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Behind the Lens: Keegan Rice

Story by Taylor Fry

Keegan Rice is a man who eats ants off the ground. I’ve seen him do it. He says they taste like citrus. Aside from trail-ants, Rice is also known to appreciate other finer things in life: A nice surf break, a tallboy of Modelo, and some deep pow. For a while now, one of the things in life he holds closest to his heart is photography, and he's going to tell us all about it.

A fun-loving creative with a hippie soul and a born-to-rock-through-life vibe, Keegan Rice has quite the amassment of stories to tell. With a fast-growing career as a photographer, he’s even got the stills to prove it.

Rice has worked with snow and surf athletes alike, such as Caite Zeliff, Jim Ryan, Kazumasa Yamada, Brolin Mawejje, Lyndsey Dyer - and his work has been featured on The Inertia, Rossignol, JHSnowboarder, Elevated Surf Craft, McTavish Surf, Teton Gravity Research and more. Keegan is someone we just can’t keep up with - so pull up a chair, sit by the fire with a few of us, and let his work supplement the talking.

Somewhere up North. Keegan Rice photo.

It’s 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening and Keegan comes over to the cabin after brapping around in Idaho with Caite Zeliff and a few other badass women. I’m starting a fire and my co-worker, roommate and close friend Meg Matheson. We both yelp with excitement as we see the headlights from Keegan’s 1996 white Ford F150 truck, (red leather interior, ‘86 engine. Keegan wants you to know it’s rickety as hell), pull into the driveway.

Meg rushes into her room, and grabs the snowboarding photography book Heroes (by Jérôme Tanon) she got for him as a gift. She can’t wait to give it to him, and I can’t wait to laugh - like a real belly laugh. Keegan has that kind of exuberant persona where really, he just turns everything into good old-fashioned fun.

His face is flushed from a day outside, and a tan beanie keeps his shoulder length curls away from his face. He has a child-like twinkle in his eye which is ever-permanent, obvious signs of a stellar day. I ask him if he wants a Sierra Nevada Torpedo or a lighter beer before we get started. “Well,” he sighs. “Since I’ll only have two or three, I’ll start with the stronger one.”

Meg hands him Heroes and tells him, “This made me think of you, you’re going to love it.” He’s overjoyed by the surprise and flips through it, his fingers eagerly turning every page, and thanks her profusely. “This is exactly what I want to be doing with photography,” he says. Which prompts us into our lovely little fireside chat.

Taylor: When was the first time you started taking photos?

Keegan: The first time I can remember shooting were on family road trips in the summer. My dad had, what was, at the time, a really nice camera. He mainly got it to take pictures of my siblings and I playing soccer. It was a hobby of his. I was the only one of my siblings that was always asking for it to shoot pictures with.

Taylor: Tell me more about these roadtrips.

Keegan: We did a couple family road trips when I was 9. We went from Cape Cod to Vancouver Island, down the West coast, through to Jackson, down to Texas. It was a 70-day road trip with my whole family. In an RV. Five years later was when we drove to Alaska, and I remember using my dad’s camera all the time.

Taylor: What were you shooting?

Keegan: Mostly landscapes. My dad taught me a lot about it in the beginning. He would take photos of the family, which, at the time, I didn’t like - but now I love shooting people. Then I was trying to take trippy pictures with a long shutter and just getting experimental - which I still like to do.

It wasn’t until sophomore year of high school that I really came into photography. I took an unrelated-to-photography class with a teacher who I found out used to teach film photography, which didn’t exist at the school anymore. He used to be one of the original badasses in film photography. I think he even has a photo in the National Library of Photography in DC. One time, he got permission from the Department of the Interior to drive into Denali in Alaska and create these insane prints. I expressed to him that I loved photography and knew how it worked, so he told me to sign up for a class that next year that he taught, and it ended up just being me in the dark room. I studied under him and he gave me a large format film camera to take photos on. That really lit that flame in me.

Boardsports of all kinds. Keegan Rice photos.

Taylor: Which do you like shooting in better, black and white or color?

Keegan: If I had to choose, I’d pick black and white. It’s pretty timeless.

Taylor: When did you decide that you really wanted to do this and commit to it?

Keegan: After I made money the first time. It was after shooting for The Rose in town. I had upgraded to a good camera, and was shooting skiing and snowboarding for fun, and really loved it…you know, funny enough…

It turns out a mutual friend of ours from the Cape sold Keegan his first professional lens that he ever used. Shout out to Henry Von Thaden.

