Artist Spotlight: Chad Keyes


Ryan Johnson | Polaroid Spectra | Silver Shade

Welcome to this weeks Artist Spotlight. Today we bring you another amazing photographer from Utah, Chad Keyes. Seriously, whats in the water out there? We got in touch with Chad through Instagram and knew he would be a perfect feature on the blog.

Remember people, #snapitseeit and @snapitseeit on Instagram and Twitter help us find these amazing artist. Anyways, Chad has cool friends, likes BBQ and has a facination with dinosaurs. Find him on the web at the following links.

Facebook | Instagram



Tell us a little about yourself. Who you are and what you do.

I’m a Graphic Designer/Photographer.
I live in Salt Lake City, But Grew up all over the place, mostly the south. The south never really leaves you, especially the bbq. I grew up as a fine artist, mostly painting and drawing, taking photos here and there. I hate being indoors most of the time, unless I’m in a really well designed place. I’m obsessed with space (as in the big area outside of our atmosphere) beyond my ability to express. Favorite dinosaur is the T-Rex, because he’s the best. You’ll learn more as/if you read on.

How did you get into instant photography?

As someone who lived a good portion of their life during the actual Polaroid days, I was introduced at a very young age. I always had a fascination with the Polaroid One Steps we had lying around everywhere. I thought it was the coolest thing ever that you could just point the camera, push the button – and a photo would pop out! Not only that, but you got to watch the picture appear right in your hands. As a kid it was as good as magic. For me, I don’t think that fascination or excitement has ever died. There was a period in high school and college where I may have neglected shooting instant film (except the occasional polaroid on a friends camera), but that fire has definitely been rekindled in the past couple years! It’s my favorite way to shoot at the moment – I can’t get enough.

What is your favorite camera used for instant photography?

A few months ago I bought a Polaroid 180. I found one for sale locally and jumped right on it. I was introduced to the camera last year by my friend Ryan. He let me make a few shots on his and I was addicted the moment I put both hands on that thing. I searched for months for a good deal, and now finally have my own. It’s truly one of the coolest cameras I’ve ever owned.
I think there’s a lot of hype over vintage stuff (especially cameras), and I definitely agree, sometimes older IS cooler. But this camera isn’t just some novelty object, it’s a seriously amazing piece of machinery. I have all of the control that I would with my other manual cameras. I can choose between a huge variety of adapters, lens kits, shutter speeds and apertures for complete control of the image. Fuji makes brand new professional quality film for the things for a really great price. It’s really a perfect setup!
If Polaroid was still making these things, I would definitely be getting a commission right now.
I spent a few days with the Brothers Wright and they were packing around this huge camera with a waist level finder that you practically put your whole face in. The lens on this thing was huge and the depth of field you could get was about as thin as a piece of paper (Bible paper!) – it was beautiful. I got to shoot a couple frames of Fuji 3000b on it, and wish I had the chance to do more. The camera is a 110a/110b Frankensteined to 4×5 (aka. Frankie). Brandon took a couple of shots of me with it that were just great. He was shooting some expired Polaroid 4×5 film. It’s seriously a shame that film is no longer made, it is incredible. But that camera would have to be a favorite as well.

What instant camera have you not shot with, but would love to try?

Believe it or not, I’ve never shot with an sx-70. I know, I know – instant blasphemy. I’ve always wanted to, but it’s just eluded me all these years. I have a polaroid 600 that a friend gave me, and I really love shooting impossible’s monochrome films on it, but no sx-70 yet. That will probably change soon though… hopefully.
I have another friend who keeps offering to let me use his Mamiya Universal, but I’ve never done it. That’s another camera I’d love to use. I’ve seen some of his work from it and it’s really beautiful.
I’m just one of those guys that really gets attached to his own cameras and wants to learn them well before expanding to too much gear. Not sure if that’s the right way or not, but that’s how I do.

What’s your favorite Impossible film or pack film type?

