Leelanau Lab captures area beauty in photographs


By Lindsay Simmons
Sun contributor

Imagine this: it’s a bright, stunning day in northern Michigan and you’ve just hiked up Pyramid Point. The clouds are swirling and the lake is the most brilliant blue you’ve ever seen. Patting yourself on the back for remembering your digital camera, you snap some pictures to remember the scene. When you get home and view the photos on your computer you think, “The photo just doesn’t do it justice!” Sound familiar?

In the case of Keenan May’s photography, justice is served. For the first (and probably only) summer, you can find the 27-year-old photographer’s work displayed at Leelanau Lab — a former mechanic’s shop transformed into an art gallery — located just behind the new M-22 store on the east end of downtown Glen Arbor.

A graduate student in architecture at the University of Michigan, Keenan has created an unassuming, simplistic space to show off his printed canvas photos and to disseminate his passion for Leelanau County. While most graduate students choose to celebrate the end of their first year with friends and brews, Keenan wasted no time converting the garage and designing the layout of the empty space for the Memorial Day gallery opening.

Keenan is also one of a handful of local young entrepreneurs the Glen Arbor Sun is featuring this summer and honoring for returning to the town where he grew up after honing his skills in Ann Arbor.

“I had to figure out how to display the work while maintaining natural light from the garage doors,” Keenan says. “I wanted minimal aesthetic: to show almost nothing but the work itself and to keep everything off the ground because the garage can get windy.”

The result is the type of low-budget yet professional do-it-yourself project that could be featured on HGTV. Cables weighted by blocks of native wood suspend the photographs at eye level while censored lights–triggered by movement–flash above each bay of work.

“One of the hardest tasks has been choosing which photographs to print,” Keenan says. As of now, the gallery features mostly dramatic landscape scenes named after the place they were captured. He explains the content as “some of the most unique moments I’ve experienced — all of which I could never remake.”

The photography is familiar yet breathtaking, obviously from the eye of someone who’s spent many years combing the Leelanau peninsula for secluded, raw beauty. Keenan first started taking digital photos in high school with one of the first point-and-shoot cameras.

“It fit in my pocket and from there on out I rarely left the house without it.” He felt that if he was ever without his camera, “something amazing would happen and it’d go undocumented.”

Keenan has upgraded his photo equipment throughout the years (now shooting with a Canon 7D SLR) and has subsequently taken hundreds of thousands of photos of Leelanau’s landscape.

“It’s beyond a hobby and is now more of an obsession,” he says. Keenan will shoot the occasional wedding, but really prefers to stick to the impressive vistas and intricate textures of the area, which suits his quiet demeanor.

Leelanau Lab is on the periphery of most retail in Glen Arbor, but Keenan is happy with his success so far.

“I keep my prices very low,” he says. “I’m the only employee and it’s my work.”

However Keenan does include a rack of his mother’s prints — artist Kristin Hurlin, whose Paradiso Gallery is on the west side of town near Boondocks. “We help each other out by sending customers to one another.”

All proceeds from the Lab will pay for supplies and overhead, then go towards Keenan’s student loans. No matter how great his success may be this summer, he is the type to always have a bigger, grander vision. “I love photography and the ability to evoke visceral reactions to my work but it’s only a temporary project to fuel a greater purpose.” Beyond graduation, Keenan hopes to contribute his knowledge and creativity to energy-harvesting and clean architectural technologies.