The following is an interview that took place in June of 2001 with Chris Keeley. The interview was conducted via email and the responses have been edited for content.
kiyotei: When and why did you create your website ?
Chris: I started it on 04/2/1996, To attract people to my site, to showcase my artwork and others - specifically the secret surrealist society, to share common interests, and to help others find freedom from active drug addiction.
kiyotei: What is the secret surrealist society?
Chris: The secret surrealist society was a group of artists from all over the world that sent me their artwork for exhibition and publication. The society lives on in cyberspace but is pretty much defunct as of 1994.
kiyotei: How many members were there?
Chris: At one point we were about sixty artists.
kiyotei: What kind of drug abuse do you offer help from? Is alcohol-related addiction something you help with as well?
Chris: Any kind of drug use , abuse, addiction. I treated over 6000 alcohol addicts from 1988 to 1994.
kiyotei: So, when you say you treated over 6000 addicts. Do you mean you are a physician or counselor?
Chris: Yes, I am an interventionist. I am a recovering addict of 17 years so I wear at least two hats in that field. I am also a licensed social worker. This year I was awarded Social worker of the Year by Child and Family Services Agency.
kiyotei: I just read your biography and I am very impressed. I really enjoyed your photography especially "party animals" and your wonderful nudes. How long have you been taking photographs?
Chris: Since 1980, professionally since 1984.
kiyotei: What can you tell me about the ZoneZero exhibit?
Chris: This is my work on the most prestigious photography site . I was photographer #8 or so and now there are over 235 photographers there. Pedro Meyer is the site master / owner and was the first person to manipulate a photograph using a computer. He has work in hundreds of Museums around the world. He was willing and put my work up on his amazing website ZoneZero These are photo's from my Book addict 16 of the original 51. Also Pedro included four sound bites so the addicts are actually talking to you. Only four were of the quality that Pedro is willing to put up. All have sound bites but the quality was very poor because I was recording people in hotel rooms and such.
kiyotei: I must say Chris, I enjoy your work very much. I originally contacted you because I had your page bookmarked along with my other favorite mailart sites. But I didn't really explore the whole site until we started this interview, and what I see so far - WOW. Blows my mind dude!
Chris: I made my site TO blow people's minds. I really do tell people, "Hey visit my site, IT will BLOW your mind!"
kiyotei: Are the models/subjects you photograph primarily professional models, members of the secret society, recovering addicts, or just people you know personally? Where do you find your subjects?
Chris: None are professional and most I just saw and asked to photograph them. It's all very spontaneous I usually don't get a NO...occasionally I do. And I am actually very disappointed when they do say NO because it is at that moment when I am inspired to capture them. I know its only their EGO holding them back. It's also their EGO that allows me to capture them because they are flattered by me saying that they would make an amazing photograph.
kiyotei: Why do you think they are they so willing to "bare it all"?
Chris: Well, its all how you look at it. I have found it harder to get people to give me their stories and life secrets than it is to get them to pose without clothes.
kiyotei: Here's the one - I KNOW everyone will be asking themselves - so I have to do it for them, it's a little crude but here goes: Does photographing nudes help you to get laid more often?
Chris: No, but photography gets me laid less as I tend to stare long and hard like most artists so it makes most people uncomfortable and I also tend to have long periods of silence and I can never remember anyone's name...self-centeredness or brain damage.
kiyotei: Hmm. I have that same problem. What is the significance of the hyena/giraffe image that you have on your home page?
Chris: It is a Surrealistic image I
stole from the 1930's. It reminds me of my days as a Safari Guide in
Zimbabwe. I also spent ten years of my Life living in Africa - Mali,
Uganda, Mauritius and Zimbabwe.
Chris: I live in Washington DC where I was born . I also travel to Sifnos Island every August where I have a House (last 17 years).
kiyotei: What was your strangest experience?
Chris: Strangest experience? I have had many. I was in a coma for three days. I've survived 5 auto accidents. I watched someone OD dead from cocaine. I woke up in a jail in Zimbabwe. Got handcuffed on a boat in Malawi. Got pulled over to the side of the road by armed soldiers in South Africa. I was chased by a rhino and an elephant. I took LSD. Got spooked by hyenas. I bump into people I know all over the city and I have strange experiences almost on a daily basis.
kiyotei: Tell me more about your strange experience in Malawi.
