There is a certain satisfaction that comes from watching an artist give in to their passion, especially when it is accompanied by a sense of humility and the desire to continue growing and learning. Kevin D. Hoover is the embodiment of just such an artist and I have been lucky enough to get to know him through the magic of Facebook over the past year. We actually have a few things in common such as a deep admiration for photographer Thomas Synnamon, a broad range in our personal definitions of what encompasses art, admiration for the male form and an issue of Beautiful Mag – his first feature.
Kevin has come a long way in a very short amount of time and that first issue was followed by two more, both of which found his work gracing the cover. And now he comes to BLISS. I’ve wanted to showcase his work for some time but I also wanted to let people in on the type of conversations we typically have on Facebook. He didn't withhold any of that humor or candor for the interview.
BLISS: You’ve been featured in Beautiful Mag twice within a matter of months and the second time landed you on the cover. How does it feel to finally be recognized for your work?
KEVIN D. HOOVER: Gratifying and a bit overwhelming. I've only been pursuing photography as a profession for about a year and a half so I feel like I've come pretty far, pretty fast. Thomas Synnamon suggested that I reach out to Beautiful. He gave me the publisher's name, email address and told me to tell him that Thomas sent me. To receive that sort of support from a photographer whose work I love and respect so much was beyond amazing in itself. Getting published was the icing on an already delicious cake.
B: What have the responses to your features been like?
KDH: Extremely positive. It has also opened the door to working with modeling agencies and other magazines.
B: We have gotten to know each other on Facebook and I have been a fan of yours for some time, watching your work evolve to where it is today. What would you say is the biggest difference in your images now compared to last year?
KDH: I think my vision, though still a work in progress is becoming clearer. I also think that my images are technically better because I have a better relationship with my equipment. I'm not a manual reading kind of guy…LOL. Sometimes, to my own detriment, I subscribe to the Nike school of thought; "Just Do It."
B: How would you describe your particular style?
KDH: As an artist, I'm still growing and finding my voice. If forced, I would say my style tends to be sensual, provocative, moody and a bit dramatic, while maintaining simplicity.
B: Every photographer has their own method in terms of working with models. Do you plan out what you want to do in advance or let things flow naturally based on your rapport with the model?
KDH: I usually have a rough idea of what I want to shoot but sometimes, based on the rapport with the model, a concept can fly out the window. I always tell my models to bring their iPod or other listening device so we can play their favorite music. It tends to put them in a great frame of mind. I talk to them before and during the shoot to get an idea of who they are as a person. Contrary to what some people think, models are people, not coat hangers. I let them know that we will do nothing that makes them uncomfortable. For me, it's about building relationships. If you notice, I've worked with many of "my guys" (that's what I call my models) on more than one occasion. I'm very protective of my guys and they know when they work with me, they are in good hands. When people know that you respect them, they trust you, want to work with you repeatedly, and will refer others to you.
B: Your stable is increasing rapidly. Where do you find most of the men that you work with?
KDH: I've met most of my guys on or because of Facebook. The majority of them, via direct messaging. Some have also been through agencies run by people I've met on Facebook. I hear people complain about Facebook for one reason on another, but it has been an excellent portal for me. It has allowed me to connect with people rather rapidly that I might have taken years to meet, if ever.
B: So far, we have shared one model – JJ Catracho – and I know that you have deep affection for him. What is it about JJ that makes him so special to work with?
KDH: JJ is a natural. When he gets in front of the camera, he radiates sex appeal. It's not forced and it's not cheap. He knows his face and his body. He knows how to move. JJ was one of those shoots that took forever to edit because there were so many great images.
B: It can be difficult to pick a favorite because every model brings something new, but have any been personal muses for you?
KDH: I have a few favorites but no muse. It's difficult to have a muse because people have their own lives. They're not always available when you have an idea or concept that you really want to shoot. The temperamental artist in me has had difficulty with that at times. I had to teach myself that just because it's important to me, that doesn't mean it's important to everyone.
B: You are very diverse in your choices when it comes to the men you shoot. What do you look for when decided on a model to work with?
KDH: Of course, it starts with their "look". I need to see something in them that inspires me. As you said, my guys are a diverse bunch. I don't see the same thing in every guy. But I see something that I want to capture.
B: Is it difficult to keep personal taste out of the equation when it comes to choosing a model?
