Any entrepreneur worth his salt has a creative spark. Not everyone takes it to Tim Keane’s level.
The 65-year-old has had a long and winding career, but he is best known in the Milwaukee area for starting Web analytics company Retail Target Marketing Systems in Waukesha, WI; growing the business to $20 million in annual sales before selling it in 2000 to the former Metavante Technologies; and founding Golden Angels Investors in 2002, a group of about 100 Wisconsin and Illinois investors that he directs today. (He’s also an Xconomist.)
What is less widely known is Keane’s passion for photography.
Hanging on the wall opposite Keane’s desk in his office in Brookfield, WI, about 11 miles west of Milwaukee, is a 16-inch-by-72-inch photo of the famous rock spires of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona, printed on canvas. The area has been photographed countless times for travel brochures and advertising campaigns, but Keane’s photos of Monument Valley put his personal stamp on the scene. (See the attached slideshow.)
On the other side of the office suite, a more expansive room is filled with Keane’s photos from his world travels over the past 40-plus years. Visitors are greeted by the stoic faces of models in Mendocino, CA; the shrunken and wrinkled hands and face of Sally Yazee, a Native American he photographed in Monument Valley; a market in Quito, Ecuador; a view of bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean from Highway 1 in California; and a wide shot of the Milwaukee skyline, a copy of which hangs in Mayor Tom Barrett’s office, he said.
Within five minutes of gazing at Keane’s work and chatting with him about lighting, perspective, and equipment, it becomes clear he has the eye and the know-how to produce professional-quality photos that speak to people.
“He’s an incredibly creative individual,” said Keane’s wife of 41 years, Mary. “Any entrepreneur would be.”
The attention to detail and high standards that help him to run businesses and scrutinize investment deals also make him a better photographer, he said.
“I think what’s interesting about art in general is you’re kind of capturing something that, to the extent that I’m capable of doing it, reflects my view of what I thought this looked like,” Keane said, as he sat in the middle of the larger room and pondered the photos surrounding him. “And of course black and white in particular, which most of this is, you know, they’re artifacts. It’s not what the scene looks like, unless you have terrible color blindness, but it’s a vision of things.”
Consider another of his Monument Valley photos, which depicts not only a beautiful vista, but also offers insight into how Keane approaches photography—and perhaps life.
He shot it two years ago from a different perspective than the cliché tourist photos, instead capturing both the breathtaking mesas and the abject poverty of the Navajo people living below in run-down houses and trailers. He calls the photo “The Real Monument Valley.”
“It’s part of an Indian reservation where there isn’t much money,” said Keane, who taught on reservations in South Dakota while volunteering with the Jesuits in the 1960s. “We all take pretty pictures of the rocks and forget about the people that live there.”
College was the only time in Keane’s life that photography was more than a hobby. While studying journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee, the Chicago native worked as a staff photographer for the student newspaper, The Marquette Tribune.
After graduation he taught at Saint Thomas More High School in Milwaukee, followed by a short stint with a small public relations agency, and then GE Healthcare in Waukesha hired him for corporate marketing.
He stuck with photography for a while, but in the early 1980s he gave it up and sold his equipment, for reasons he can’t recall.
He’s picked up other hobbies along the way, including bagpipes and piloting airplanes. He even ran his own charter jet company for a while, but that’s a whole other story.
“Tim is not the kind of person who changes jobs. He changes careers,” his wife said. “He will pursue, until he dies, areas of interest that stimulate him. Whatever comes along that piques his interest, I will be there to encourage because it’s exciting to live with somebody like that.”
About eight years ago, Keane decided to take up photography again. He and his wife have invested at least $13,000 in cameras and accessories; he has taken 12 online photography classes through BetterPhoto.com; he embarked on a photography cruise to Alaska organized by Macworld; and he has participated in studio and outdoor workshops in California and Arizona, respectively.
He’s a Nikon loyalist who had no problem with letting film fall by the wayside.
But in this digital world we live in, he said the “ultimate expression of a photograph” is still hanging it on a wall. And not just traditional glossy prints; his collection includes photos printed on canvas, aluminum, rag paper, and even wood.
Despite the recognition he received from instructors and classmates with BetterPhoto.com, and the fact that friends and relatives clamor for framed prints of his photos, he has opted not to flip his hobby into a business.
“I don’t know how much of a market there is anymore for this kind of stuff,” Keane said.
Instead, it’s a stress outlet that allows him to temporarily forget about work. Ever the self-critic, Keane said he’s “not good enough” to shoot quality photos without focusing his mind completely on the task at hand. He likes that.
“You can play golf, which I do,” Keane said. “The biggest problem with golf is shit gets in your head, especially if you’re playing with friends and there’s sort of chitty chatter, and all of a sudden you’re thinking about work and the ball goes in the woods. I can’t do that with [photography].”
Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org