Veteran Still Photographer, Keith Brofsky reflects on his lifelong career in photography
When I see spectacular videos or images promoting various organizations and people on Bainbridge Island, it doesn’t always occur to me that of course, they were shot by one of our own. After all, Bainbridge is home to an enormous pool of artistic talent (as those who follow The Island Wanderer know because we frequently highlight artists from every genre in our articles).
For commercial photographer, Keith Brofsky, his career in photography and videography has been a rewarding, life-long pursuit that continues to provide growth and fulfillment. Although Keith has mainly been a Seattle based national photographer, he’s created photos and videos locally, such as his spectacular video for Visit Bainbridge “A quick glance at a remarkable place, Bainbridge Island, Washington” (you can view that here: Visit Bainbridge Island.mp4 from Keith Brofsky on Vimeo) and he shot and produced a short film depicting an ancient story about nature, symbiosis, avatars, and the power of working together, narrated by Joe Ives of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe (you can view that video here: https://vimeo.com/116126248).
In addition, he’s produced work for the Ovation! Musical Theater on Bainbridge for the last 22 years, which he considers a “labor of love”, and created image libraries for Bloedel Reserve and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA). More recently, he photographed his friend Clarence Moriwaki when he was running for city council, of that experience, he said, “We happened upon a rainbow at Lytle Beach, which made for very special images.”
Keith’s mother was an artist, specializing in fine art landscapes and portraits in oil before becoming an art teacher and his father was a jewelry salesman and watch repairman. “I had the genes from both,” he told me. “I liked the intricacies and intrigue of fine instruments (like cameras and watches) and I was a natural at drawing and creating art. Composition and storytelling through pictures is in my blood.”
His parents were avid amateur photographers, using their Brownie camera, they amassed binders and boxes filled with black and white prints documenting their lives. “It really captured my imagination. Here was a tool that froze time, that told stories for posterity,” he said. When he was 10, his mother turned the Brownie camera over to him, and using a darkroom kit for kids, he began developing and printing small prints in a darkened closet. Keith continued with his passion for photography during high school, taking pictures for the yearbook.
Although his mother discouraged a career in art for fear of becoming a “starving artist”—a valid piece of advice, Keith noted—the dye was cast and he couldn’t resist the pull towards a career in photography. Having grown up in Delaware, Keith decided to follow the old adage ‘go west young man’, and at the age of 17, he packed up his belongings and headed to Colorado where he lived in the Rockies for five years, skiing, shooting ski photos for the tourist industry, and attending Colorado Mountain College (which was renowned for producing National Geographic photographers in the 1970s).
After college, he moved to Denver for eight years and began his early career assisting established photographers as a freelance intern, handling the lights and loading the cameras. Many of the people he worked for did corporate and advertising work, which included catalogs, brochures, and ads for billboards. Through the three-year apprenticeship, Keith soon realized that commercial photography was the perfect niche for him. It allowed him to develop his own commercial photography business, eventually creating a large drive-in studio in the “LODO” section of Denver where trains rolled by his backyard. He worked with clients like Bollé Sunglasses and Gerry Baby Products. However, Denver was somewhat limited in its need for commercial photographers at the time and in 1989, he and his girlfriend, a graphic artist, packed up and moved to Seattle (a place his parents had lived in the early 1950s and constantly talked about).
Seattle was far more sophisticated and vibrant, designers ruled and won more national awards—the digital age was about to burst and that meant more opportunities. For the first few years, Keith maintained a photo studio in Belltown, but mostly did location photography for corporate clients. “The studio started feeling like an albatross,” he said, “so in 1994, I decided to give up the cost and burden of having a large space to rent. Instead, we bought the house on Bainbridge to raise a family and get back to a more rural life like I’d experienced in the mountains of Colorado.” That was 29 years ago and he’s lived here ever since.
Keith has also taught photography in various capacities over the years and done guest speaking at Bainbridge High School’s photo program, and was an adjunct professor for the University of Washington, in Italy. “It was a plum offer to teach design students a little more about using their cameras.”
Keith works on projects of all scales, “It’s become a lifestyle and a language at this stage. I generally don’t differentiate my approach. It’s all about finding the essence of the subject, although the larger the project, the more brainpower it requires to achieve.” He’s also delved into drone photography, “I purchased a drone, and have amazed myself shooting photos and videos with what I call ‘a flying camera’. It opens up a whole new viewpoint from which to explore,” he said.
Although traditional photography is his lifelong love, Keith admits that the iPhone has “captured my imagination for its ease and the fact that it’s always in my pocket… the best camera is the one that’s always with you.” As mobile devices have improved their camera capabilities and resolution, it’s become easier to take it seriously. However, he noted that it’s a different approach, as a traditional camera requires you to gaze through a viewfinder and scrutinize what you’re seeing, “The iPhone is more reactionary and immediate. It’s a capturing tool. Also, it’s not just a camera…”, he explained. “It’s a color photo lab in my pocket. The images can be enhanced and improved dramatically in various apps. Given that most of us are viewing imagery online, in social media, it is a rather effective tool. It’s immediate and creative which are two features I’ve always embraced.”
In 2021, Keith won 2nd Place in the Lifestyle division of the 14th annual IPPAWARDS. The image was shot using his iPhone X on a rooftop in Seattle. The contest got written up in the Washington Post, and Apple CEO Tim Cook even took notice to congratulate the winners.
In addition to his commercial photography, Keith has a Fine Arts selection, that are available for purchase on his website, however he noted that although the images can be purchased, he really doesn’t pursue that market specifically. “The images I show are what feel like fine art, most of which were done on my own as opposed to being assigned,” he explained. “Sometimes assignments offer opportunities to capture a fine art image. Traveling to new places is a great way to relight the spark. But there is a distinct difference between shooting for someone else versus doing it for self-gratification. The latter is a relaxing, meditative pursuit… like allowing myself to be 10 years old, exploring the wonderment again. It’s the gift that hooked me at a young age, and it’s one I cherish to this day.”
Going forward, Keith is getting ready to “launch” his youngest daughter and gradually transition into retirement as he continues to work on various assignments. “I eventually hope to have the freedom that at least semi-retirement can bring to pursue my own interests like more teaching, creating fine art and traveling.”
In parting, I asked Keith if there was anything else he’d like to share about his career and life on Bainbridge. “I just want to convey how fortunate I feel having chosen to Bainbridge to call my home so many years ago,” he said. “I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. It really is a wonderful community. It is always such a great feeling to run into so many familiar faces while out and about. It’s one of the primary reasons I live here. Being asked to create photography and videography locally, is all the more gratifying. I hope to contribute more to the community, however I can in the coming years.”
You can find Keith’s work on his website: Seattle Based Commercial & Advertising Photography & Videography (brofsky.com)
He also writes The Blogsky, which shares some of his recent (and local) videos and photography.
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