Kevin Scanlon is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based photographer. Since 2003, he has photographed an impressive array of celebrities, artists, musicians, athletes, everyday people, and business luminaries for editorial, entertainment, and advertising clients.
Kevin’s work frequently appears in The New York Times and LA Weekly. He’s shot over forty LA Weekly covers featuring celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Drew Barrymore, Sean Penn, Clint Eastwood, Daniel Day Lewis and Jodie Foster.
He periodically teaches photography workshops at the Julia Dean Photo Workshops in Hollywood, CA. Topics include the business of photography, portraiture, and lighting for location or studio shoots.
Kevin is originally from Pittsburgh and is a die-hard Steelers fan. When he doesn’t have a camera hanging from his shoulder, he has his ’63 Fender Jazzmaster or his set of golf clubs to take its place. Kevin calls the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles his home. (Bio taken from http://www.kevinscanlon.com)
I first met Kevin in 1999 when he was on tour with his band Pollen. I had found their CD at a local record store, and they quickly became one of my favorite groups. I was lucky enough to meet them, and stay in touch with them throughout the years. Following Kevin’s work has been a real treat, as he’s taken some of my favorite photographs. While he’s not a poet in the traditional sense, he is a poet when it comes to the visual arts.
TPQ: Set the scene for us. Where are you right now?
KS: I took my laptop to a nice, well-air-conditioned coffee shop in Silverlake, CA called LaMill. They have an outstanding drink called Blanco y Negro. It’s an iced coffee with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. It’s a morale-booster from the 3pm drag-ass feeling.
TPQ: How did you get into photography?
KS: I had a need to follow in my sister’s footsteps at a young age. She was always drawing when we were kids. I tried and tried and sucked every time. When I took a photo elective early in high school, I found the perfect marriage of visual art and science / math, which were my strengths at the time.
TPQ: You took a very different route to your current profession. I first met you when you were the guitar player for Pollen, and while you always took great photos while you guys were on tour, you took it to a whole new level after the band parted ways. What inspired you to make photography a full-time profession?
KS: Being a rock star was always my first choice in terms of a career. ***If only there were a million more Chris Margolins out there*** However, being things as they are, Pollen couldn’t sustain itself. So we went our separate ways, amicably. In the back of mind, I always wanted to do something more with photography, and I knew I would eventually pursue photography as a career. My intent was to be a music photographer, shooting album covers, tour docs, publicity photos, etc. While I’ve done my fair share of music photography over the years (album art for Jimmy Eat World, Mayer Hawthorne, Van Morrison, Tom Petty’s band Mudcrutch, and others), I had to diversify into a broader spectrum of portraiture to survive.
TPQ: You’ve been involved with some amazing photo projects, and your work has been on the cover of several major magazines. Do you have a couple favorite projects that you could tell us about?
KS: One of my favorites was spending a day with Clint Eastwood. He was in the process of editing Invictus at the time, and I photographed him working with his editor, producer, and the staff in his office on the Warner lot. His reputation since the RNC in 2012 seems to have faded a bit, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the good guys in Hollywood. Having a conversation with him was like chatting up one of my father’s old college buddies. It got to the point that he played played a little ragtime on the piano for me and my assistant. That’s pretty special.
TPQ: Who is your favorite photographer, and why?
KS: I have different favorites for different reasons. I like Sebastiao Salgado for his incredible doc work. He’s a huge influence for me. I like Leibovitz for her lighting technique and the way she gets her subjects to appear completely and effortlessly at ease, every time. That can be very tough to accomplish. I like Frank Ockenfels because he puts art back into commercial and editorial photography. And then there are greats like Richard Avedon, Arnold Newman, Robert Capa, etc, whose work I really admire.
TPQ: Obviously, we are The Poetry Question, so it might seem odd that we are interviewing you for our site. A lot of people feel as if poetry is just a written art, but what they don’t realize is that people can find poetry in anything – especially visual art. When you are working to set up a photo, what are you looking for from your model, or scenery, or location?
KS: Well, ok, that’s a good question. I tend to gravitate toward organization, flow, feel, and story. And while I believe a single image can read like a poem, it’s a little more about a series of images that read like poetry in my mind, much in the same way that it requires a series of words or musical notes to a poet or musician.
TPQ: How do you know when you have that “perfect photograph?”
KS: Perfection is not something that concerns me. An image that seems perfect to me today will have flaws in a year or two. As my taste changes and my craft evolves, I’ll look back on images or entire shoots that I was totally stoked on and see them as an opportunity missed in some way. I’m still very much proud of my work. But to view once-hailed work as mediocre is a welcome notion. It means my standards are advancing and my craft is elevating. That said, there are several things that contribute to a successful photograph for me. It could be a certain moment captured. It’s usually honest, spontaneous, and hopefully they’re in focus! On occasion, I know I have something special while I’m shooting. But more often, I don’t realize it until I’m working in post-production. And sometimes yet, I don’t discover it until months or years down the road. I could be so busy fulfilling the needs of my client that I overlook one of those “special” images until I go back to find the image for my website or a portfolio. And every time that happens, I get giddy and wonder how the heck I missed it earlier.
TPQ: You’ve worked with a lot of well-known rock bands, and actors. Can you tell us about any horror stories, or awkward situations, or funny situations, that you’ve been involved with when it came photo shoots you’ve worked?
KS: Ha, there are a few. I once had an Oscar-winning actor tell me – 7 1/2 minutes into the shoot, mind you – that he’d lost his patience for the photo shoot. That was surreal. My shortest photo shoot was with a legendary musician. It was about 2 1/2 minutes long. I had a two-bit reality tv star walk into my shoot and tell me the set up was all wrong and it needed to be completely redone to show her legs more. Hahaha!
TPQ: What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?
- Like the old environmentalist adage, think globally, act locally…shoot for a small local rag as if you’re shooting for Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone.
- Always fulfill the needs of your client, but do something else for yourself that’s experimental. It’s good for your portfolio, for expanding your craft, and the client might like it too.
- Seek inspiration everywhere. Music, art, nature, rush-hour traffic, whatever.
- Find your hero’s photo and recreate it. If it’s a war photographer, that might be difficult, so be careful.
TPQ: And finally, if you could sit down for a drink with one artist, actor, musician, or author, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?
KS: Crikey, that’s a toughy. I’d like to sit with WA Mozart and play his 41st symphony through my iPhone and watch him flip his lid.