Chris: Me and my friend James arrived
in Malawi on Independence day. We were taking public transport and the
crowded buses, and we were drinking Pinch Scotch and sharing it with
the indigenous people. Anyway, there is a boat that cruises up the lake,
a huge lake in Malawi - Lake Malawi, and we were destined to go to the
town of Nkoto Koto. The night before, we had just scored some Purple
Bud from Mount Zombe. We hired some young boys to carry our packs and,
half of the pack was filled with Malawi gold Cob. That is Marijuana
dried in corn cob husks about 12 inches long. We had gold, black, purple
and green bud - a junkies dream! We also had matching camouflage jackets
with the American flag patched on it. We looked like a mixture of the
Blues Brothers and Easy Rider on our Fear and Loathing trip to the land
of the most powerful weed in the world. Also, the cheapest and poorest
country...circa 1982 and they had laws that were Draconian. You couldn't
have long hair, beards , women couldn't wear skirts above the knee and
most of all, nobody was allowed to talk politics. We arrived on the
boat at 7am. James got drunk by 12 noon and passed out in his puke.
I made friends with the bartender and drank until sunset in between
smoking as many joints as I could on the deck...wearing this funky jacket.
Night fall came and no one was to be on the deck after dark. Never being
one to accept any rules, I stayed on the deck partying. The rest is
a blackout which is why you may need James version.
Chris: No. Here is the version James
told me. James pleaded with me to come below and get off the rooftop
sun deck, the boat was equipped with some soldiers and some policemen.
I fought at least four of the cops and James fought me. He broke his
hand on my face. During this battle a cob fell out of my pocket and
maybe a few joints. Needless to say I awoke in the hold of the engine
room with four sets of hand cuffs, one on each limb. Now, James was
pleading with the Captain to let us go off the boat at the nearest port
the next morning. He showed the Captain my diplomatic passport. Not
the brightest thing in the world to do in my humble opinion, but James
claims it saved us or me from incarceration. James has had the experience
of bailing me out of many situations in Africa. I was a blackout drinker
and consumed as many other drugs as I could get my hands on. My biggest
problem was alcohol and the combination of drugs. Going into detail
about that would take maybe writing an encyclopedia size of a novel.
Anyway the Captain bargained and wrote down my name , passport # and
made me sign a confession that I was in a fight with another European
man and that six marijuana cigarettes fell out of my pocket. We arrived
to Nkoto Koto, our original destination, but a row boat came up to the
ship ...we were put on the little boat and rowed ashore. I looked like
hell, James's hand was broke and being the Junkie I was, it was off
to the local medical clinic. James followed me reluctantly...I told
the local doctor that I had fallen off the deck of the boat and needed
Morphine. The Doctor obliged and gave me a shot. James stole a 100 pill
bottle of Phenobarbital for his consumption.
Chris: According to James, he immediately went in pursuit of the Nkota Kota Malawi Gold that was world renown. He found some within 15 minutes of questioning some young boys in the town. This town was also deserted . I may have seen three people in the whole town. But I was suffering from addiction, fighting the police, nursing a wicked hangover and even the Malawi Gold didn't help my disposition. James suddenly asks me what direction am I going ...to Blyantye or to the Capitol . I said I don't know . James says I am going the opposite direction from where your going. We are splitting up. The cops are looking by now for two Europeans wearing radical jackets. He flags down a missionary couple and asked them to take me to the capitol . a 10 hour drive away. They say no problem and are very happy to see another American whom they can maybe spread the good word too. James hitchhiked to Zambia and I flew back to Zimbabwe two weeks early. My parents pick me up from the airport and I look bushed. A week later Interpol visits my Father at his office with my signed confession. I deny everything. It was hard because after all I was in a blackout.
James (to Chris): You
forgot about the part in the luxury hotel in Lilongwe after Nkota Kota.
That is where we split up, after a 12 hour bus ride there with chickens
and goats, and a good nights stay. I still say that the passport got
us out with out being jailed. You tell them about how pissed I was at
you for grinding up and making a blend of the cobs. Or how I got stuck
in no mans land and the Zambia Zimbabwe border in Kariba. Oh the search
during which they didn't find the cobs I had.
kiyotei: That must have been very scary. You are lucky that you are both not rotting in a jail cell somewhere. Do you participate in any mailart activities. If so which ones/what kinds?
Chris: Yes I have been into mail art since 1984. I mail back to anyone who sends to me, some are also still at it along with me. I don't initiate but I answer back. A lot of the people I correspond with are on my pages, however I have stopped adding people unless they request it. The Internet has killed mailart for me or maybe it's having an affect on everybody because I used to get mailart every day but now its about every other day. I also respond immediately because if you don't you would never be able to keep up with it. I am getting particular pleasure in sending photo's of my ex-girlfriend all over the world..."Julie Betrayal." I also have a new image I am excited about using that I shot in Brasil in May.
kiyotei: Do you have any other creative
outlets besides photography?
Chris: Music, scanning,, movies, magazines, books, art galleries, people watching, social work...its all featured on my web pages.
kiyotei: Okay! Thanks for letting me grill you a bit. I really enjoyed corresponding with you and checking out all your web pages. Take care, I'll see you around the net!
Chris: Have a Wonderful Day , Keep
in Touch [:-)>
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