MPJ Connection: Tell us a little about yourself
I’m Keith “The Bull” Stevenson and I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, graduating from Wichita Falls High School, Wichita Falls, Texas. Currently I’m the U.S. Marine Corps Combat Camera Limited Duty Officer (LDO), III Marine Expeditionary Force, at Okinawa, Japan.
MPJ Connection: How did you get started in photography?
My first experience with photography was as a senior in high school. I was invited to be a member of the yearbook club. During that experience, I attempted to shoot a few black and white photographs on film. The images did not turn out, but I feel that the experience was my real introduction to photography. A few years later, while sitting out a semester of college, I joined the U.S. Army Reserves. I happened across a Military Occupation Specialty Manual, and I flipped through it and by chance found photography listed. I had been pursuing a degree in commercial advertising and needed a photography course. So, I selected photography for my military career.
MPJ Connection: Branch of service you are or were in?
I joined the U.S. Army Reserves and completed Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in 1989 – affectionately known by many soldiers as “Fort Lost in the Woods.” I completed military occupation training at Lowry Technical Training Command, Lowry AFB, Denver, Colorado in 1990. In 1991, I joined the U.S. Marine Corps in an attempt to deploy in support of Operation Desert Storm.
MPJ Connection: If you attended SU/RIT what year did you graduate?
I graduated Syracuse University’s (SU) Military Photojournalism Program (MPJ) in 2000.
MPJ Connection: How has that training affected your photography?
The training that I received from SU has made all the difference in the world. I cannot express how much that program has changed my life. I learned how to think much more critically; it challenged me to see just how interconnected the world really is; the program made me aware of subsurface issues and dynamics that point like arrows to the bigger story; and there is so much more. Having access to lead-industry professionals, who stop in to offer students seasoned advice, and the high professional standard expected of students and displayed by professors was continuous and cannot be overstated. Add to this the hunger and excitement of classmates determined to excel. SU’s MPJ program offered a truly stimulating educational environment in which to study the professional craft of visual communication and develop as a professional person. I was inspired there like no other place, and I am still inspired by the experience to this day. It [the training experience] directly transfers and enables me to see the role of Combat Camera as a multidimensional and dynamic force for a sophisticated global information environment.
MPJ Connection: Who has influenced your photography the most?
I have been influenced by a multitude of people; I can’t point to one person. When I first started out, I would say the commercial photographer Dean Collins. Through his work, I gained an appreciation for quality of light. Certainly, at the top of the list would be David Sutherland (SU professor), because he helped me to understand the discipline that would enable me to define the shot I wanted. I would also mention Chip Maury, Eli Reed, and Ken Hackman (DOD Worldwide Military Workshop mentors) and Bill Frakes. Paul Jensen, a personal friend and mentor. My MPJ 2000 classmates Robert Houlihan, Preston Keres, Matthew Hevezi, Jeremy Lock, and Randell Robinson have all influenced me. I’ve been inspired by Robert Benson (MPJ 1998), Aaron Ansarov (MPJ 1998), Jeffrey Elliot (MPJ 1987), Lance Cheung (RIT 1994) and Si Pithong (MPJ 2008). Again, there are many people. Some of them I’ve had opportunity to work with and others I have not. I can’t list them all. Each has helped me in some way.
MPJ Connection: What do you love about photography?
I love and recognize all types of photography. Photography, more pointedly photojournalism, augments voice and opinions. Photojournalism can transcend the limitations of the spoken language, economic class, education, ethnicity, national borders and time. It can quietly seduce. It can scream an alarm of social injustices on behalf of those unable to get a proper forum. It records our greatest triumphs and successes; reminds us of our frailty; and cautions us with respect to past evils. It can bring us together, and it can separate. It is art. It is science. It is a responsibility. It is a public trust. What I love about photojournalism is that it is a vehicle that empowers.
MPJ Connection: What do you consider the best photo assignment you’ve covered to date?
One assignment would be a self-generated one. I was working at the Joint Combat Camera Center (JCCC), a non-shooting assignment as a staff sergeant. One day, I happened to look out a window of the Pentagon and noticed a large gathering. I instinctively grabbed a film camera from the office and ran down to the interior outdoor courtyard to see what was happening. It turned out that former President Jimmy Carter was there with the Honorable John H. Dalton, who was the Secretary of the Navy at the time. The gathering was a ceremony for the naming of the last Seawolf class attack submarine in honor of President Carter. I took some photos, captioned, and submitted the images through JCCC.
