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Monday, March 16, 2015

"Noctographer" Got Start Exploring Fort Thomas After Dark

"While You Were Sleeping"; photo by Keegan Kruse

Keegan Kruse, who Cincinnati Refined recently called "the Batman of the art world" because of his passion for urban exploration, and nighttime art and photography, grew up in Fort Thomas and graduated from Highlands High School in 2010. Currently a resident of Louisville, he's doing what he loves, professionally and personally. We caught up with Kruse to find out what he's up to creatively this days, and to find out how growing up in Fort Thomas impacted his art, profession and being.

You go by "noctographer" on Instagram and elsewhere. What does this name/idea mean? 

It's simply a merge of two terms, "nocto," which means night, and "grapher," which indicates a person concerned with a subject. I have always enjoyed adventuring at night, and now I do it with my camera and I'm able to see it in a whole new way; as well as share it with others.

"Own The Night"; photo by Keegan Kruse

In your interview with Cincinnati Refined you said that you first became interested in exploring the night when your parents began to let you stay out past the streetlights. What do you remember specifically about nighttime in Fort Thomas, from a young person's perspective?

Looking back, Fort Thomas was surprisingly a lot of fun for a kid after dark; or at least it was for my friends and me. I specifically remember making campfires in the woods of Tower Park, and running through Highland [Hills] Park with flashlights wondering what that noise was that was certainly coming right for us; when I was 12 or so, that's what we liked to do, get scared, and scare other people, and the woods after dark is the place to do that. It was funny, it was an adrenaline rush, it was just the random things we did to occupy the time and not be at home. Once we got a little older, we kind of outgrew the woods; after dark at least, we would still spend just about every moment of sunlight outside of school at our "camps" in different spots of Tower Park trails. But at night, we became more interested in skating, hanging out with girls, and just generally being as rebellious as possible without getting caught.

If I could describe my nighttime Fort Thomas experiences in one word, it would be "Convenient." Not the adjective, but the store. Convenient was always the hub for us to hang out in because it was a melting pot for different cliques in high school; and I loved that. I was never exactly part of one clique, I got a long with almost everyone, so I was able to see all different types of friends there, and we would spend hours in the parking lot after dark. During my last years of high school is when I really was allowed to start exploring the nocturnal territory of Fort Thomas and the regions around it. My friends had cars, and I did too, so getting to interesting places quickly was no longer a problem. We enjoyed going to grungy spots, like farmhouses, the river, maybe the abandoned warehouse in Cincinnati every once and awhile, or possibly just driving on route 8 until we were out just a bit too long after our curfews. 

There are definitely cool places to explore around Fort Thomas—you just have to get out and find them. I really hope that kids are still doing things like this instead of staying inside and playing video games or surfing the interwebs because I think it shaped my creativity and sense of adventure, and I value those aspects of my life very much.

How did growing up in Fort Thomas influence your creative mission and who you are today?

I never really realized that I was creative. I would always be creating things, but I just didn't really see that as an attribute I had or was able to make a career out of. About halfway into high school I started hanging out with a different group of friends and we started making music. This was the gateway to my creativity, the band, "Skoop Jackson?" was nothing serious, but it was my favorite pastime at that point in my life; making music still is. My buddy taught me guitar, we played a talent show, the chorus teacher (Mrs. Cook) got me to join chorus; and all the while I would be doodling on every piece of homework or notes that I had. I would also spray paint T-shirts and old trestles near the Ohio River; I would make stencils and stickers and put them in different places, but I never considered myself an artist—it seemed out of reach, and maybe just too pretentious at the time. Within the past six years or so I have explored a lot of different creative outlets, and this honing of skills and mediums has been very important to me. Light and composition are key parts of photography, and there are different ways to deal with them in different environments. This is true for a lot of mediums, and I've taken elements from each in order to make my photos. I think Highlands was a great spot for me to be. It wasn't too big, but it wasn't too small. And while it may not be the most ethnically diverse school, there are a lot of different types of people; and there was always someone interesting to interact with, students and teachers alike.

"Decrepit Puddles"; photo by Keegan Kruse

What have you been up to since graduating from Highlands?

I graduated in 2010, and I went straight to the University of Louisville. I switched my major a few times and ended up getting my Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and a minor Communications. I specified in photography, and different parts of marketing/advertising; I was very interested in my core classes. College was not only fun because of the freedom and partying, but learning new things was very exciting. I graduated in 2014 [and] during the last year of school I took a job as a graphic designer for Cafepress Inc.'s retail store while freelancing as well. I then became Assistant Manager, and then took a job with their corporate marketing team as the company's Chief Photographer, which I am doing presently. I enjoy my job very much. It's a fun environment to work in, and I get to take pictures for a living, something I thought was out of reach for me not too long ago.

What are you working on creatively right now that excites you? 

I'm working on a few things. Two photography projects and one music. I've found that I produce the best artwork with careless creation, followed by conscious completion. I never really think too conceptually deep when I start on a project—it kind of just falls in my lap. But that's not to say that I don't do things for a reason. I think it's important to know why you're doing something, but maybe just not so important right when you start. Trying to understand something too soon can kill the action of it at all. Right now, my main creative project is exploring dilapidated urban environments after dark. This can get sketchy, I bring a crew with me, and it is a fantastic time. Instead of going to the bars on a Saturday, you can probably find me on the 15th floor of a building that hasn't been running since the early 1990s. This is far more rewarding to me. With so many mundane parts of life, moments are easily forgotten, but when I feel the adrenaline involved with these adventures, they scar my memory, in a good way—there's no way I'm forgetting this experience. If I go to a bar, I might not even remember how I got home let alone the experiences I felt while inside. These recent excursions have been pretty nostalgic, too. I'm basically doing what I used to do, but instead of a backpack full of spray paint, I have a backpack full of camera equipment. The cops are far more understanding. I might even get a cool portrait out of it.

For contact information and to see more of Kruse's work, visit his website here

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