A world of discoveries in Cedar Rapids photo exhibit
Cedar Rapids native documents 'beautiful moments' in people's everyday lives
CEDAR RAPIDS — During his journey to dig deeper and learn about himself, Keegan Boyer learned about the world around him.
Those discoveries will be on display in a photography exhibition titled “Reflections,” from Thursday to Oct. 30 at CSPS Hall in the NewBo neighborhood of Cedar Rapids.
Cedar Rapids native Boyer, 27, graduated from the University of Iowa in 2013, having no idea of what he wanted to do with his degree in international business and marketing. He just knew he wanted to live abroad.
So he headed to South Korea to teach English. Being all alone in Seoul gave him the time to contemplate his interests and passions. He decided to delve into the world of fashion and design, but soon realized his lack of sketching skills and ideas could not translate to a career path.
After six months, he was ready to move on, to continue exploring his bliss. A volunteer job led him to Tacloban City in the Philippines in the fall of 2014, about a year after a typhoon devastated the area. With camera in hand, he intended to capture that experience, but when he looked at his photos, discovered he’d captured the people instead.
He had found his path.
“I remember at one point, walking around in Tacloban City, I had just finished a day cleaning sewage drains, and was just covered in dirt. I was really excited to go run around the city and take pictures of people, and I just got lost in that moment,” he said during a summer trip back to his hometown to visit friends and relatives.
“I didn’t realize it, but I was covered in dirt from head to toe, and I just thought to myself, if I was willing to go walk around the streets in a foreign country, covered in dirt and whatever else, and take pictures of people — and they’re allowing me to take pictures of them — then there’s something going on here and I should just continue to pursue.”
He had to do a little more soul-searching about taking it to the next level, and investing “a lot of money” in professional photography equipment.
After a trip back to see family in Cedar Rapids and North Carolina, he returned to Seoul, bought the gear and “went out on the street and started photographing people,” he said.
He merged his interest in photos and fashion by going to the 2015 Seoul Fashion Week. From there, he started building connections in the realms of fashion, artists, film directors and “really creative people” in the area.
“That led me to some opportunities I never would have thought about,” Boyer said.
He started photographing the people going in and out of the shows, and met Justus Hansen, a student from Germany who was popular on Instagram as a menswear influencer. They started working together, broadening the reach of each other’s careers. Hansen got his big break being invited to Pitti Uomo, an exclusive menswear event in Florence, Italy, in the summer of 2015.
Boyer was still working as a teacher, and came to that crossroads of deciding whether or not to leap into photography full time, quit his teaching job, and go to Florence.
His approach is to seek out the authenticity of such shows, not “the antics and the beauty,” and in the process, keep his eye on the goal of using his photography to make a difference.
“I can show the beauty of a fashion world, and I can show the beauty of any situation — even one that most people wouldn’t consider to be beautiful,” he said. “I just try to show, regardless of a person’s background or where they come from, or where they are in this moment, but just to make them beautiful. So it can be a model, or someone who just had their house wiped out in a typhoon, but really just show that person in the most beautiful way as I possibly can.”
Since he was in the region, he decided to explore the refugee crisis in Greece and the island of Lesvos.
“I prefer to learn firsthand, rather than have somebody feed me information, whether that’s through the news or politics or conversation. I always want to go experience it for myself and form my own opinions and use my own critical thinking,” he said.
That’s the way he and his sister were raised, by their father, Reid Boyer, who lives in Cedar Rapids, and their mother, Annie Scholl, who now lives in North Carolina.
“My family never pushed anything on me,” he said. “They always wanted me to think for myself, learn for yourself, go have experiences, do things that maybe my parents didn’t have the opportunity to do growing up. I think they just wanted us to form our own perceptions on our own and learn on our own, and not be told to think a certain way or follow a certain ideal.”
It’s allowed him to not be afraid to question things. He’s never liked being told what to do, which is reflected in his photography.
“I’m trying to show you what’s happening right now, trying to show you subtly what I see, but I never want to tell you what I’m seeing necessarily,” he said. “I might tell you a story, my personal story, or an interaction I had with an individual I photographed, but I’ll never tell you the other little things that I see, because everyone has their own perceptions of photos and art. I never want to tell people what to see or what to think.”
His nomadic life is working for now.
“Travel is not for everyone,” he said, “but I do feel like when people step out of their comfort zones and routines, then you end up learning things that you didn’t expect to learn.”
Or people you didn’t expect to encounter. He met his girlfriend in Korea — and she’s from Dyersville.
“It’s interesting that we have an Iowa tie, but met halfway around the world,” he said. Together, they’ve applied for the Peace Corps, hoping to be assigned to Paraguay in South America or Togo in Africa.
One of his biggest life lessons is discovering that people from different countries, different cultures, different experiences, aren’t all that different.
“The more you travel, the more you realize that people are people. That’s the thing that I noticed when I was photographing the Syrian refugees,” he said. “You can’t fathom their stories. Some of it almost sounds fictional. But when you step out and you see refugee kids doing the same things that your nephew’s doing, or you see a mom that reminds you of your mom, or a dad that reminds you of your father or uncle, that’s the stuff that kinda shakes you.”
IF YOU GO
What: Photographer Keegan Boyer: “Reflections”
Where: CSPS exhibit gallery, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: Thursday to Oct. 30
Opening reception: 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday with Keegan Boyer meet-and-greet