I feel that this experience helped to influence me to apply to and be accepted for the DOD Worldwide Military Workshop and a a year later the MPJ program at Syracuse. Today, one of my favorite images from that shoot is still in circulation.
MPJ Connection: What wisdom can you pass on to others?
Commit to your desire. Be determined and work hard. Find technically sound mentors who will hold you accountable for your work, generate creative friction, promote personal and professional growth and won’t let you cut corners. Believe in yourself.There is no better time to start.
MPJ Connection: How long have you been active in photography- In and out of the military?
I have been active in photography since 1990. Because I am an officer now, I deal with other aspects of building progressive combat camera programs and don’t shoot nearly as much as I’d like to. However, I still shoot as often as I can. During my free time, I try to maintain a level of proficiency and strive to continue to develop as much as possible. It’s difficult due to all the demands of being a combat camera officer. However, I make a personal point to participate in the Shoot Offs whether on location or via the International Shoot Off category.
MPJ Connection: What advice would you pass on to young photographers just starting out?
Develop an appreciation for the fundamentals of technique and be disciplined. Learn to love this. There is no replacement for hard work. Technological advances in camera systems can take you only so far. Technical soundness and discipline can take you all the way despite the latest advances in camera systems.
There has been a lot of technological advances in terms of equipment, access and distribution of images over the past few years. However, the ability to tell the story through good imagery still remains at the core. All the bells and whistles of the latest software and equipment cannot discern the “moment” during human interaction. To capture it [moments], you still have to practice intelligent technique, see the light, know what you want to articulate before attempting to capture the uniqueness of your subject or the peak moment, and employ the age-old art of patience. Technology cannot replace sound technique and discipline. And these are the basic things that concern me the most about when I think about our craft today and tomorrow.
I’d also encourage them to participate in various workshops and competitions. The annual DOD Worldwide Workshop is what inspired me originally. And there’s the annual Photographer of the Year competition, and workshops like the DC Shoot Off. These are excellent development tools where you also find other people passionate about photography. I’m also a huge fan of Momenta Workshops: Project New Orleans, and the Eddie Adams Workshop. There are many options to pick from.
MPJ Connection: What are you doing to advance the craft of photojournalism in your shop?
I spend a lot of time trying to reconnect personnel with identifying themselves as professional photojournalists or visual communicators. I try and motivate them to think outside of past limitations, to pursue their personal story interests, and to think outside of traditional workday hours. I encourage the idea of self-generated assignments and covering a subject over days versus minutes. When possible, I involve members of my team in workshops like the various Shoot Offs, Momenta Workshops and other events. I block off time for weekly technical training, whether it’s in-house theme-based competitions, critiques or profile studies of influential people in the industry. I try and promote the creative flame within each of my team members and show support for their individual creative ideas and interests. “Go find the meaningful story – the ones that you know about but are not being told. Take your time and fully capture it!”
MPJ Connection: Looking back, what would you do different to develop your photographic career?
That’s a good question. I have experienced a great career so far, but I have had to make sacrifices. My goal was to become a combat camera officer, and I planned for many years to attain that goal. I’ve wanted to develop combat camera programs, work to get more funding for programs, better equipment and training for personnel and try and push the envelope as a technical officer and leader. But in doing so, it became increasingly difficult for me to continue to develop technically. It’s not impossible, but it takes much more commitment. Also, officers are not eligible to participate in the Visual Information Award Program, so those avenues are no longer options for me.
So as a technical officer, I’m extremely thankful for opportunities like the DC and various shoot offs. Johnny Bivera, the National Association of Naval Photography (NANP), and all those involved do an outstanding job in putting on these events. And the International Shoot Off category allows everyone an option to participate, even if you can’t physically attend the event – a brilliant idea! Personally, I’m looking forward to this year’s San Antonio Shoot Off in September 2012. Looking back, I’d try to participate more in workshops and competitions like those that I’ve mentioned – DOD Worldwide Photographer’s Workshop, Photographer of the Year, NANP sponsored shoot offs, etc. There are many options for photographers and photojournalists today – don’t ever forget about the MPJ program! Definitely, these are opportunities that I’d try to take advantage of. - 30 -