Dark Shades in the Shadows: Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart
Kevin Hart at the Ilikai Hotel and Luxury Suites, in Honolulu. Marco Garcia for The New York Times

Celebrity photo shoots are a rarity for me here in Honolulu so it is always a pleasure, and challenge, to get a high profile person in front of my lens. The New York Times recently commissioned me to do a portrait of funny man Kevin Hart as they were featuring Hart in the Style section’s List of Five. Hart, who’s in town filming a Jumaji sequel, alongside Dwyane The Rock Johnson and Jack Black, agreed to be photographed on a day off from filming. My job was to create a natural light portrait of him along with capturing some close-ups of his stylish clothing.

I arrived at the Illikai Hotel early one Sunday morning where I was met by his personal assistant and given a key to a suite on a top floor of the hotel. He said to head up to the room and Kevin would be up shortly. Of course, that meant Kevin would arrive whenever he was ready so I prepared for a long wait allowing me plenty of time to scout the location finding the best light and angles. I wasn’t sure how much time he’d give me all considering Sunday was likely his day off and he probably cared little about this photo shoot.

As I waited for his arrival, his personal videographer surprising arrived at the suite and I learned Kevin Hart was also doing some sound bites during the session. I immediately recognized Kwan from a video clip in which Kevin was kicking a soccer ball against the goalie from Manchester City. Kevin was yelling at Kwan during the memorable clip and we shared a good laugh about that, which actually put me at ease. Having too much time to kill filled me with pre-game anxiety and it was good to shoot the breeze with someone who knew Kevin well.

About an hour later, Kevin makes himself up to the suite. He warmly but impersonally greets me, talks with Kwan a bit then sits on the sofa and we get to work. I immediately grab my cameras and guide Kevin effortlessly around the large room. He was very easy to work with and made little, if any demands of me, which helped me get through the photo shoot problem free.

My only difficulty with Kevin Hart was he not wanting to remove his Tom Ford sunglasses that stylishly obstructed his face. Whether the photo editors would be happy with this was beyond me as he flat out said no, but I had no choice and continued to shoot around it. Luckily, the shot the Times picked was of him on the balcony gazing out at the harbor, shades on. The sunglasses added a nice touch, if not fashionable touch.

Sadly, I didn’t leave the suite with my side in stitches as I had hoped Kevin would have worked his magic that morning. But sometimes when your job is to make people laugh for a living, the last thing you want to do is get into the routine on your day off. Other than my iPhone, I rarely have a camera on me and cringe when friends ask me to take their picture.

Nevertheless, the job was a success and during my editing of the take that afternoon, I watched some clips of Kevin on You Tube and had a great laugh.

Fashion photography learned from the big city boys

Fashion photography learned from the big city boys
Fashion photography of Claudia Vaughan for Hi Luxury Magazine. 2016 Marco Garcia, Ken Nahoum
Fashion photography of Claudia Vaughan for Hi Luxury Magazine. 2016 Marco Garcia

“Texas never got this cold” I mumbled to myself as I stepped out of the Spring St. subway station and headed for my very first job in New York City in February of 1997.  I had landed a job with famed fashion lensman Ken Nahoum who made a name for himself in the 80s-90s photographing celebrities and pop stars.  During my first week in Manhattan, I cold called the famous photographer and his studio offered me a job on the spot. Ken was a superstar photographer well known for the infamous images of Tupac Shakur for the record album All Eyez on Me.”  I could not believe how lucky I was to get a job with the famous photographer right out of the bag.  I really wanted to be a fashion photographer and here was my big chance.

MTV in the 90’s glamorized supermodels such as Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer and the black and white images (and videos) of Herb Ritts and Bruce Weber drew me to search out this business in the capital of photography.  I had known very little about fashion at the time and I wasn’t going to learn about it in San Antonio so I took off to NYC and put up with the unbearable cold to to find out what it was all about.

I had never experienced a true east coast winter and I was ill prepared for those last few months of cold weather when I first arrived in Manhattan.  Nahoum’s studio was on the corner of Avenue of Americas and Varick St and although the station was just a few blocks away, the cold, bitter wind coming off the Hudson cut through my Texas winter jacket and chilled me to the bone during that short walk.  But I endured it all because I wanted to learn how to be a fashion photographer.

