Keith Barraclough was born in England and grew up as an embassy brat, moving around the world with his father, who was an economist in the U.S. diplomatic service. Their travels took them as far afield as Belgium and Zambia. It was in Zambia, while looking through the viewfinder of his father’s camera, that Keith first discovered his passion for photography. Today, he is one of New York’s top photographers, specializing in design, advertising, and portraiture. As well as working for National Geographic, one of his current initiatives is “The Redhead Project,” a series of portraits of natural redheads. Keith lives in New York City.
Q & A
You have done a wide variety of work, from corporate to fashion and advertising. Where does your heart lie?
Portraiture! I love taking pictures of people. For me, it’s about making someone feel comfortable in front of the camera when they are not used to getting their picture taken. With a celebrity or sportsperson who gets their picture taken all the time, with big lights and things, it’s a different kind of comfortable. You have to make them feel comfortable with you, not the process, because they’re used to the process. I really enjoy discovering the [person’s] personality, and where my personality meets theirs makes a connection. I’m not going to make a complete connection with everybody I photograph. But if there’s something we’ve done in the past, music we might like or a travel destination we’ve been to, I can tie into that.
Which photographers influenced you?
Timothy O’Sullivan always comes to mind. He worked in about the 1870s, in the Midwest and West, photographing people and landscapes. What I admire most is his tenacity. He had to transport a darkroom with him on mules, and he required a huge amount of patience waiting for the right moment. I can take a Land Rover to get to the top of a hill. He had to take his mule and everything with him. But the pictures he got were absolutely stunning. I think of him when I go out shooting.
You are currently working on something called “The Redhead Project.” Tell us about that.
The project started from a corporate shoot. I was looking for a personal project where I could take portraits. When we first started, it was just white on white, so all you concentrate on is the hair, the eyes, and maybe the freckles. I want to know who these people are, and their personalities. We photographed a female soccer player the other day. She wanted to wear a nice dress. I said, why don’t you bounce the soccer ball on your head? So you get that mix of soccer and going out at night. We also have a video component. We’re up to just over 170 redheads in two years.
What inspires you in your work, Keith?
I love angles and architecture. I think that’s why I like living in the city. My New York photos are all angles. They are not necessarily all close-ups. There are buildings with the sky. But the photos are detailed, with angles and points. Architecture is also what I’m attracted to with travel photography. Even with portraiture, it’s more about where they put their hand or the angle of their elbow compared to how they’re standing or the curves of their body when they throw their hip out one way. Ultimately, life inspires me. It’s what I see when I’m walking around.
National Geographic Image Collection Interview With Keith Barraclough By Simon Worrall