Keith Isaacs is an architecture and interiors photographer based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He works with his talented wife, Sara, who is a jack-of-all-trades assistant on photoshoots and does a lot of the heavy-lifting in post-production. They both love modernist architecture and live in North Carolina, which has an incredible amount of modernist buildings due to its roots in the Bauhaus traditions of Black Mountain College and the NC State College of Design. In fact, North Carolina boasts the third largest concentration of modernist homes in the country, behind Los Angeles and Long Island.
Keith is a member of PhotoShelter, the leader in portfolio websites, photo sales, marketing, and archiving tools for photographers.
Why did you decide to become a photographer?
It was while I was living in Barcelona although I always knew I wanted to be in a creative field since I was a child. I studied advertising, marketing and graphic design in college, and then worked freelance in those fields. Photography was just a hobby then…plus, you rarely hear people saying “Hey, kid, have you considered being a photographer when you grow up?” I didn’t realize that being a photographer was even a career option. After moving to Barcelona without much of a plan, I got the photography bug and began photographing the people and scenes of the local neighborhood. I discovered the camera has the power to grant you access to almost anywhere and form a more meaningful connection to your surroundings. It’s a special thing. On a whim, I reached out to a local exhibition space to see if they would be interested in showing the photographs, and to my amazement, they agreed. I sold a couple of pictures, gave some more away to the locals who were in the photos, and, through the experience, started to realize this passion could be something more than a hobby.
How did you come to focus on architecture and interiors?
While in Barcelona, I was doing all sorts of photography and graphic design jobs which often didn’t pay well. Needing additional income, I came across a barista gig in a startup coffee truck, Skye Coffee Co. When I went for the interview, I arrived at a big warehouse with a sign for Castel Veciana Arquitectura on the door. The front of the building housed Espacio 88, which turned out to be an art gallery, event and production space, often rented out for advertising productions and photo shoots. Castel Veciana (an architecture and industrial design firm) was situated at the back of the warehouse behind a glass facade. The classic Citröen HY coffee truck was a side project of an interior designer and a principal of the firm, Skye Maunsell and Jordi Veciana, respectively, and was parked inside this huge, beautifully renovated modern warehouse in the booming creative district of Poblenou, Barcelona.
Serving espresso from the truck every day, I had a vehicle (pun intended) to network with and learn from a huge community of creatives. I shamelessly handed out business cards every chance I got and the owners of the firm and space, Jordi Castel and Jordi Veciana, both pushed me creatively. My relationship with them quickly grew; and after seeing a collection of black & white photographs I had taken of the North Carolina Museum of Art, they asked me to exhibit the work. One thing led to another, and I soon was given the opportunity to document their work. After my first commission, I knew I had stumbled upon my dream job.
What's the biggest challenge when photographing architecture?
Hopefully nothing! Working around the weather can be a challenge, but there’s always a way. Sometimes a photo shoot might have to move from the fall to the following spring, but architects are patient people by trade. The goal is always to prevent difficulties. Preparation is paramount. I prioritize having meaningful conversations with my clients before a project begins to make sure we’re creating the visual narrative that their design intends. My background in marketing encourages me to approach projects holistically, with the end-game of each client in mind.
Is there a building you've particularly enjoyed photographing?
I recently had the opportunity to photograph Union Station, a new train station in my hometown of Raleigh, NC. It was special on many levels. On the surface, it’s an impressive, modern building with beautiful light inside. It was designed by Clearscapes, who have had a far-reaching impact in shaping the current landscape of downtown Raleigh. Built on the bones ofan existing rail infrastructure in Raleigh’s revitalizing warehouse district, it embraces old and new Raleigh, and marks the beginning of a new era of growth in the city. If you had told anyone 10-15 years ago that a project like this would happen in the sleepy municipal downtown, I imagine they’d have said you’re crazy. But Raleigh is now booming and nothing seems impossible. I’m very fortunate to call Raleigh home, and to be able to contribute to the documentation of the thoughtful work that the area’s community of architects and designers puts forth.
Do you have a dream building you haven't yet photographed?
I’m a huge fan of the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava – I’m always on the lookout for his work when I travel. His work is polarizing among architects; but as a photographer, it’s just magic. His projects evoke a sense of other-worldly wonder. They’re sculptural and always filled with spectacular light. It feels like you’ve landed on another planet when you see one. What excites me the most, though, are the buildings that continue putting North Carolina’s architecture on the map and I look forward to helping raise this profile to the rest of the world.