Photographer Kim Keith has reduced the human figure to texture, shadow and form. And if you find yourself studying one of her fine black and white silver prints and wondering whether you're gazing at a portion of a shoulder and a knee, or a breast and a chin, Keith will have achieved her goal.
"I'm a detail person," Keith said. "Nobody's face appears in my bodyscapes. Everything is anonymous and abstract."
Keith recently opened her new studio at 2550 Copper Frontage Road, Suite 204, on Steamboat Springs' west side. The bright, second-floor space is a mix of the modern and the period, with gleaming oak hardwood floors and antique furniture upholstered in velveteen.
In addition to accepting commissions to photograph abstract nudes of clients, she is pursuing freelance commercial photography. Her commercial clients include Flying Dog Brewery.
Keith speaks with enthusiasm about the satisfaction she gets from solving visual problems for advertising clients. She brings a fine-art sensibility to a series of Western images that have been used by clients in the local real estate industry. Often, she collaborates on advertising campaigns with Cigar Graphics and Communications in Steamboat.
However, it is the bodyscapes series and her exploration of humanity that really motivates her.
"I do commercial work to support the fine art," she said. "I just want (the studio) to support itself. I think my soul would die if I didn't take photographs."
Keith's approach to the human figure is to use the rectangle of her camera's viewfinder to edit tightly in a way that reduces the body to angles, curves and lines. After gaining the trust of a subject, she directs him or her to contort the body in a way that creates unfamiliar compositions of limbs, hips and torsos.
"I have people push and twist their bodies. I tell them it might even hurt a little," she said with a laugh.
Many of her prints are dominated by areas of rich blacks and only linear highlights that define the human form.
"I had a professor who told me the majority (of an image) is what's in the shadows," Keith said. "The things that you light are the obvious things. To me, it's mysterious because you wonder what else is there. The things I like are the curve and the angle."
Keith studied photography at the Colorado Institute of Art in Denver. Before that, she studied psychology at the graduate level.
An understanding of psychology can be valuable for a photographer attempting to convince naked subjects to relax enough to allow her to get the images she is seeking. She acknowledges that a certain amount of tension in the studio contributes to the final work. Sometimes, it takes time and conversation until her subjects give her their trust.
"I realize I'm putting someone in a fairly uncomfortable situation, and I need to have them be pliable. There's a high level of trust -- for that person to give in to me and let me make them look good. It's also putting me in an uncomfortable situation."
The payoff comes when clients first look at their prints.
"It's so rewarding to me to find beauty in a person's body and have them look at the prints and say, 'Wow! That's me?'"
It's as if participating in the creation of a piece of art allows her subjects to transcend the ordinary reality of daily life.
On the commercial side of her photographic life, Keith is willing to undertake landscapes, fashion and lifestyle and tabletop photography of products.
Although she loves black and white photography and never will let go of traditional silver prints, she is equally comfortable with color photography and has embraced digital because of the convenience for clients.
Kim Keith Photography offers a spacious studio that easily accommodates large backdrops, props and products for advertising photography
"Sometimes I don't know if I'm flying or falling," Keith said. "But I can't believe I waited this long to do this, and I'm so glad I did."
Keith can be reached at 846-3680 or at email@example.com.