Oh man, this is a hard one. I’m so bad at picking favorites. Each film type has it’s own individual strengths…
I’d have to say that I love Fuji’s instant film line-up. FP-3000b is the coolest black and white film! I love how contrasty it is. The blacks are so inky and smooth. You can just get lost in all of that dark space – it amazing. At the same time, it handles highlights so well and everything is so sharp and clean. Everything looks like an old high-fashion editorial from Chanel when shot on it. It’s brilliant!
I’m equally addicted to Fuji’s FP-100c. The colors you can get out of that film, especially when shooting in full sun, is just mind blowing. It’s so saturated, but not unnatural. I love everything about it, except maybe the lack of exposure latitude. You have to be spot on while metering or it’s just crap, at least as far as my skills and opinion go.
The truly great thing about both of these films are what you get right out of the camera. You get a beautiful archival print and a scannable negative. Often times I like the negative better than the print – it holds a ton more detail. The black & whites are so easy to scan and invert. A quick levels adjustment and there you go – an amazing, high resolution digital file to do whatever you like with. It’s the best of all worlds really.
I will never let a digital only shooter get away with saying digital is more convenient, or faster, in any way. In a matter of minutes I can make a professional quality print, a negative and a digital file, all from one shutter click – not sure of anything else made in the last ten years that can touch it.
We can’t forget about any of the other kids. Fuji Instax film is the best thing since original polaroid film in my opinion, as far as color, speed, cost, availability & photo lifespan goes. They really hit the nail on the head with this stuff. I shoot the larger version of it and it’s great. The Instax 210 is as large as a UFO (the ones I’ve seen at least), but it makes great photos. I like the mini film too, it’s just that the larger version actually reminds me of what you got when polaroid was still making film.
Last, but certainly not least, is Impossible film. I have so much respect for what these guys are doing. I can’t even begin to understand the amount of work they’ve put into keeping this film alive and keeping all of those old Polaroid cameras full of that white-bordered film. I plan on shooting a lot more of it. Right now though I’m still trying to get a grip on how the film works. Some of my shots are great, others I just haven’t pinned down my technique. Maybe that sx-70 would help me out 😉

How have you incorporated instant film into your regular workflow?

I carry the 180 everywhere I go now. When I’m shooting with models or whatever, I always like to make a print of at least one of the styles we’re doing. Sometimes the instant shot dictates the look I pursue with my other cameras. It’s great really! I feel that’s what a good camera should do – inspire you by it’s possibilities as a tool. Instant film has done that for me. It’s also great to be able to hand someone a print at the end of a shoot. It really changes the whole vibe.
My favorite instance of this was a couple of months ago… I was wandering around Joshua Trees national Park with Josh Moates (and a bunch of other amazing photo friends), from Indie Film lab, and the desert was just glowing under the last few minutes before sunset. If you’ve never been in the desert at sunset you’re missing out. Everything changes – it’s amazing! I had my polaroid 180 around my neck, loaded up with Fuji 100c. Josh was just standing there soaking up this amazing moment and I kinda just positioned him a little and grabbed this really cool shot. There’s no way to capture something like this accurately outside of your retinas, but I swear, when the two minutes were up and I pulled that print away from the negative it felt really close. We were both really stoked on it and I don’t think my fingers ever touched the photo again once he saw it – hahaha.
But I’m proud of that and it wouldn’t have happened without instant film. He was heading out of town that next day, and had a solid memory to take away with him, one that he could hold right in his hands. That’s how I incorporate it into my regular work. That’s one of the ways it has become important to me and to others.
(By the way Josh, if you’re reading this, scan that photo and send me a print!)

How would you describe your voice or vision with instant photography? (does it differ from your other work?)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big iPhone shooter. My friends even call me by my Instagram name, @chadosaurus, or some version of my name with the appendix ‘osaurus. Surprisingly, my instant work is approached very much like my mobile photography. I don’t know if it’s the similar focal length, or the fact that they are both considered instant photography, but I shoot them very much the same. Kinda funny I guess. I shoot some medium format (Mamiya 645) and a ton of 35mm (film & digital), and approach those very differently than i do my instant work. There is something about the way you shoot and think about your subject when you know you are going to see the results immediately, as opposed to receiving film scans/prints, or even viewing the results later that day on a computer screen.
I feel more adventurous with instant as well, like I’m willing to try more things and experiment more. Doesn’t make sense since the failures cost a little more, but that’s just how I feel. Maybe it’s because I’m able to see the results more quickly, and make adjustments right there on the spot and try it again. That’s kind of exciting to be able to do that with photography. I’ve been experimenting a little more with double exposures as well. I’m really stoked to explore that avenue more in the future.
Right now I’m trying to find the best way to display the prints I have that are starting to pile up. As opposed to my other work, it’s not as easy to just make a large print and frame it, or make a hard-bound book full of the images. These little prints are just begging to be displayed somehow and that’s what I’m trying to figure out at the moment.

