Member of the Month December 2017
Kevin SteeleDecember 1, 2017
All photos © Kevin Steele
Though photographer Kevin Steele was born in Kuwait, he has family roots in New York and spent his childhood living in several different countries. For Steele, it’s all about the feeling his photographs create. He aims to make an emotional connection with images that can range from quiet and still to explosive and dynamic. A commercial advertising photographer, he loves shooting people with a zest for life. Steele can work fast and light, or crew up as needed for both stills and motion production with a great team. With his wife, he moves base camp between Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Los Cabos, Mexico. For him, every assignment is an opportunity to create something extraordinary and have a lot of fun.
Peter Berberian: What made you first decide you were going to be a photographer?
Kevin Steele: A photography class in High School drew me in. I spent every day after school in the darkroom. I had a Yashica 35mm camera and a Polaroid SX70 around my neck all the time. Being Photo Editor of the yearbook, I never thought about making a career out of photography, I figured it was just a creative outlet. Fascinated with space and Carl Sagan, I went to college to study astronomy. That meant studying physics and then that turned into an engineering degree. But photography always remained my passion.
PB: Is there an event that pushed you into being a photographer?
KS: During my freshman year of college in upstate New York, I fell in love with climbing. I was always an outdoorsy person—I love hiking and backpacking and was even an Eagle Scout, always carrying a tattered copy of Thoreau’s Walden in my pocket. Climbing merged the physical and mental. I was hooked. Photography became a way for me to share that experience with others. Rock climbing then led to ice climbing which led to alpine and mountain climbing and after graduation, a cross-country climbing trip took me to California and I started working for Black Diamond. Climbing hard, I found outlets for my work in outdoor magazines, stock and catalogs from brands like Patagonia and The North Face. I loved taking pictures and sharing my point of view. Then, in 2003, an Art Director took me under his wing for my first ad shoot for a company that made equipment for SWAT teams and fire and police departments. The action and locations were a great fit and we did a series of memorable ads and images, including one of my favorite shoots on the face of Mount Rushmore. Rather than taking pictures, I began creating pictures.
PB: What do you primarily photograph?
KS: Always a traveler, I focus on hospitality, active lifestyle and travel/resort. I’ve moved on from my roots in the outdoor world of adventure sports and athletes, but the core emotional connection is there. I love photographing people in amazing places. It’s all about the feeling.
PB: Do you do anything before a shoot to prepare yourself?
KS: Research and relax. I really try to understand the client and the creative objective in terms of mood and intent. A good night’s sleep and a clear mind helps prep the creative and playful flow.
PB: What is your favorite setup to shoot with?
KS: I tend to shoot wide and cinematic. I’ve been loving the full frame Leica Q with the fixed 28mm f/1.7 Summilux lens. It’s always with me. In the past few years I’ve been working with the incredible dynamic range and resolution of the Phase One XF IQ3 and Schneider Kreuznach lenses. Both cameras are around my neck on set.
PB: Who are your greatest influences in the art world?
KS: James Turrell for the way he works with light and space, Caravaggio for his emotional realism and dramatic light, and Maxfield Parrish, the opposite of Caravaggio, for the color tonality of his fantastically kitsch images.
PB: What is your favorite photography quote?
KS: “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” —Robert Frank
PB: Who are your three favorite photographers?
KS: Nadav Kander and Carlos Serrao are my sublime touchstones. And I love the portraiture and creative range of Dan Winters and Sebastio Salgado. Galen Rowell was an outdoor adventure influence early on. We shared a rope in Yosemite. Guess that’s more than three!
PB: If you were to do anything else for a living, what would it be?
KS: I would create the most interesting travel company.
PB: What is your favorite photo that you have taken?
KS: I was on the very tip of Jefferson’s nose, secured by a rope. This was my first real ad campaign and it took a year for the agency to get permission for this incredible and unique access.
PB: What is your favorite personal picture that you have taken?
KS: After a recent shoot for American Express on the island of St. Lucia, I stayed on for a few more weeks and created a body of personal work with local crew and talent. Chadel, pictured here, was amazing, and along with our guide and makeup artist Michael Celestin, we created new portfolio pieces almost every day with no shortage of jaw-dropping locations and light.
Kevin has won numerous awards including Archive International’s 200 Best Ad Photographers, Best of Show in the APA National Awards and a close second place in the sixth-grade spelling bee. Recent commercial clients include American Express, Delta, The North Face, The Four Seasons and travel/tourism campaigns from California to South Dakota.