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Meet Keiki-Lani “Keiki” Knudsen

Today we’d like to introduce you to Keiki-Lani “Keiki” Knudsen.

Keiki-Lani “Keiki”, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I got into photography in high school by chance; when I started taking classes my freshman year, they were just bringing back the program and it was intended only for upperclassmen yet somehow, I got in to have it as elective. Surprisingly enough, I failed my first semester of intro to photography, not because I didn’t do well, but because I didn’t exactly have the means to do all the coursework. Back then, I was shooting on a Fujifilm Finepix Z point and shoot (I later upgraded to a Nikon D3100) & that didn’t really give me a lot to work with. During that time, we spent a lot of time in the darkroom & that fundamentally kickstarted my passion and love for photography.

After high school, I didn’t really shoot much for about two years. Again I found myself without a camera again and resorted to spending a lot of my time photographing with my phone or with my 35mm film camera, the Canon AE-1.

Eventually, I left Hawai’i to move to California and figure out my life a little bit more. I had already completed two semesters of college back home & during those first few months in the mainland, I decided to take up some more photography classes at the local community college before I fully commit myself to getting a degree in Photography.

While working to get my bachelor’s, I spent a lot of time playing around with photography. I couldn’t tell you how many times I flip-flopped between subject matters and different styles – there was a lot of trial and error until I found my style. I initially started as a lifestyle photographer with more of an emphasis on surf & beachwear. During that time in my life, I ended up working as an intern for Volcom as a Global Product Imagery intern as well as a photographer’s assistant.

As that was going on, I started to explore more and more into the festival world. I started to take my camera into festivals that would allow it and began photographing people enjoying themselves. I started to document all of the really intimate moments people were experiencing, the way they laughed and danced with friends, the way the art installations looked in the day vs at night, all of the little details and eventually, kind of just fell into where I’m at now.

Has it been a smooth road?
It’s definitely not been a smooth road from the start. Like I said before, there were a LOT of trials and errors. My parents in the beginning didn’t really support my career choice, with all the instability and uncertainty and all that. That was really hard, but I somehow just kept going and made it a point to not let that stop me.

For a while, I didn’t have a camera of my own – at least not a DSLR. I didn’t really get that until 2016. I spent a lot of my time doing a lot of free work just to build my client base and connections. That was a really hard thing for me because here I was wanting to make a living off of my art, but I had to first get through that time so that I could build a client base that values me and my art.

You hear all the time how hard a creative field is, but you never really understand or grasp it until you’re in it. Even now, with all of what is going on because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t fully understand how much of a gamble it is until all of my work disappeared for the foreseeable future until things kind of get back to “normal”. But even now I don’t really let that phase me I guess, I love what I do so much and that uncertainty kind of just comes with the territory. Not everyone can get passed that and it’s definitely not for everyone if you really value financial stability haha.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I work as a lifestyle, fashion, and event coverage photographer. I get a lot of recognition out of my work for my portraits.

I feel like, among all other things, as a photographer I’m really proud that I have never really felt a need to conform to what everyone else is doing or to shoot like anyone else – I’ve kind of just always followed my own intuition and done what feels right for my style and what inspires me to keep shooting. I spend a lot of time playing with light through using prisms, in-camera multiple exposures and things like that, stuff to really change a viewer’s perspective or add a little depth to my work if that makes sense.

When it comes down to it, I go about photography in a really unconventional way. I shoot to capture moments and color that evoke some sort of feeling in me. There’s this desire and constant need to document these intangible moments and feelings and create a tangible photograph to go along with that sense of wonder and mystery towards life and I feel like that translates a lot through my portraits as well as I guess my everyday musings?

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I mean, LA is definitely not an easy place to start out – there’s a lot of competition. BUT, there are so many insanely talented people from LA creating incredible art. The community of creatives here and how much they support each other is so insanely special — there’s really nowhere else quite like it.

However, no place will ever be easy to start. You just have to go out there and start making art and doing your thing. At the end of the day, art is supposed to make you or the viewer feel something whether it’s good or bad.

Wherever you’re starting out at, I’d recommend just going for it and doing whatever you can to grow as an artist.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
For my self portrait: Photographed by Matthew Parchen

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