Any personal projects we should know about?

I’m doing a trip through the Southwest really soon and am hoping to shoot a TON of instant film. I’m in love with the desert and really want to bring that home with me in my photos.
I would really like to try some things with lifts and development manipulation as well. I was assisting a friend the other day, and he went to pull a shot from a Polaroid 180… the film snagged in the rollers and looked all crazy. We both thought the shot was ruined until he pulled it apart later that day. It ended up being one of the coolest instant shots of the day. So, you never know with instant film, sometimes mistakes end up being just what the photo needed.
That’s the kind of thing I’m hoping to experiment a little more with. We’ll see what happens.

What other photographers do you look up too?

I’ve gotta say, I feel really fortunate to be good friends with some of my favorite photographers. Not sure how this happened, but Utah has this really great photo community with so many talented photographers – a ton of them really being into instant photography.
My buddy Ryan Muirhead does things with a Polaroid 180 & 195 that need to be made into a documentary. If you’re not familiar with his work, it’s time to come out from under that rock. He’s amazing.
Also love watching my friend Ryan Johnson work with his Polaroid Spectra and sx-70. He does some brilliant work with those. The kid can definitely make those cameras shine. The textures he’s getting and his compositions within a regular old square are just admirable.
I got to chill with Michael Ash Smith for about three days and watch him work his instant wizardry. I’ve gotta say, that dude has talent just pouring out of his fingertips. He was doing some crazy good things with his Polaroid Land Camera. One of the days, he was photographing my friend in this small room with just a tiny window. The light was beautiful and really subtle. The mood he captured using just that small light source, a couple white reflecting walls and a mirror was really great.
Also, back in March I was in Vegas helping with the shooting of The Framed Network’s, Film Season 2. I got to meet some incredibly talented artist during that, one of them being Jan Scholz. He’s one of the most soft spoken, yet powerful image makers I’ve met. The stuff he’s doing with instant film is just ridiculous. Ridiculous! His portraits look like paintings. He’s a master of his craft and of seeing and capturing light the way it needs to be done.
Some others folks I admire: Briana Morrison, Brothers Wright, Cameron Ballensky, Kristopher Orr, Parker Fitzgerald, and probably more people I’ll think of when the interview is posted. But all these individuals do amazing things with instant film. I’m truly inspired by the work they create – makes me want to be better all the time.

What advice would you give to someone just getting into instant photography?

Get the camera you want and start shooting. I’m guilty of this too, but so many people are waiting for the perfect time, and perfect place, and the perfect opportunity to start doing what they love to do. You’re always going to wish you had more time, or money, or whatever. I say buy that camera, load up on film and go have fun. Be a kid again! Explore and experiment – make an adventure out of it. Instant photography is fun (this comment may seem odd considering most of my work is somber looking). Who cares if your photos suck. Everyone makes bad photos!! Honestly, I’ve seen some of my favorite photographers “no show photos”… yeah, everyone has bad photo days. That doesn’t make them or you a bad photographer. What makes someone a bad photographer is not making photos.
Oh, and when it’s really windy outside hold on to your photos really tight when you pull them from the camera 😉

Where does your inspiration come from? Do you seek it out or wait till it finds you?

To quote one of my favorite lines from Empire Records: ” Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.” – Lucas
Seriously though, this is probably the most difficult question for me because I’m at a point right now where I’m trying to find what inspires me. I really love film(movie film), and I really love fine art. At one point or another in my life I wanted to be a movie director and a painter. I still have some emotional attachment to those dreams and probably draw a lot of inspiration from them. I love visiting museums and looking at paintings. I bet I get more inspiration from them than I realize.



  1. Great interview! Great images! Love Chad’s work!

  2. Chad is amazing, and I LOVE this feature!

  3. Not only is he a gifted artist. He’s a wonderful, inspiring person as well.

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