KDH: If I don't see a certain beauty in them that I want to capture, I don't see the point of shooting them so I guess personal taste is front and center…LOL. BUT, I don't need to be physically attracted to them. I need to see something that inspires me.
B: One of the things I love most about you is that you can be very candid and we've had some fantastic conversations off the record. In the spirit of candor, what would you say is the most disappointing aspect about the industry?
KDH: I honestly can say that so far, I've had no surprises and choose to see that as me being knowledgeable instead of jaded…LOL. I think because I've been working in the entertainment industry in one form or another for a while now, some of the shenanigans and tomfoolery I see and hear about don't surprise me, even though I still shake my head and think, "really?". They happen in music, film and television so why not the modeling world too? The truth is, you sometimes have people in power taking advantage of those who they perceive to be powerless. Not cool. But as opposed to me focusing on how others outside of me do business, I focus on handling mine. I show my guys respect and treat them as I want to be treated.
B: This is the unofficial Sex & Music issue so let’s continue with the theme of candor and start with sex. What is your viewpoint on male frontal nudity?
KDH: LOVEs iT! ROFL! I think the male form is a beautiful thing.
B: There are so many limitations put upon nude male images, especially if the penis is not flaccid. Do you consider an erection to be pornographic or can it still retain an artistic aspect?
KDH: I always joke that the difference between art and porn is good lighting. I think the topic is colored by ones on inhibitions. I can look at the image of a nude male with an erection and see beauty while someone else might just see a guy with a hard dick. It's all subjective.
B: Your work is mostly portraiture, no matter how sexy some of the images are, but you also shoot nudes and some erotic images. Do you find that people tend to put you in a box the moment one of those types of shots goes public and label you as an erotic photographer?
KDH: Yes. I even had a model tell me that he didn't want me to post his images (non nudes) because he feared it could damage his reputation. He feared that people would be waiting for nudes to pop up of him because I've shot nude models. Keep in mind; some of the biggest photographers in the world have published collections of erotic nudes. But I told him, "oh….ok…not a problem". I took all of his images and stored them in "the vault". I didn't delete them because that's just something I don't do. I'm very proud of my work. My shoots run the gamut from mild to wild. Yes, I shoot erotic nudes but I don't want to be labeled as "the erotic photographer" just like I'm Black but don't want to be called "the Black photographer".
B: In terms of physicality, what appeals to you more in an image…the front or the back?
KDH: It really depends on the model but I guess, back. I'm what one would call, "a leg man". Nice thighs, glutes and calves get me every time. But pecs, abs and thighs that surround a nice package won't get tossed out of the studio either…LOL!
B: There are some models that are mostly known for their nude work but seem to become choosy when other photographers want to shoot them in the buff. Have you ever had a model like this that refused to shoot nudes with you?
KDH: Once. I reached out to a model on Model Mayhem. His entire portfolio was nudes but he told me he wasn't going to shoot nude, which was odd to me since nude modeling seemed to be the product he was offering. My response was, "oh...ok". Anyone who knows me knows that if that is my only response, I have already mentally walked away from the conversation. That said, I totally understand that some models won't pose nude for every photographer they come into contact with. Often the model has created relationships with the photographers they've posed nude for. I say we shoot, and if it's in your comfort zone, we do it and if not, we move on to the next scene.
B: Speaking of models, we both tend to have similar tastes when it comes to those that we want to eventually work with. Do you have a “wish list” and if so, who is on it?
KDH: Dionisio Heidershied. He kills every shoot. There is a YouTube video of him shooting a campaign with Justin Monroe. I recommend it to every male model so they can see how a man who knows his face and body works in front of a camera. There are a few other faces that come to mind but their names escape me right now. So much for them being on my wish list huh? LOL.
B: I believe that as fellow artists we should all support each other as much as possible but often times, other photographers can exhibit a side of themselves that is far from supportive. Have you ever received any negativity from other photographers?
KDH: Fortunately, not so far. I have had photographers be unresponsive but not negative. For me, it's been the exact opposite. The works of Thomas Synnamon, Rick Day, Michael Stokes and Justin Monroe, inspire me greatly and constantly. They have all been very kind to me and extremely generous with their time when I've had questions about photography or equipment. Especially Thomas. I call him my online mentor.
B: I love that fact that there is so much talent out there because it keeps me inspired and motivated. Which photographers do you gain the most inspiration from?