Nahoum’s studio didn’t exactly explain what my job would be but once I started working there, I ended up being nothing more than an errand boy for Nahoum, his dad, and two sleazy producers.  Sadly, Nahoum was already transitioning out of photography and we only worked on a handful of photo shoots including one notorious outdoor night job that ended when a  heavy storm cut across the City and soaked us.  I remember taking the train home that morning and leaving behind a puddle of water where I had sat.

I had hoped to learn how the business worked from Nahoum but he ended up being a jerk and wouldn’t give me the time of day.  I lasted about three months before I moved on as I had arrived too late in Nahoum’s career to see any of the magic he made back in the day.  Ken wasn’t all that bad now that I look back at it.  I had fond memories of his dad and those two sleazy producers.  It’s very easy now to see why he treated me poorly as I hadn’t “made my bones” yet and was too green to understand.  He worked with the best of the best and I was just…well…an errand boy to him.

After I left, I went off and assisted all types of fashion, portrait, and commercial guys putting lots of emphasis on fashion.  But once I learned the fashion business was a nasty, shallow world, I knew it wasn’t meant for me.  I did work for some really great people and some really huge names and all that hard work as an assistant taught me how to manage a career as a professional photographer.  I wished I had become a dedicated understudy to a well known fashion photographer for a long stretch but after so many years, I moved on to start my career elsewhere.

Ironically, Annie Leibowitz was in the same building on Varick as Nahoum and I accidentally rode the elevator with her.  During that brief ride, I didn’t realize it was her and lost a chance to beg her for a job.  Needless to say, I missed (some might say I was lucky to have missed out!) my chance but all worked out as far as I can see.

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Fast forward nearly twenty years later and out of the blue, I’m offered a job to shoot fashion in Hawaii.  Hi Luxury Magazine asked me to shoot a fashion story on the magical property of Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of The Islands.  The photo editor had known for years I had an inner fashion photographer inside of me but never took me serious when I told her of my past. She finally found a project I could work on and pushed me to produce a great shoot.

I worked with model Claudia V and a great team of make up, hair, and styling. Dale’s property is way in the back of Palolo Valley and the environment fit well with the clothes and the styles.  It was a challenging day but we managed to photograph five looks including a few options in a brief period of time.  Overall, we made some fantastic images.

As I readied myself to shoot that morning, I recalled my days of fetching coffee for Ken’s dad and the two producers.  I recalled having to head uptown to Hermés to pick up a Kelly bag for Ken’s Victoria’s Secret fashion model girlfriend.  I remembered having to take something to Ken’s Greene St. apartment in SoHo and he refused to let me in and I had to wait in the hallway.  I recalled that cold wind, stale bagels, riding home completely wet, and the nasty world of NYC’s fashion business.

But when I looked through my camera’s viewfinder, I saw Claudia and all the moments that led me to this palm grove and I smiled.  I’d never had made it as a fashion guy in Manhattan but its good to know I learned enough make these beautiful images in Hawaii.
Thanks Ken.



Yes the secret is OUT.  I’m going to be on this week’s episode of the new HAWAII FIVE O!!!!!

I actually pulled in by the local coordinator, Angie, to coordinate a “beach photo shoot” as the episode was about a famous fashion photographer killed while on assignment in Hawaii.

Here is the synopsis of the show:   HAWAII FIVE-0 “Ho’ ohuli Na’ au” Season 1 Episode 22 – Five-0 focuses on several key suspects when world-renowned photographer Renny Sinclair is murdered while on assignment in Hawaii shooting the annual swimsuit edition of a top sports magazine, on HAWAII FIVE-0, Monday, May 2 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

I was tasked to coordinate all photographic lighting and grip equipment for “made for TV photo shoot.”  Production relied on my skills to make it look believable as well as functional as I also had to assist Hawaii Five O director Brad Turner (Alias, Smallville, 24, and many others) during his real photo shoot.

