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Picture Perfect: An Interview with Keeley Parenteau

December 10, 2019 by Stephen Spiewak

Keeley Parenteau Interview

An interview with Keeley Parenteau

Keeley Parenteau photo
Point and shoot. Simple, right? In the age of increasingly impressive cell phone cameras and glitzy Instagram pages, photography has taken on a different meaning. After all, why would you take the time to learn about shutter speed, ISO and aperture when filters and special settings can do the heavy lifting? For some, the art form is less about likes and more about impactful storytelling. For Chicago-based photographer Keeley Parenteau, photography is a way to bring moments to life. Vivid Seats sat down with the talented photojournalist to learn about her career, her love of music and more.

Vivid Seats: When did you first take an interest in photography?
Keeley Parenteau: When I was in high school I was obsessed with movies. The more I watched them I started paying attention to the cinematography. When I was 16, I got my first camera with the intention of making movies. Through using the camera I ended up falling in love with photography instead. I’ve been hooked ever since.

VS: How did your time at Columbia College help prepare you for a career in photography?
KP: Columbia has helped me grow in so many ways, not just as a photographer, but also as a businesswoman. Studying photojournalism puts me at an interesting crossroad of learning about photography and journalism. I’ve had two amazing professors in particular that have helped me grow so much in both fields. Jackie Spinner has helped me grow professionally, and in doing so, fostered my love for the field of journalism. She’s really helped guide my career and I think was one of the first professors I had that especially believed in me. At the same time, Melissa Ann Pinney has helped me really hone in on my photography. I think Columbia gave me a really unique opportunity to study under strong woman that were masters in their fields. They helped me learn more about the industry and gain confidence in my artistic abilities. 

VS: You’ve shot portraits, concerts and more. What’s your favorite type of shoot and why?
KP: My favorite photos to take are definitely portraits. There is something so personal about portraiture. There is also such a specificity in every individual face and expression. I think that's what makes portraits so exciting to me.

VS: When it comes to music, how important is your relationship with the artist or venue you’re shooting? How do you foster that?
KP: I think relationships are very important but for me it has to be my level of fascination with the subject. Like when I meet an artist for the first time we don’t really have a relationship, you know? But my fascination and what emotion they give me is really what actually carries the shoot. The same goes for a venue.  if I’m fascinated by it, I will pay more attention to details for sure.  

VS: You’ve been able to experience plenty of incredible live events thanks to your profession. Which have been the most memorable?
KP: I mean to be quite honest there are too many to count, but I recently got the opportunity to work with Dreamville and that was really special to me. I’ve been a huge fan of everyone there for years now, so being able to work with them was really meaningful. They are also such amazing performers so capturing them was truly thrilling. I’ve been really blessed to work with and meet such respected Chicago artists like Dgainz, Young Chop, Alex Wiley, Taylor Bennett and so many more. It has been surreal to witness so much talent displayed all over Chicago especially. This city has one of the most captivating music scenes in the world and I’m just lucky to be here to witness it.

VS: What are some of the challenges facing today’s photographers and what do you do to overcome them?
KP: Social media is a really powerful thing. On a macro scale, I think it has both helped and hurt photography. Social media sites like instagram have created a saturation in the market. While more people are able to see a photographer’s work, it's a much more competitive field. Competition can be good, but it can also have an influence on a photographer’s morale, in addition to job prospects. Seeing other photographers get opportunities I want can sting. In figuring out how to turn what may be envy into motivation, one collective challenge lies in supporting talented colleagues when they receive those sought-after opportunities. There is room for everyone to find their own versions of success. 

VS: You currently serve as the photo editor for South Side Weekly. How have the constant changes to both photography and journalism shaped your career?
KP: I think this is a very pivotal time in journalism, especially with the way it has been tested so heavily in recent years. In a city like Chicago, I believe journalism serves a key role in almost every facet of its being. Since I am really at the starting line of my career I am still learning how all of this is shaped. What I know now is that I want to cover stories that are thoughtful and have the potential to push for social change. I want to show a more accurate representation of Chicago, which makes me so proud to be apart of South Side Weekly. I think our grassroots journalism gives us a unique opportunity to represent and showcase our community in a more thoughtful way than other major publications have in the past. 

VS: What advice do you have for young photographers?
KP: Shoot as often as you can. Also, networking is the key to jump starting your career in an industry as volatile as photography. Photography can be such a fun and collaborative art form if you embrace all the challenges of growing as an artist. 

See Keeley's work on her website and follow her on Instagram.

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