John Keatley by Jenny Jimenez(John Keatley photo by Jenny Jimenez)

John Keatley is a Seattle-based photographer specializing in advertising and editorial portrait photography as well as celebrity impersonations. His client list runs the gamut of who’s-who: Microsoft, Starbucks, TIME, NBA, T-Mobile, Fortune … the list goes on. He’s photographed Annie Leibovitz, the mother of modern celebrity photography, reality fashion mogul Tim Gunn, Sarah Palin (yes, that one) and actor/comedian Andy Samberg. (For more about his work, check out this fantastic about video on his site.)

But recently, John had the opportunity to travel to Liberia to do some very different types of photographs. And he loved the opportunity. We asked him to share about his experience there and how he’s learning to use business to benefit others.

Photography has opened up many doors for me over the past few years and has allowed me to meet people and go places I probably would not have had the opportunity to experience otherwise.  It’s a fun job, and through a recent project I worked on, photography presented me with an even greater opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and see the potential to truly make a positive impact in the lives of others.

This past January I was hired to travel to Liberia and photograph an ad campaign for MiiR Bottles, based around the first two MiiR-funded well projects.  For every bottle MiiR sells, they provide clean water for one person for an entire year.  It’s a really great idea, and something I was immediately interested in being a part of.  Business is a very powerful tool, and I have begun to explore the idea of using business to benefit others as MiiR is doing.  The possibilities are endless and I was excited to discover how I might be able to make a difference though my photography.

It was difficult for me to fully comprehend the extent of the water issues until I was in Liberia.  Access to water is not necessarily the problem, but access to clean water is really where it gets complicated.  We were guided through several villages by locals where we were able to get a first-hand look at the water sources where people washed dishes, bathed, and retrieved water to drink.  In some cases, they always bathed and washed clothes down-stream and drank up-stream, but the problem is there are several other villages up-stream doing the same thing.  Or there could be dead animals lying in the stream.  There are many wells in Liberia, but unless it is a sealed pump and it has been cared for properly, there is a good chance even those are contaminated.  Without being sealed, bugs, animals, trash, and sewage fall in or get washed into the well when it rains.  Clean water is hard to find.

Although our trip was focused on the clean water well projects in two particular villages, we had several opportunities throughout the week to travel to other villages and hear about the many different struggles facing Liberians.  One of the struggles is access to quality education.  Because of the economic situation in Liberia, there are many children whose families are not able to pay for school. One of our stops was at the Chariot Daycare and Elementary School in Buchanan.  It was founded and run by a wonderful man who goes by Pastor Kondoh.  He has an incredible story which I talk about on my blog, and he has an incredible passion to serve those who can not help themselves.  Especially the children.  One of his many goals is to educate and raise up the children of Liberia who he believes are the key to bringing about change in their country.

The organization MiiR partnered with to build wells in Liberia is Well Done Organization.  In addition to clean water projects, WDO recently began a child sponsorship program, to help families who can’t afford to send their children to school.  I was asked to take a few pictures of the students needing sponsorship.  One of the young students I photographed that morning was Zachariah, and his portrait is one of my favorites.  I could stare at his portrait for hours and continue to find new things I like about it.  I wrote about Zachariah on my blog and encouraged my readers to consider supporting him or one of the other children at Chariot Daycare and Elementary.  By the end of the day, seven children were sponsored.

While I have always perceived the value of a photograph to be great, this experience of using an image to motivate others to take action has broadened the way I think about my work.  Photography has the power to not only bring about awareness, but also to inspire.  We know this because we so often create images for the purpose of advertising and selling commercial products and services.  I have been thinking a lot about the power of photography since returning from Liberia.  How can great photography be used to inspire people to invest in the lives of others?  This same question could be asked of any professional skill, and thankfully it seems to be a question more and more people are thinking and talking about.  I don’t have all of the answers myself, but after hearing about the seven children who were sponsored in one day, a new excitement and curiosity has awakened in me.

Although I am still in the very early stages of planning, I have begun working on a very large new project revolving around the idea of giving back to others.  I will have more about this to share very soon.  I am excited to see how it will go and what can be accomplished in the weeks, months and even years ahead.  If you are interested in hearing updates and finding out more about this project as well as my photography, you can do so on my blog at and on Twitter @johnkeatley.

In addition to these images, you can see more of my photography on my website,  I was given a lot of freedom to explore and photograph whatever interested me while in Liberia.  Being a portrait photographer, I made a point of going out on my own to photograph people whenever I had the chance. These portraits are the ones I am really most proud of, and in the short time I have been back, I have really been able to use these images to generate quite a bit of interest and awareness about the situation in Liberia and how people can get involved.

(continued below photos)

Annie Leibovitz by John Keatley
Annie Leibovitz

Ben Huh by John Keatley
Ben Huh (I Can Has Cheezburger)


Zinc Camp


Some really great things are happening in Liberia with the support of WDO.  If you are interested in becoming involved or supporting the work being done, you can find out more at