Keegan: Henry was the photographer that shot at a surf camp I worked at on the Cape when I was a teen. I took that nice camera out here with me, and I was hanging out at the Rose a lot. They heard I was into photography and asked me to take some photos of their cocktails. I still consider them to be some of my best work. That’s when I was like, “This is so fun, and I think I’m ok at it.” But when I first made some money, shooting photos, I realized how hard it was to get paid, shooting photos.

Taylor: When did you move to Jackson? Were you shooting much when you got here?

Keegan: In the Fall of 2014. I must’ve been 19. I wasn’t shooting so much when I first moved here. I was carried away with everything around here and taking it in. I have never met so many people in my life as quickly as I did when I first moved here.

Shooting surf photos was an early love for Rice. Keegan Rice photo.

Taylor: Since you are a snowboarder and surfer, are you ever torn between taking the photos or partaking in the thing you’re shooting?

Keegan: When I first started shooting, I didn’t want to shoot all the time because I wanted to snowboard or surf, but when I get good shots, I’m stoked. I’ve snowboarded so much in my life, and I know I’ll do it forever, I don’t mind giving a little up. Recently, I’ve found that sometimes I need to snowboard just for me, and I don’t bring a camera. With surfing, when it’s really good, I really want to take pictures. But then I’m like...I want to surf too. I don’t surf enough to like shooting it more than the actual activity. But trying to get the right frame keeps me present and helps me stay in the moment, so it’s a win.

Taylor: Which do you think is harder to shoot, surfing or snowboarding?

Keegan: They both have extreme challenges as far as the environment. Surfing you’re often in a current, and you have to be in a good spot to get the shot, and every wave is different. I think it’s harder to get a good surf shot. With snowboarding, if you shoot it enough and know the zone or the rider, that will make a huge difference. You also have to have a good relationship with the skier or snowboarder, because you need to know what they’re going to do, and they need to know what you want them to do.

Point and shoot. Keegan Rice photo.

The worst is when you have a perfect shot in your head, and you’re like, “you’re going to go right there, do you see it?” and they’re like “yeah, right there!” and you’re like “ok drop!” and then you’re like… f*ck they didn’t do it. There goes the canvas. It’s like painting - there’s no way to erase or paint over it. Then you just have to move on. I miss shots all the time. It’s not always the skier or snowboarders fault.

Taylor: Who inspires you artistically?

Keegan: A photographer from Wellfleet, Massachusetts whose name is Cole Barash. Somehow he found himself into these now legendary crews. He was 16 when he met people like Danny Davis, Jack and Luke Metroni - and somehow started photographing them all for a while. Eventually, he just left all snowboarding photography behind and pursued fine art, he’s also a huge name in the surf world. He makes prints that are shot exclusively on film, and I just think he does whatever he wants, which is refreshing. So much of photography now is getting a shot the company wants, or what’s going to sell, and his shit is funky and weird and often doesn’t make any sense - and it’s so cool. He makes coffee table books, prints...that’s what I want to do.

We will now take a brief intermission for a pizza break. If you have nowhere to be, you can be a fly on the wall for this one.

***

*Enter Caite Zeliff*

Caite: Would you want some of this pizza from last night, Keegs? You haven’t eaten.

Keegan: Sure, I’ll have some pizza! In the winter I go on this crazy winter diet where I don’t eat at all. I feel so much better.

Taylor: Do you want warm pizza?

Keegan: ...More?

Taylor: ...Warm?

Keegan: Oh. sure! Thanks for taking care of me.

Okay we’re back. Our mouths are full of pizza, but we’re back.

***

Keegan: I’m trying to think of my other inspirations because I have so many. Andrew Miller is one. He shoots a lot with Jeremy Jones and I have a huge print of JJ riding an effed up line in the Himalayas. Allegedly, he wasn’t much of a big name in photography before he got that shot. He’s been crushing it ever since.

Oh and also, Stephen Shelesky. Huge inspo. He’s always going out and getting after it which is so sick to see. He’s getting photos everyday. We should all be doing that.

New zones with new folks. Keegan Rice photo.

Taylor: Is there any memorable moment where you totally felt out of your element? Any “Oh F*ck” moments?

Keegan: Every new, big experience. First wedding, family photo shoot, Japan for a month for a snowboard company, before that I was like, “Well shit am I good enough?” I put pressure on myself and do a lot of self doubting. The only time I’ve felt out of my element is when I’ve put pressure on myself, and it’s your passion so it should be fun, but when you make it work, it’s pressure. But at the end of that roller coaster, it’s all good every time, and the people I’m shooting for are excited for those photos, which is rewarding.

