbled across gave rise to his immensely captivating abstract project. “It was a real turning point in my life. At the time, a friend of mine was throwing out a 100 gallon aquarium, which was perfect,” Kim explained. He eventually moved onto a 200-gallon tank, which he uses now.

The second key turning point in Kim’s photography was switching from using 4x5 large format film to Hasselblad digital medium format. Investing in the digital system allowed Kim to continue creating large prints with the added benefits of a speedier workflow, fast flash sync and other advancements of Hasselblad digital medium format cameras.

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I started my underwater photography in 1995, and at the time I was using a 4x5 camera. Then one day a friend of mine came over with a 50-megapixel Hasselblad H5D-50c and immediately I thought to myself ‘oh my god, I’ve gotta have it!’ I worked with that for five years or so, but then when the H6D-100c came out, well, I had to have that too. I really love it. The user interface is great. And of course, with all of those extra megapixels I can make much larger prints. The thing that drew me to the Hasselblad system initially was the speed, for one thing, versus 4x5. But also, being able to see the images on a high quality screen made it easier to judge what I was shooting and make adjustments more quickly.

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Kim decided to invest in the H6D-100c, primarily because it offered him the option to deliver larger prints. However, capturing photos at up to 100-megapixels also gives Kim the opportunity to crop into his compositions significantly and still produce quality large prints from the cropped images.

“Some people aren’t willing to give anything digital a chance; as far as they’re concerned, they have to shoot film. But I’m looking at the big picture. What does the whole print look like? It’s irrelevant to me whether it looks like film or digital. It’s more important that the files look good. So for me it’s all about the efficiency of working."

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“I just can’t imagine returning to film, aside from the unbelievable cost. The amount of images I take would translate into an incredible amount of film expense.”

To create his stunning abstract images, Kim Keever works with a 6x2x21/2ft tank and shoots with the Hasselblad H6D-100c, partnered with the HC 3,5/50mm II and Omni lighting surrounding the setup.

See more of Kim's work here.

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