Reflections Through Photography

I took this self-portrait during the many years I focused on a Northern Minnesota sanctuary space for a group of mostly gay men who self-identify as “radical faeries.” The project started as an assignment to photograph a group that was helping a fellow faerie navigate the final stages of living with AIDS. I became smitten with the community, their manifesto, and wooded surroundings, so I spent seven years attending annual gatherings, doing interviews, and then publishing a book on the community. After the book was published, I continued to attend the gatherings. They brought me great joy, and became a place of abundant creativity as well as self-reflection.

The first time I got on a plane by myself I was five years old and off to see my grandmother in Durham, North Carolina. I remember the large round tag the airline attached to my outfit that displayed my name. Even now I can feel the embarrassment of wearing that tag, as if I were going to get lost like a purse.

My grandmother, Birdie Pickett, was the traveler in the family. Her husband was a railroad man and was not interested in flying. In order to have the life she wanted, she set up her own cottage industry and baked thousands of pounds of fruitcakes to fund her wanderlust and love of antiques. Photographs of her on camels in front of the pyramids, standing with monks in the Himalayas, or at dinner tables with strangers remind me that her desire to see the world has been passed down to me like a treasured heirloom.

Birdie fed the travel bug when I was young by bringing me on a whirlwind 14-day trip around Europe that included a seven-course dinner and a nightclub show in Rome for my twelfth birthday. Years later, when I discovered photography in college, she bought me a professional camera which helped to start me on my career path.

My grandmother’s generosity continued even after her death. With the inheritance she left me, I set out on a solo journey to India, carrying 300 rolls of film. The next year, landing an assignment to make photos for a travel guide book series on shopping, I spent months documenting cool stuff for books featuring London, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Milan. The year after that, I set off to see my sister who was working in Senegal.

Find images at keripickett.com

I am interested in family and community and how our lives reflect our values. I feel a responsibility to make meaningful pictures, pictures that can heal, honor, and remember. Whether I am photographing my own family or photographing unscripted life on the street, I have the same goal: to make images reflective of the human condition. I approach a scene as a historian, aiming to find a universal truth or feeling in a scene or moment.

My images were made with a Rolleiflex twin-lens camera with a waist-level viewfinder and no automatic anything. The 120mm film I typically use allows for 12 exposures per roll. Once in the darkroom, my largest developing tanks can only hold four rolls of 120 film, so processing film is slow going and very labor intensive. The undeveloped film is waiting for me in my darkroom, holding space for what happened in the past, holding on to the memory until it has been processed and printed. I can hear my grandmother whispering in my ear to get in the darkroom and bring the images to light.

After 30 years of being a photographer, Keri Pickett (she/her) has become an award-winning documentary director. Her second film, “First Daughter and the Black Snake,” follows environmental activist Winona LaDuke, her family, and the community’s efforts to keep big oil out of sacred wild rice territory. Her documentary reveals years of opposition to the tar sands pipeline and shines light on the Indigenous women leading the resistance.