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.

All-seeing Mezzo-Soprano Laurie Rubin

Lauie Rubin
Lauie Rubin at her home in Honolulu. Copyright 2016

It is far and few between that I get the jitters when I have to photograph someone. Working as a professional photographer for over ten years has given me the kind of confidence of being able to walk into a situation, put all the pieces together and walk out with a wonderful image.  I’ve photographed just about everything imaginable and very little rattles me.

However, I almost lost my nerve when the Wall Street Journal assigned me to photograph renowned Mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, for you see, Laurie is blind.

I faced the literal “how do I photograph someone who can’t see?” As my world is a visual performance, I was unsure of how to approach capturing someone who can’t see what I am creating. I was not sure I could pull it off.  But I put my best foot forward and went to tackle a subject to which I feared.

Laurie and her partner live in the middle of Oahu and I had to meet her at their home.  The assignment was part of the paper’s “What’s In My Bag” series and I had to photograph all the items she usually carries around in her purse on a daily basis along with capturing an environment portrait of her.

Laurie greeted me at the front door and if it hadn’t been for her cautious, meticulous moments around the house, I would have never guessed she was visually impaired.  Apparently her eyes give it away but she refuses to wear dark glasses, as she’s comfortable with herself, unlike me who has never spent much time with anyone with an disability.

We chatted politely and she was very accommodating helping me sort through her house in helping me prepare for the photos.  I set up a small studio atop their modern designed furniture in the living room and began to shoot the items that she carried in her purse. She kept this rather large, red bag (unsightly, at best) that held everything from her MacBook, wire cutters for her jewelry making, a wallet, and a book she kept for inspiration.  She also had a compact and lipstick and Laurie told me how she taught herself how to put on makeup.

After shooting the still life images, I then went to set up for the portrait and moved my Profoto light bank around and used a bookshelf as the background.  Laurie, who had no insecurities about having her picture taken, was very agreeable and took instruction well on how to pose.  I became very mindful of my visual vocabulary as I worried about using terms like “look this way,” or “look towards the cameras,” but my sensitivity seemed to do little good, as Laurie was comfortable with herself and what we were doing.  Laurie did say she could sense bright light and I would direct her by asking her to point her nose at my light which she did.

After another setup on the couch, I took her outside to the backyard and set her up against a brick wall with a tree right behind her. As we slipped out the door, Laurie gently placed her hand out for me to guide her and we stepped through the overgrown grass in her quaint backyard.

As far as how our portrait session went, Laurie was a wonderful subject who was keenly aware of who she was and was perceptive of how she “looked.”  We made some stellar images and was very proud to have had her in front of my camera.  I couldn’t help but to feel slightly empty as I left as I couldn’t show her my pictures.  Like a chef who cannot taste he creation, I could not enjoy a moment with her relishing over our pictures.  I’ve never felt photography was a one way street as it takes two to make an image.  Laurie was the most important ingredient in the image and it pained me that I couldn’t have her take a bite.

But as she is a tremendous creative who uses a different tool than the one I have grown accustom to using, Laurie understood, whether she could see it or not, that we made something wonderful.  Regardless of my fear of something different, I was very proud to have photographed Laurie as she helped me understand a bit more about art and about a disability.

But she also taught me that not all that is beautiful can be seen.



Fears of the world wide web.

Fears of the world wide web.

I noticed I had started this blog some time ago but never got around to finishing it…or for that matter starting it.

Technology Review Magazine hired me some time back to take a portrait of cyber security expert Jeremiah Grossman who, at that time, was based in Maui.  He so happen to be in Honolulu and I had a window of time to shoot a portrait photo of him.

Grossman, who founded White Hat Security, was a punk hacker who hacked Yahoo to show them their security flaws.  He went on to be hired on as one of their Security Officer before starting his own security firm.

Jeremiah, who showed up wearing a business type aloha shirt, hulked right up to me and my assistant, Jamm Aquino at the location.  He had that intense stare that looked right threw you scanning your brain for all your passwords and personal information.  After reading a bit about him, I learned he plays rugby and knows martial arts.  So if he couldn’t read your mind, he likely beat your passwords out of you one way or another.

I knew immediately I had to capture him in a dark and dangerous cyber world atmosphere; however, its hard to capture this in beautiful Honolulu with blue sky and sunshine. People don’t think of Hawaii as a dark place so my challenge was to create a moody scene.

I knew I had to get a few shots of him with the standard blue sky and what not.  But I had the idea to drag him into my dark parking garage and shoot him using the available florescent lights mixed with a bit of daylight.  I wish I had had a set of Kino Flos to really make my mood moodier but the overhead strip did its magic as did the odd shifts of daylight falling in the background.

I then dragged Jeremiah and Jamm down to an alley across the way and we shot him with a bare head and 7″ reflector on a Profoto 7B.  It always surprises me what editors pick as I tend to favor my choices but they hardly get picked.  The mag picked the safer shot of Grossman but I really wished they had gone with the garage shot.

What made the job really memorable was hearing the fears of hacking, the vulnerability of web browsers, and general chaos of the world wide web.  He told me of hacker groups in Eastern Europe stealing credit card numbers and making millions of dollars via holes in the internet.  I learned stories of internet security officers from big companies going to far away lands only to be run out by mafia and other assorted criminals because of the money involved in internet crimes.

Its quiet fascinating to learn that many web based corporations account for a certain percentage of uncontrollable fraud and loss into their business plans.  Although security is improving, nefarious groups and governments keep finding ways into stealing from the unaware.  What was most fascinating was finding out how these cyber security plans you can purchase are more like insurance policies where you are actually just paying a part of their premium for the protection…which in most cases is not really necessary.

The reality in my mind is it can happen to you but hardly likely you’ll end up stripped of everything.  It seems most consumer businesses already have security watching.  We got a call from our credit card one Saturday morning because of odd purchases made at Best Buy and the Apple Store which we didn’t make.  My mother found her credit card hacked as well not too long ago.  Chances are you’ll be hacked at some point vigilance can go along way.  Don’t respond to emails from the former Oil Minister of Kenya and don’t use your bank ATM card for anything on line.

Also, according to Jeremiah, don’t use the same browser to surf and do bank work.  Use separate browsers altogether.  Its likely you’ll get hacked at some point but you’re also likely to have your house broken into (once in Jersey City) or getting rear ended while driving (twice in HNL.)  I’m not saying I’m not scared but our pockets are not as deep as Chase or Ebay, meaning, as an individual, you’re an unknown and no one has any particular interest in you.

By the way, if any of the facts of my story are wrong, I’m certain Jeremiah will find and correct.  I doubt his fists will do the talking but most likely his fingers will commit the terror.

You can see the story here.