KDH: Thomas Synnamon, Rick Day, Michael Stokes, Justin Monroe, Simon Le, Scott Hoover or as I call him, "Cousin Scott" even though I doubt we're related. Jorge Freire and Abel Cruz, Luis Rafael…YOU. The list goes on and on and on...
B: We are both minorities in a field where few of us are truly recognized for our contributions. Do you think that there is a different standard or expectation placed upon minority artists or can the work simply speak for itself?
KDH: I try to work from a place where the only person whose opinion matters when it comes to the standard and expectation of my work is me. I want each shoot to be a little better than the one before it. I think achieving that is far more difficult than dealing with any sort of bias. Is there racism and discrimination in this business? Of course. But where doesn't it exist? What's important is how one deals with it. I refuse to take up residency at Pity Me Pines and play victim. I put a product out into the universe and for those who are receptive, great. For those who aren't…well…oh…ok.
B: Where do you do most of your shooting?
KDH: My living room of my apartment in beautiful Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
B: What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspect about being a photographer?
KDH: Creating images that I love and that people respond to in a very definite way. I want people to either they love them or hate them. A tepid response is not an option.
B: When this is the primary source of income, what would you say is the biggest obstacle to making money?
KDH: People not respecting your time because the adage is true; time is indeed money. If I allow you to waste my time, it's interfering with me making money.
B: It is an interesting thing to realize that your name is recognized by people throughout the world simply because of an image that you shot. I’ve only recently been able to grasp that concept for myself. Are you aware that people are familiar with your name and your photography?
KDH: It's rather mind blowing. To have guys from around the country or from Europe and Australia, checking out my work and then reaching out to me because they'd like to plan a shoot when they visit NYC, is more than I dared dream of. I am so honored to receive the kind words of admiration and support. I often ask myself, "Whose life is this?"
B: I was talking to a friend of mine recently and the discussion centered around the fact that art can make people immortal in the sense that long after they are gone, what they have created will continue to have a life, even if they are not on a level of fame like Warhol or Mapplethorpe. The Internet has increased this possibility because of the millions of blogs that feature photography. Does knowing this add a sense of responsibility to what you do or influence the type of images you shoot?
KDH: Not at all. Fame has not been the motivation for me. I have stories that I want to tell with my camera and I believe there is an interest in those stories. If the inspiration or motivation becomes fame, I'm no longer speaking with my authentic voice and purpose.
B: When it’s all said and done what would you most like to be remembered for as an artist?
KDH: Kevin D. Hoover created images that provoke a mood, a thought, a deed, an emotion. Kevin D. Hoover made you FEEL.
B: Creation can become a need for some talented people and what they do takes on deep significance in their lives. Aside from your art, what are 5 things that mean the most to you in life?
1. My partner - spouse - better half, Russell Jordan. For the last 13 1/2 years, he has been my safe place and I couldn't do this without his love and support.
2. My family, both blood and non-blood relations. You can't choose your relatives but you can choose your family.
3. My music. It has the ability to calm me, inspire me, motivate me.
4. My freedom. The ability to go, to do, to be. My limitations are my only limitations.
5. Just being here. I'm happy and healthy. I live in an amazing city, am constantly surrounded by amazing people. I do what I love. I realized a while ago that we are the architects of our own lives. What a gift that truly is.
B: Photographers are more than just people who hold cameras but we tend to get defined by what we do. On a personal side, can you tell me 5 things about yourself that even those who know you might be surprised to discover?
1. I'm extremely shy.
2. I'm extremely sensitive.
3. I'm a pretty damned good cook. Well folks who know me know that…LOL.
4. I also produce music. Film, television and I have a dance music album available on iTunes. One day I'll find time to finish the sequel.
5. I love high rises but have a fear of heights.
B: A great deal is happening for you rather quickly this year and I know that a few surprises are in store before the year is over. Without giving anything secret away, what can we expect to see from you as the year progresses?
KDH: As you know, during the last couple months, I've connected with some amazing people who believe in my work. So all I can say, without divulging state secrets is, just expect to see more.
B: Considering how humble you can be when it comes to your art, I would guess that you might not be aware that you actually have a large fan base. Any last words for them?
KDH: My face is beet red right now…LOL. I am honored, humbled, but most of all, sincerely grateful for your encouragement and support. Thank you so much. I hope you'll stick with me during this amazing adventure.
©2012 – Sean Dibble