Taylor: Do you have any advice you’d give to your younger self?

Keegan: I’ve heard this from others and agree with it: Shoot what you want to shoot. You’ll get better at it and people will notice it and will want you to shoot what you see and how you see it for them. But if you’re shooting shit that you hate, you’re going to hate it so what’s the point. Do what you want for you. Paint in your style. Never be too serious. Because that’s no fun.

Taylor: You’re right, that is no fun at all. Wait, when were you in Japan?

Keegan: I went to Japan on the second day of 2019. I was shooting for a snowboard company that taught me a ton about the business aspect of photography. I didn’t watch my back so much. It turned into all give and no take, and I didn’t realize my worth at all. Now, I know how to charge people, but then, I was just doing stuff for free, which wasn’t that cool. After Japan, I drew up a contract.

A Japanese dream come true. Keegan Rice photo.

Taylor: Where’s been your favorite place been to shoot?

Keegan: Australia was sick because I got to shoot in the water so much, and you can stay in there all day. Around here, because I know the terrain, but also Japan and Alaska. Alaska is so dramatic of a landscape, if you put a person in front of it, your job is done.

Taylor: Where are the top three places you want to shoot really badly?

Keegan: Antarctica. It seems so effing cool. I also really want to go shoot surfing in Alaska. It’s been on my radar for five years. I want to explore and surf and be cold all the time. But be warm. In the cold. Of course.

Chris Burkard is a great example of what you can do with photography and the doors it will open for you. You can travel all over the world to get these amazing shots, but what you end up getting is so much more than just photos.

Taylor: I feel like a lot of people would agree with you, and say it’s a dream job.

Keegan: It’s a great job, but it definitely can feel so unstable, and it’s hard to feel comfortable or confident. Where I am right now, a lot of the time I just think, “this is going to be so hard.” I know I can do it if i find myself in the right places and am on top of it, but it’s super hard to get paid until you have a name for yourself.

*Surprise extra pizza delivery from Caite*

Keegan: Wow, thank you, chef!

Caite: *Bows* Yes chef.

Keegan: A lot of the time I think, is this going to work? I was pretty down earlier this year, but then, when something pops up, you’re like “Oh, someone wants my photos again! I knew someone would want them eventually. I should’ve just been telling myself that the whole time.” I just keep telling myself I can’t give up. I’m doing what I love, and making it work.

***

“Another thing,” Keegan says, mid cheesy mouthful, “all these people want to pay me in jackets. Don’t get me wrong, I like jackets, but money would be nice.”

Caite Zeliff coming in hot from the stove top: Money sucks.

Keegan: Money is dumb.

Caite: Who made it up?

Tayor: I mean, just print some more. What’s the problem?

Taylor: While we’re at it, what’s your favorite kind of pizza?

*long chew*

Keegan: Honestly, just a pepperoni pizza. Not too much going on. Crushed red pepper and some parm chee.

***

Taylor: If you could have any kind of camera, what would it be?

Keegan: I want more film cameras. More medium format and large format. With that, you can get more into the art world and out of the commercial world.

Taylor: You worked on a lot of cool projects this summer, right?

Keegan: I worked on an upcoming documentary called The Syndicate Effect, by Lightbox Media and Teton Film Works. The idea was to take eight different people from various walks of life: whether you were gay, straight, male, female, white, black, nationally known conservatives, liberals, leaders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, etc, and take them all into the Wind River range, and have them climb a mountain with Conrad Anker as their guide, and focus on the conversations they had.

Good friends on a pow days. Keegan Rice photo. 

Taylor: How was that?

It was super cool. Four days on set and four days in the backcountry. I’d go back to the Wind River Reservation and shoot photos and interviews. This is a whole new avenue of photography that I never knew I’d really enjoy. It gets me excited, too, because any film project needs stills for media distribution. It’s so fun to be a part of something different and do my thing.

Taylor: You went on another trip right after that, right? Photographing for a project with electric cars?

Keegan: During that project in the Wind River Range, I met one of the cast members, Benji Backer. This kid is 23 and can call up most Senators any day. After our project, he told me he was going on a road trip for a new project, and wanted me to come shoot photos. I met up with him that next week and shot photos for their organization, the American Conservation Coalition. They were on a roadtrip in Teslas across the country, meeting with large and small companies and corporations - like the chief environmental executive of Microsoft, General Motors in Detroit, all the way down to small solar companies. It was amazing to see that corporate side of things and hear about politics.

