Keren Stanley: Of Surreal Photography and Alternate Worlds

All images by Keren Stanley. Used with permission.

Here in The Phoblographer, we put the spotlight on a lot of impressive conceptual portraits, especially those with a touch of the otherworldly. The latest of these are by Keren Stanley, a self-taught  fine art and conceptual photographer who builds alternate worlds rooted in reality. Today, let’s join her explorations of beauty and pain, addictions, and the transient nature of identity through surreal photography.

South Africa-based Stanley discovered photography quite by accident when a friend encouraged her to study it. She jumped at the chance, wanting some direction and something to focus on. “Photography made some sense. Since I was a child, I had always wanted to evoke emotion in others and have always been drawn to film, and so I bought an entry level Canon 1000D 6 years ago and just began shooting.”

Soon, she found her biggest artistic influencers in Joel Robison, Laura Makabresku, and Brooke Shaden. She also grew to love the work of Kristina Kashtanova whose creativity she described as literally knowing no bounds.

Today, Stanley uses a Canon 5D mk1 with a 50mm prime lens — nothing fancy but it allows her to create what she sees in her mind. She creates for the honest, simple, and “cut-the-bullshit” answer: because she enjoys it.

“Because I am human and, like you, I have the innate need to express and make sense of my internal universe. To create. Because I like making beautiful things.” Otherwise, she becomes depressed and uncentered.

“Everything we create, from our careers, relationships, actions or words we speak, is always a reflection of ourselves. Nowhere is this more visible or more keenly felt than in the art we create. My life journey is the context for my art.”

Relating more with being a creator than a documenter, she found that her love for film has enabled her to “spend a lot of time daydreaming about worlds not unlike this one, with maybe a bit more magic Photoshopped in.”

“Once I’m inspired to create something, I’ll draw it out very roughly, noting down keywords that I’d like to convey, like violence, grace, transformation, etc. and then plan it logistically. Location, wardrobe, props if any, then head out to shoot. I shoot almost exclusively in the ‘magic hour’, that time when the suns just dipped below the horizon and there aren’t any harsh shadows or sunshine.”

For photographers like Stanley, emotive photography is a tool for their continuous exploration of their identity and everything that shapes them. As a consequence, she believes it “purifies” her of everything that isn’t part of who she is, and makes her art more authentic.

“In a way, this is not just my story but the human story. The story of releasing the societal constructs, labels, identities and influences, painful experiences, disappointments and shame to remember who we really are, in our truest forms. And in so doing reclaim our creativity, to express ourselves creatively in all aspects of our lives.”

Visit Keren Stanley’s website, Facebook, and Instagram to see more of her beautiful surreal portraiture.