THE HARD SIDE OF BEAUTY: The other side of perfect: Portrait of a Music Photographer trapped on an edge, his remaining camera in one hand, a pending eviction in the other. We all have choices!
This is one such story. Time has passed. At that acute time Folk here generously contributed to a fund for support of the family. The young girl has improved with treatments and returned to school. We’re glad we helped in our limited way. The fund had been closed for some time but this article is a poignant reminder of our fragility.

Asher Kelman © Nicolas Claris

I’m struck by how we so often try to produce records of perfection that mostly does not exist. That one “perfect” shot often means we have either excluded all other moments and perspectives or else rigged the shot! Here I share with you the other side of perfection. We still, however, are in the company of excellent photography.

Keith Kiiroja's fiancée, Hilary introduced us to his Music Photography. Soon he was sharing his work. We had now moved from landscapes, birds and runway glamour to the nitty gritty of the world of the many small bands that live from paycheck to paycheck, or split of the door money, sometimes with only enough gasoline to get them to the next town and gig. They depend on a special breed of photographers who work long hours delivering pictures for their albums, publicity and web presence. Keith is the archetype of that species!

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "Muse"

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "Hawthorne Height"

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "Misery signals"

Unlike photographers for fashion, product or portraits, Keith's kind have no interest in creating beauty that people dream of. The work of the music photographer often goes for the opposite. The pictures show imperfect people, yes dressed up or in a unique environment, but still with almost all the imperfections that people can find in their lives and in the mirror. The followers of each band or singer identify with something of the music and presentation that resonates with their own lives. So the musicians are very particular in controlling their own persona and message implied by the photography on a CD album or the web.

For this reason, photographers might find it hard to work creatively with these clients. They often have to be tracked to small towns at odd hours with the house allowing photography for say 2-3 songs and that’s that. The worse thing is to be constrained to not think in terms of the magic we bring to bride’s mothers with tabletop books or the perfect carved beauty of the catwalk or Vogue.

Now here’s a new set of photographs for a band called “Signal the Escape”.

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "Hugging locket” for CD “All that You Deserve"

In this project, Keith was asked to blow out the highlights and not correct the skin blemishes we’d remove without a thought.

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "Petals” for CD “All that you Deserve"

They want the petals, for sure, but they fear perfect unimagined beauty. So her fingers cannot be idyllic and symmetrical. Yes, rose petals falling, but not even a single petal is sharply defined or with delicate texture or shading! Keith may hammer them with some degree of “skin healing”, but in truth, they like the images as they are! What they want and what Keith delivers is a raw intimate believable beauty; something one might find if one surprised this girl in a rare moment of reflection. Push too much and the same photograph breaks it’s connection with the music’s audience.

Anyway, this is a special photography world and Keith is good at his work. We took for granted that this energetic Pro was set. He was in demand, his services were used by the likes of the Clinton Foundation in New York and everything seemed rosy.

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "Hilary, Keith's Fiancée and the real Bill Clinton"

What we did not know about was that behind the music was an anguish that only parents can describe. Let me tell you a little about one photographer's struggle to save the life of his only child, a lone 8-year-old daughter with cancer.

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - “My daughter’s Smile”

Keith was born in Estonia, a piece of land by Lithuania that has largely been under the control of the Russian State even after independence! His father was one of the lead engineers working on the Challenger spacecraft. Sadly he died when Keith was just 8 years old. Ironically, Keith's only daughter is now just eight years old too. It's now her life that is at risk and her father photography career that's on the edge. Some symmetry of tragedies!

Although Keith was sent back to Estonia to visit with his relatives several times, his heart is rooted here in the USA. He liked the freedom to travel and music that was unrestrained by any censorship. He grew up a little rebellious, trying to absorb the American way as fast as possible. He was educated in an Art School in San Francisco. He made money by working as a tattoo artist while in college and gained a few himself! So he fitted in with the San Francisco music scene.

He became a self-taught photographer, devoted full time for the past 6 years to music photography. He was never rich but he met his needs. He had almost more work than he could handle. So he could say he did well. Then, tragically, 18 months ago his young daughter, at 6 years of age, became weak and feverish. The specialists in the hospital diagnosed Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, (ALL). A cloud settled over their lives. ALL is the most common cancer of childhood and thankfully over 80% of time curable. With the latest advances, success is up to perhaps 90%. However, there is no guide to say who will do well, although all the children seem do benefit from the treatment.

Interestingly, photography with amazing writing of energetic particles on film and electronic storage grids of wires and silicon guides the whole treatment process.

In CT scans, light, much more tightly wound and energetic than infrared passes through the body with more of it’s energy being absorbed more by dense structures, like calcified bones or the iron in blood. The water-dominant soft tissue filters out less of the invisible light beam. At the other side of the light beams path, the remnants of the light exit and the photons are captured to progressively form an image of that pinpoint of light.

The imaging beam rotates around the body and the thousands of images are synthesized into a slice of the body at that point. The person is moved forward say 1cm and the process is repeated to create additional body slices until one has covered the area to be examined. Now if need be, the slices of the body can be joined and the different density tissues visualized by assigning colors. Add selective transparency, one can now rotate that part of the body in 3D! So little girl’s doctors can examine the deepest, most delicate and inaccessible structures; all without a drop of blood or the slightest pain. Better still, the digital file that can be studied within minutes.