Taylor: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re really excited about?

Keegan: I’m stoked about this project with Caite. I love getting out with friends and shooting snowboarders, but it’s sick to have direction, and I’m excited to shoot with Caite and the team she’s put together for Hardwired because I look up to everyone in our team, and there’s so much to learn from and an opportunity to challenge myself as a photographer, person, snowboarder and outdoorsman.

***

“Can I ask a question?” A slightly delusional Caite Zeliff lifts her head from a bowl of soup while she sits at the dining room table. “Do you find that there’s a difference between when you go out and shoot with snowboarders vs. skiers?”

Keegan: Totally.

Caite: How so?

Keegan: Skiers are faster. Everything is faster. When I went out with you and Morgan, you guys were taking your skins off without even taking your skis off. I was like, “Holy shit they’re ready to go.” Snowboarders get to the top and unstrap, and before they switch over, at least the people that I hangout with will either smoke a spliff, have a beer or eat a snack before they switch over.

Caite: Ha. Morgan and I are like, *pants like a dog*

Keegan: Also, the terrain and features that snowboarders tend to ride more than skiers is interesting. I need the contour of the mountains. That’s the shot, and I think, I have to get them on this canvas versus with a skier, me just next to them as they turn. I want to see the arc of their turn, I think that comes from snowboarding - the wave, the arc of them surfing. I definitely hangout with more chill skiers, but I just picture them to be… more intense.

Caite: They are.

Keegan: Snowboarders just wanna make and hit jumps. Or they’re like, “let's get a pow shot and then just hit jumps.” Skiers are like, “I wanna rap into this, cut the cornice, ski this couloir,” and it’s also only three feet wide.

Caite: That’s so true. Why is that?

Keegan: Because snowboarders can’t even go that wide. Skiers are just so agile.

Caite: Do you bring a snowboarder approach to shooting skiing or do you just insert the person?

Keegan: I insert the person. A lot of it is anticipating what the person is going to do, so, I can say “You should go do a big pow turn over there,” but if you’re a skier and approach the mountain differently, it’s hard to know if you're going to do what I had in mind. I can set up this entire frame. But if you do something different, I have to react quickly. With skiing, I haven't shot it enough to know exactly what the skier is going to do. That’s the only difference. The thing with skiing and snowboarding is that it’s so sick, even if it didn’t work out the way I pictured, it’s probably going to turn out cool.

***

Taylor: Change of pace here - rumor has it you’re an Eagle Scout?

Keegan: The rumors are true. When I was eleven, my brother's soccer coach, who was a Scout Master in our town, was like, “you should join Scouts,” and I wasn’t really sold. My dad was a Boy Scout and said, “if you join Boy Scouts I’ll buy you a pocket knife.” So I was like, hell yeah that sounds sweet. I went to my first meeting and made some of my closest friends.

I joined Boy Scouts and I liked that we got to go outside and camp all the time. Through them alone, I had camped over 500 nights as a kid. Our Boy Scout troop was known to be one of the most hardcore ones in the country. We climbed Kilimanjaro in Africa when I was sixteen, some of our other homies explored areas in the Amazon that people had never been to before, our Scout master was super cool and wanted to make sure we were all doing cool shit.

I had an epic time, learned a lot about winter camping, which I fell in love with. For us, the more hardcore it was, the cooler it was. We would go out in -30 nights and camp in snow caves. Through that, I ended up being on this National Geographic TV show called, “Are you Tougher Than a Boy Scout.”

***

Caite: Are you kidding.

Taylor: Seriously?

Keegan: You guys didn’t know this?

***

Keegan: The director of The Deadliest Catch on Nat Geo wanted to have a show, “Are you Tougher than a Boy Scout.” They filmed the pilot episodes with a bunch of Cali kids and they were like, “these kids are weak.” That’s when they did research on where the Boy Scout troops were that were producing these psychos that like the cold water and to sleep in snow caves.

They called my Scout master and he came up with a few names, and one day at lunch in high school, I just got this call at sixteen. They flew me to California and I shot five episodes. The following summer, I went on tour and they flew me out to speak in front of 3,000 people.

That was the peak of my public speaking career. I kind of suck now. I can’t even talk to friends because you know, Coronavirus. I’m not really sure how to talk to anyone anymore. I peaked when I was 17.