Brad wanted to try his hand at actually taking still photos and the production again relied on my skill to make sure Brad’s photo shoots were perfect.  I sadly was not hired to push a button but all the work put in definitely gave the imagery my signature.  Brad did a great job and the images we shot on the beach and inside a studio were phenomenal.  Really nice work and, I must say, fantastic lighting.

But the best part of this job was actually playing a photo assistant on TV!  With all the hard work put in, production decided that they couldn’t rely on an extra to act like a real photographer/photo assistant so they had me be the on-screen assistant to the actor.  Sadly, no lines.  (Damn…I could hear myself screaming CARRY YOUR OWN *&^%! LUGGAGE, NATHANIEL!  And if any of you photographers I worked back in NYC and abroad read this, just substitute your name and your demands, you ^%#$!!!!)

And the actor, no less, was RICK SPRINGFIELD.  Yes, Jessie’s Girl, yes General Hospital, yes mega 80’s great.  How fun. Yes only being a young lad back in 1981 when Jessie’s Girl became the #1 single, I sremember the song as a kid and more so now due to the recent 80’s revival and subsequent playing of that song on lite rock radio and being a staple on classic 80’s music cds.  I found myself recalling lyrics throughout the long waits between filming to fill the void.

Where can I find a woman like that

The episode’s set was out on the North Shore and filmed for three days.  The early call times had us out in the chilly Hawaiian dawn setting up the photographic lights for the show.  For the first part of the job, my task was to dress a beach setting creating the feel of a real magazine photo shoot in Hawaii.  The directors wanted more flash than what I would call functionality but the key phrase was the “bigger, the flashier, the better.”  I set up my Profoto 7Bs and one Profoto 7A pack, an Elinchrome Octabank, a few umbrellas, and used several California Sun Bounce reflectors.  All the lights were synced to the set camera Springfield, who plays famed photographer Renny Sinclair, to fire when he faked his pictures.

I was surprised to also find that I actually had to coach Springfield in the art of photography.  He had very little experience knowing how to act like a professional so I coached him on how to properly hold a large DLSR camera, how focus and zoom in/out with the lens, how to properly stand when taking the pictures, and even what dialogue to use as he interacted with the actress Serinda Swan, who played the bikini wearing fashion model.  With the dialogue, I had to channel my inner Austin Powers and gave Springfield such key phrases as “right in the lens, baby” and “give it to me, baby” and other over-the-top phrases that make for good TV.  I kept quiet but I really wanted to teach him how to be a super fashion ass but it never came to be.  I did ask him if he was an ass in the show but he thought I called him an ass.  Funny.

During the filming,  I basically just held a Profoto Ring Flash above his head during the scene and acted as if I knew what I was doing.  I think I frowned most of the time feigning super interest in the lighting, exposure, etc…I had no dialogue and was loutishly dressed by wardrobe in a loud Hawaiian printed shirt along with a black muscle shirt.  I felt more LA than HNL, but I figured people would be looking at Springfield and not me.

Rick was sort of a cool dude.  As I’ve worked and photographed other celebrities, its really no big deal to be around people with fame.  We chattered about this and that, the models tiny bikinis and the likes.   He actually joked around with me as he thought I was surely just an extra but was surprised to see me actually taking test shots of him and testing the lights in several instances.  I think most of the crew were surprised to see that extra jump out and work grip and lighting.

With Brad’s photo shoots, we shot on the beach and inside a studio.  The show needed several still shots that would be published in a book of Renny Sinclair’s photographic work.  The book’s photographs held clues leading the detectives to Renny’s murderer.  I, along with several union assistants, set up several 9′ seamless backgrounds, numerous lights, and allowed the director snap fashion photographs of several of the actresses on the show including famed model and actress Angela Lindvall.  Brad actually threw me the camera in one of his shots to let me photograph Angela as he knew I could make her shine a bit more than he.  I can’t say any of the images they used for the show/book are mine but if you are keen you might spot a bit of my signature in the show as well.

On a side note, its no secret Renny is killed in the show as CBS released the show synopsis.  Without watching the show, can any of you 80’s kids guess who kills him?