This effort, and the imaging beauty achieved, reminds me of the labor-intensive care of those who worked making their own photosensitive plates in the dawn of photography.
The magic of imaging effects our lives in so many rich ways that the early pioneers never could have imagined. However, without their imagination, art and struggles, the concept of electronic imaging might never have been conceived, not for the CMOS or CCD chips and not for medical imaging either.

© 2007 Keith Kiiroja - "My daughter with AG Guitar"

Keith was in Long Island, (about the length of the remnant of Estonia not controlled by Russia). His had jobs in and around New York. His old car just about delivered him and his Pro Lighting gear, 1DII, L lenses and a D30 and 580 EX flashes for backup. Clubs, Singers and managers liked his reliability, delivering on time, every time what they needed. He always had a positive attitude.

So their child's illness was something that he and his young fiancée thought they could tackle. They had insurance, he had work, and the doctors gave the hope that the little girl could, perhaps be made well with chemotherapy.

She was hospitalized at the Long Island University Medical Center, a part of the State University Systems of New York. The Medical Center has academic and research affiliations with all the major groups doing clinical cancer trials and so the physicians there were reassuring in saying they had a fighting chance of saving her.

Keith flew his daughter to Dana Farber Cancer Center in Boston, at the top tier of Cancer expertise in the world. They confirmed her diagnosis and the treatment needed. So there was no bargaining and no choice but to proceed as directed. Initially the costs of lodgings were covered by a Leukemia charity, and then swabs for her mouth sores were delivered from another company and the costs various components of her care were ameliorated.

Then the portions of help allotted were dried up and Keith had to start selling gear to cover antibiotics, dressings and the rent and utilities and their food. At first the sales merely made photography more difficult but his creativity and experience worked around that. First the large automatic flash, boxes and chargers went, then after much struggle his beloved 1DII was given a reprieve but the old car that got him to his jobs was sacrificed instead for just $1000. Well, at least he felt there was some respite and he had faith that he would earn enough to get another. Unfortunately, fate doesn't wait! More medical expenses just gobbled that $1000 so the 1DII was sold with fatalistic stoicism. That 1DII was a great loss since it focused well in the dim lights of the clubs. Under those circumstances, one often needs a fast lens of at least 2.8 and a camera that can grab focus in the dimmest light. This is where the 1DII was a workhorse.

With the sale of the 1DII, he had to fall back on the D30. The x1.6 multiplication factor meant that his favorite lenses had to change. Still he could continue. However, the lenses had to go for more expenses. Now as luck would have it the guy that managed Sigma USA's warehouse in New York lived across the road in Long Island. So he managed to dig up some demo or used lenses and Sigma now was a sponsor for Keith's work. So even with loss of his major equipment, Keith managed to keep going. Then catastrophe struck. The young girl was re-hospitalized with fever and at the same time Keith was taken ill with an intestinal virus. His late nights and strenuous late night work and almost round the clock care for his daughter finally knocked him down. He still was by his daughter, sleeping in a cot in the hospital to be near her. During this time over a third of his clients, the ones that paid 2/3 of his income needed him repeatedly and had to go elsewhere. Then his fiancée took ill and her income was lost.

So that took us to about a month ago. Now they are all better and their daughter is at home, playing in the garden. However most of the clients are lost. So now Keith has to rebuild. But how could they pay the rent and utility bills in the meanwhile?

So they came up with the desperate decision to sell the last camera, the D30, the battery grip, 580 EX flash, all he had left to sell.

We are a small community but have some of the best folk here with all sorts of backgrounds and a love for photography as a vocation, profession and a way of seeing the world and our humanity. To me, at least, this is a test of what we are worth. Often we can just display what we know or have achieved. Here there is something entirely new, uncomfortable yet full of opportunity.

I know Keith's temporary squeeze in his helping his only daughter will touch your hearts, each and everyone reading this. OPF has set a provisional goal of $10,000 to be able to get Keith's Photography work back on track.

Would you help us do a good deed? Please give whatever you can:

• $5, $25, $50, $100, $150 or if you can $1,000 or more! Make your PaYPal payments to kiiroja_fundATmac.com or contact us for further details to send a checks, money order, job or photography assistant offer. Designate the payment for "Keith Kiiroja Support Fund c/o Asher Kelman but checks should be payable to “Asher Kelman".

• Signed fine art archival prints for sale too! That’s an additional way of helping and sharing the joy of your own photography, of work that defines you!

• Professional electronic flash, lenses or other.

• Your good wishes!

Thanks for all the generous donations. Your kindness and reaching out to another photographer has been a strong support. The effort was successful and we were this able to pay for medicines, rent, utilities and other necessities to get the family over this hardship! The fund is now closed to further donations.

February 2009 This article is merely a report related to how OPF rapidly responded at a time of need in 2007. It’s great we were able to help and pay for medicines and other necessities. The need has passed. This should not be used as any knowledge, qualification, endorsement or warranty of any current or future appeals or transactions by anyone. OPF has no further role in fundraising. Please do not send any more donations. Any new transactions would be beyond the scope of OPF’s knowledge, responsibilities and resources.

Asher Kelman