What do star-studded parties, breath-taking portraits and partially nude models have in common? They are just some of Stern first-year Brent McKeever’s manifold subjects in his stunning photography portfolio.
Having built a reputable career in photography by shooting world-renowned models like Kaia Gerber and ads for brands like Brandy Melville as a teenager, McKeever is now stepping out of his comfort zone and stepping up his already-impressive skill set by studying the business side of the industry.
Born to Ivy League-educated parents who encouraged a comparable standard of education — preferably in the field of business — McKeever felt an inevitable urge to follow in their footsteps. His father, a music producer who has worked with Stevie Wonder alongside other well-known and respected names, encouraged McKeever to embrace his creativity.
However, after looking into the Ivies, he realized that he didn’t belong there, and felt he could really thrive at NYU. Here, he would be able to work and continue his passion for photography — all while expanding his horizons.
“After I came out and started realizing who I was,” he said. “I knew New York was the place for me.”
His path to photography began at age 15 after borrowing a friend’s camera for a month at school in his hometown, Malibu, and taking pictures of himself and his close local friends who fit the Malibu beach vibe he was going for. People encouraged him to keep going.
Entering the industry at such a young age, his initial models were his friends. McKeever said his work created controversy in Malibu as his shots often included risque photos of girls who happened to be daughters of family friends or local celebrities.
Regardless of the liberal reputation of Malibu, their small community was skeptical of his work. The uniqueness of it, however, eventually transcended the inevitable concerns that arose from the controversy.
As a person of color in the white-dominated area, one of the goals of McKeever’s work was to highlight the huge inequality in Malibu’s racial makeup. To emphasize diversity, his parents tried to put him in black programs to meet other people, yet he still felt alone. The isolation he felt emerged as a driving factor in his choice to leave his hometown for college.
Besides his ethnicity-driven difference from the majority, McKeever also felt insecure about his sexual identity, saying he didn’t know any gay people during elementary and middle school.
“I knew there was something different about me but I just couldn’t put my finger on it,” McKeever said. “I never saw anyone like me growing up; I used to always be obsessed with girls. At first, I thought that was in a sexual way because I was conditioned by society to think that, but it was just not. I appreciated their gorgeousness so much and I think that I channeled my photography into that.”
His admiration of the female anatomy manifested in the form of his photography, giving McKeever a well-built reputation. Being in an industry constantly surrounded by famous people was never shocking to him.
“Growing up in Los Angeles, you are instantly born into some of the craziest names in the world in terms of supermodels,” McKeever said. “I have known Kaia [Gerber] since pre-school; we used to dress up in princess dresses together when we were little, and it’s been great to watch her grow as a model.”
But Brent didn’t coast on this advantage by limiting himself to the supermodels that surrounded him — instead, he pushed himself to leave his bubble and build his career elsewhere. His constant access to celebrities changed his approach towards fame and fandom.
“To me, they are not even supermodels,” he said. “They are more like friends. It is hard to get starstruck anymore.”
McKeever feels nothing but blessed to have been born in Malibu where there are so many connections.
One big break for him was getting hired by Brandy Melville, the famous clothing brand known for its one-size-fits-all clothing. This was his first real job, and he still works for them on-and-off. However, Brandy Melville has a reputation that doesn’t quite reflect his own creative vision.
“A big reason I moved to New York is because in Malibu, I would get comments all the time about working with Brandy Melville. While they are a great company, it is difficult to work with a brand that lacks major body and ethnicity diversity.”
He also said he wanted to meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and by coming to NYU he intended on leaving behind the rich, famous but insular community he was exposed to in Malibu.
“I am really excited to shoot people that don’t fit the regular mold,” he said.
McKeever takes a special interest in fashion and said being around people with inspiring looks pushed him to embrace his own unique style.
“I definitely would not be dressing as I did if I wasn’t in my industry,” said McKeever, who kept his fancy, fashion-forward sunglasses on throughout the interview despite being seated indoors.
His creativity, evident in both his work and personal style, has contributed greatly to his success. McKeever has opened two galleries so far — one in Dallas and one in New Orleans. Both bear special meaning for him as they were named after Robert Mapplethorpe and David Yarrow, two photographers of great inspiration to him who are well-respected in the photography industry.
“I wouldn’t even say I am near the level of professional a lot of young people would say I would be at, because I still have a lot to learn and experience.” McKeever said.
Most recently, McKeever shot Kaia Gerber’s 18th birthday party, which can be seen on his Instagram, @brentmckeever.
McKeever had advice for an aspiring photographer with no valid experience in the industry.
“Find what sets you apart and stop looking at inspiration from different people, instead focus on what is different in your life,” McKeever said. “It doesn’t have to be glamorous — look at the nasty and broken parts and just dig deeper.”
Email Yaprak Ugurses at [email protected]