by Ashley Uzer via galoremag.com
When you think high school photographer, you probably think of a teen who loves taking selfies and “epic” sunset pics, but Brent McKeever is a different story.
The 16-year-old Malibu-based photographer has shot for brands like Brandy Melville, Frankie’s Bikinis, and Planet Blue; and he regularly works with models who are signed with Wilhelmina and NEXT.
When he’s not shooting bombshells in bikinis, he’s capturing the parties attended by teens in Malibu — the type of kids who have unlimited credit cards and party in their parents’ mansions while they’re away in Cannes.
For someone who’s clearly grown up surrounded by opulence, Brent is surprisingly down to earth and aware that he and his friends “live in such a small bubble.” We talked to him about what it’s really like growing up in Malibu, how he captures cray scenes from high school parties, and how Instagram has helped his career immensely.
You’re working on a project that shows Malibu kids at parties. Do you think Malibu kids have a totally different world than the average high schooler?
I would say that’s a total understatement. Of course I’ve never really had an outsider look on what goes down in the Malibu community, but whenever I talk to people from out of town I usually get a shocked reaction to how Malibu kids live and act. I never really understood why people were so interested, but meeting other kids from different places kind of opens my eyes up to how good we have it. I feel like we live in such a small bubble that sometimes we’re a little oblivious to how things are outside of Malibu, which I would say is a blessing and a curse.
When you’re shooting at parties, do you stay sober?
I always stay sober and usually focus on shooting. You can party while staying sober, which I don’t think some high-schoolers have figured out yet. I don’t shoot at every party, but I feel like if I was out of it, I would take crappy/blurry pics instead of being focused.
Have you ever captured something that your friends asked you not to post?
This has probably been my biggest frustration lately. I swear my best shots are when the photo subject is doing something more risqué and scandalous, and people just aren’t seeing those shots because everyone asks me not to post them. The pics people ask me not to post are usually things like people nude, drinking, smoking, hooking up, etc. Of course, I listen to them whenever they ask because I want everyone to trust me and be comfortable. I would definitely do the same thing if I was in their position.
Do you think you’d be as into photography if you didn’t live in Malibu?
Since I’ve grown up in Malibu I’m around almost everything beautiful. Besides the gorgeous people here, the landscape of Malibu is something so surreal and everyday when I’m shooting I try to take advantage of that. I think if I lived somewhere else I wouldn’t have this very special environment that makes me want to get out there and shoot. Of course, there’s insanely amazing places other than Malibu, but I feel like Malibu has an extremely unique kind of lifestyle to it.
What’s your dream project?
I’ve thought about this so many times, but every time I do I just imagine myself shooting a Victoria’s Secret campaign. I started out studying photographers such as Russell James and Jerome Duran who shoot most of their campaigns, and I was inspired by how they take something as simple as a person and create a magical piece of art. But aside from the photographers; the VS angels are just on a whole new level of beauty, and to be able to capture that and work with them at this stage in my photography would be my biggest dream project. I know that as my photography goes on, that my dream projects will change as well.
What are your plans after high school?
Focusing on school has always been a huge priority in my life, so I’m planning on going to the east coast for college and then grad school. Where I want to go though, is still a question. I’m only a sophomore so I have time to think about everything. When it comes to photography though, I’ll definitely be keeping it up after I graduate. Right now I’m focused on what’s right in front of me, but I’m also really excited to see where I’ll be in photography by the time I graduate high school.
How do you help models (or your friends) feel comfortable when you’re shooting them?
It’s totally different talking to models when shooting and talking to my friends at parties while shooting because with models, I’m usually trying to capture a totally different vibe that’s more setup and about beauty than fun. But at parties, I’m with the people I spend my life with, so I usually just blend in and make myself part of the situation when I’m taking the pics, because I’m trying to capture that raw type of photo that you can’t setup.
I feel like people are most comfortable when they feel confident, so whenever I’m taking pics I try to make people feel like a goddess (or god). I’m not one of those people that demeans and criticizes people when I’m shooting, but I am very honest. I try and tell people what they need to fix without being an ass.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen growing up in Malibu?
I guess seeing my friends that I’ve known since pre-school turn into people with so much social influence that are idolized by so many people. It’s so crazy to me that people are actually interested in what we do and how blind we are to it at the same time. Malibu, LA, and New York kids definitely set the stage for the kids of this generation.
How has social media helped you get projects?
Social media (Instagram particularly) has helped me get most of my projects, actually. It’s so easy to discover people in the creative industry from so many different places that you wouldn’t normally stumble across thanks to social media. A lot of companies and models will usually find me through a photo I took on someone else’s page or just through mutual followers, then reach out to me. It makes connecting with people so much easier than having to meet them in person. It seems like social media is becoming how everyone communicates now and I love it.
Do you view your Instagram as your portfolio?
I would say I consider my website to be my main portfolio of my best work, but anyone who knows me knows that Instagram is my literal life. I went through an ordeal a couple weeks ago where my Instagram got deleted, and I’ve never freaked out more in my life. I know that’s such a first world kind of problem, but it just goes to show how much I care about my Instagram. I feel like my Instagram is my place to share my favorite work with everyone. Planning my feed is kind of like an art for me and when I get a good response to a photo on Insta, it just makes me want to shoot more because it makes me so happy that the photos I love are loved by everyone else too.
Do you like getting in front of the camera?
A few years ago, I went through this phase of self-obsession and only posted pics of myself. But when I started to step behind the camera, I began to take notice of all this beauty that surrounded me — I think perhaps I started comparing myself to the beauty of my environment and might have become a little self-conscience. I just dyed my hair blonde though, and it’s helped me with my self-image problems, so lately I’ve been in a bunch more pictures on my Instagram.
What advice would you have for aspiring photographers?
This is funny to me because I still consider myself an aspiring photographer. I think I would say just go for it and shoot whatever you feel and master your work. I found exactly what I loved to shoot and am still practicing to get to that point of mastery at what I do. I don’t know what else to really say besides that if you have enough passion to stick with it and see where it takes you, then do it.
What else are you working on right now?
A lot of the stuff I’m working on I can’t really say until it comes out, but just expect a lot of big and exciting things coming out this year and next. I can’t wait to share all of my work with everyone.