Cardwell was born in the UK and studied art at Leeds and at Goldsmith’s College, London. He has worked as a freelance photographer since 1978 and holds professorships in Guangxi, China and Savannah, GA. His work has been exhibited and published internationally, and he has worked with photo editors for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including The Guardian and The Observer (London).
His most famous series are of East End, London; Shanghai, China; and Havana, Cuba. Indeed, Cardwell was the first British photographer exhibited in Havana. He curated, as well as exhibited in, “Cuba Sí – 50 Years of Cuban Photography,” National Theatre, London (2000) and ten venues throughout the world. In the States, he is collected by the Telfair Museum Savannah, GA, Savannah College of Art, Naples Museum of Art, FL, Magnum photographer Burt Glinn, NYC, and the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, among others.
Cardwell first went to Cuba in 1997 while lecturing in Savannah and visited the island every opportunity over the following three and a half years. During this period Cuba welcomed Pope John Paul, suffered through the Elian Gonzalez affair and savored the international success of the Buena Vista Social Club. This is the Cuba of Cardwell’s most recent work, all limited edition silver gelatin prints.
“Keith once described himself as a ‘pickpocket’ photographer, a technique he learnt as a way of dealing with people who were reluctant to have their picture taken. Looking at his images, the exchange between subject and photographer seems much more honest and mutual than this term suggests. The people who offer themselves to Keith’s camera do so openly, and in the knowledge that the resultant images will be treated with respect and affection. They enter into this, often brief, relationship with their eyes, and hearts, open. In return, Keith acknowledges their problems, passions and aspirations and responds by sharing his own, albeit through the lens of his camera,” writes Tracy Hallett, Black & White Photography.
“Photography is a memory bank, a storehouse. Picasso once said of Cezanne that he was a storehouse of ideas. The Greeks thought memory the muse of all the arts. Photography has helped me understand who I am, and I rediscover myself every time I shoot—not in speaking or communicating with the subject, but in the balance of what my camera sees and what I know helps me to achieve these given moments of time on paper. Then the miracle of a photograph arrives through craft, reinforcing the experience of having been there,” says the artist.