Caite: Bullshit.

Keegan: Seriously, you need to watch it and then you’ll see.

(Keegan doesn’t know it yet, but you can watch this exclusive interview about it right here)

Keegan: Two of the guys I met through Boy Scouts who are lifelong friends, the three of us went to Denali. Which was the pinnacle experience for me that’s had a huge impact on my life. It’s a terrifying place. I secured a job guiding on a glacier and spent most of the summer there.

Denali was a sufferfest of extreme wind and snow, but ended in smiles all around. Keegan Rice archives.

With Denali, we were on the mountain for three weeks. The entire environment wanted to kill me. The whole time you’re in a very hostile situation where you’re just trying to stay alive. Kilimanjaro is chill. You wake up in the morning to a porter shaking your tent being like, “would you like one scoop of sugar or two?” and they give it to you in bed. Denali is a sufferfest of extreme wind and snow. It snowed 15-20 feet while we were there. I was the most scared I’ve been in my life.

One day, we decided we weren’t going to summit. We had a short weather window to turn around, and the descent was gnarly. I was a splitboarder with two skiers, which was tough because we’re roped together. We were coming down this two mile long ice rink that was steep, 45 degree pitch or so. I was in the rear, and my sled had been acting up (we towed gear) so I put all my weight in my pack. It was icy, I hit a patch of deep snow, holding my snowboard with my 90-pound backpack on, and one of my crampons fell off my snowboard boot. We got back onto the gnarly ice, and I was struggling. I could get one step that was safe, and then I’d quickly take a step on my snowboard boot and kick my other crampon in, and after an hour of that, I’m so beat and tired and I fell and started sliding on ice, put my ice axe in, I was going so fast by the time I got it in, it ripped my leash off and I was free falling. I passed my friend Lee, who was in the middle of our rope team, and I’m coming down toward Mike, freaking out, and Lee was the most badass mountaineer, he dropped in on his ice axe, and the rope stretched and I went past Mike and back up, and that was f*cked.

So yeah, we call that Shitty Tuesday. It was the shittiest day ever. I was nineteen and way over my head. But it was a sick experience. Now, I’d like to go back. For a while I didn't. I cried when I got off the plane. I was like, I hate snow. I don’t want to see it ever again. It’s so cold. But yeah. I don’t know how we got on that one.

Big mountains and bigger mountains. Keegan Rice photos.

Taylor: Me either but I’m glad we did. Is there anyone you’d like to work with?

Keegan: Caite Zeliff, Jared Speiker, Alex Isley has a sick snowboard style. Anyone that is really good at what they’re doing makes my art so much easier.

Taylor: Do you have a go-to song at the moment?

Keegan: Everytime I go snowmobiling, I think of trenchtown rock by Bob Marley.

Taylor: Okay picture this, you’re stuck on an island.

Keegan: I love islands.

Taylor: It’s a special island.

Keegan: Oh no, is it like Lost?

Taylor: No, you just have unlimited food and music. Nothing else. What are three things you would bring?

Keegan: Can I say 100 pounds of weed until I get rescued? I already have food and music, what else do I need? A hand saw so I can make a surfboard?

Caite: Can this happen tomorrow?

Keegan: Can we put this in the article?

Taylor: I think so.

Keegan: I want to go surfing. Does the island get good waves?

Taylor: Yeah!

Keegan: Ok, then I want that. If there’s no waves I don’t want a surfboard. Sitting on the beach, looking like a kook.

Taylor: Island Update - you can bring someone, but they have to be dead.

Keegan: I’d like to think I would get along with Bob Marley. But I wouldn’t wish that on him. I’m not going to bring Bob back from the dead to be stuck on an island with me. That would make the weed go by so quick.

Taylor: Ok I think I’ve got everything I -

Keegan: But if the island had a mountain on it, covered in snow, it could be a winter island. Maybe it can have good snow? Maybe?

Taylor: What would you do then?

Keegan: I would say a surfboard, a 100 pounds of weed, and a splitboard.

Taylor: And you’ll just leave Bob Marley alone?

Keegan: Honestly, Bob wouldn’t be that much fun to have on a snowboarding island. I’d be like lets go snowboard and he’d be like “…nah… not today.”

Taylor: That would give him so much more time to crush the weed….

Keegan: Yeah, I’d be like, “you’re kind of turning into a d*ck…”

Taylor: And you guys would hate each other…

Keegan: I would hate to hate Bob. 

Return to TGR Journal Vol. 2