Spotlight on Kevin Jude
It’s kind of ridiculous how much talent walks through the hallways here at Milk every day. Sure, there are the names and faces that you see on the front pages of magazines every month, but even some of the people carrying the equipment and overseeing schedules are developing the skills to someday join them. Take Kevin Jude Walters. He’s always around the studio keeping an eye on the equipment room’s business, but his professional photography career began basically the moment he left high school to work under Benedict Fernandez, the former Parsons director of photography. Kevin’s career hasn’t followed a straight and easy path, but it’s one that’s definitely on the rise with recent work published with Vogue Italia, so we sat down with him to pick his brains about the many difficult lessons he’s learned and what’s next for a young photographer trying to make it in a very competitive industry.
What does heaven look like to you?
I had no idea it was going to be this kind of interview, this could be such a trick question. Being able to do what I love to do everyday of my life is a heavenly bliss.
What do you love to do?
I like taking pictures, it’s one thing I consider myself good at. I work a hell of a lot every week here [at Milk Studios] and then on my days off I’m shooting. People are like, "How can you not take time out for yourself?" When I’m shooting, that is what I want to be doing. I’m starting to get more recognition, a bit more clients and I was thinking, these people are going to start paying me to do this stuff and life is going to start feeling like it’s free because I can’t believe I’m getting paid for it. If I were to go out and buy a jacket, it wouldn’t even feel like I’ve earned that jacket because I’m doing what I love.
If you could have any other career what would it be?
I’m at a point in my life where I don’t think about things like that. I’ve been in photography since a very young age. My father was an amateur photographer, the earliest memories I have are in our basement darkroom under a red light. That’s why I have my tattoos because I used to run around with old negatives wrapped around my arms, I was kinda bred to be this way. In my 20s I was kind of a frightened young guy so I ran away from photography for a little bit.
What were you afraid of?
It sounds cliche but the idea of success. Being afraid of success, being afraid of failure. I had some pretty big opportunities at a very young age. Right out of high school I got a job with this photographer Ben Fernandez, he was the director of photography at Parsons for years and years. He was taught under Alexey Brodovitch who is like the father of fashion photography, he taught Richard Avedon.
I was working alongside all of these people whose books I’d been staring at me entire life. I did that for about a year and got terrified. I talked myself out of it by telling myself I was too young, that I needed to go and be a kid and go to college. I left and went to University of The Arts college in Philadelphia for about two years. But I was young and at that point my ego was out of control, I didn’t learn anything because I already thought I knew everything so I dropped out and moved up here [to New York] and started trying to assist here and there. Looking back on it getting more perspective I was just afraid of it, I just kinda sabotage everything.
Then I got a regular job at Milkprint a fashion design studio where I didn’t take photographs for a good six or seven years, all my friends and family would question why I didn’t take pictures anymore. I would say I fell out of love with it but really I was afraid of it, I didn’t know how to deal with it. One of the biggest reasons I fell back in love with photography was I got fired from Milkprint. I was drunk as hell a lot of the time and it was affecting all aspects of my life. I really just kinda blew that up for everyone. I was left in the lurch with no direction and I was still drinking so I wasn’t thinking all that lucid, but through that job I spent a lot of time in London and I ended up dating a client of mine who’s a designer in London. Once I lost that job and the access to be able to travel as much as I was, I decided I was going to go back to University, mainly for the sheer reasons I could spend three years living in London and be with my girlfriend at the time.
I got into London College of Fashion, I spent a year and a half there, drinking like a lunatic and blew up my relationship with my girlfriend. It forced me to take a step back and look at what I was doing and why I was doing it, it’s all fear based really, abusing alcohol. It was just a perfect way to numb yourself, if I felt scared or pressured or anything, I didn’t want to feel it. Somewhere along the way alcohol became a really useful tool for an overly emotional guy like me. She ended up leaving me and I was forced to really get things in perspective. I did end up finally being able to stop drinking and once I did that everything in London started to turn around. I ended up graduating at the top of my class, I was exhibited at the Richard Young Gallery for my last project that I did. People started to notice me and basically my life has skyrocketed from there.
When exactly did you fall back in love with photography?
It was when I got sober. When I was drinking and still at London College of Fashion I love the "idea" of it again. Being forced to have to go to University to live in London and be around that environment and letting that back into my life a little bit, kinda just opened my eyes and when the glaze washed over all of a sudden I was like holy shit there’s nothing else I can do. Once I was able to accept all of these different facets of my life there was nothing else I could do.
What happened after college?
A lot of people wanted me to stay in London and start my career there, they tried to convince me that by moving back to New York you automatically become the smallest fish in the biggest, greatest pond and there’s a lot of truth to that. Even a lot of big photographers that are working here in New York got their bigger breaks through British Vogue or Australian Vogue you know. Once they got a handle on that then they graduated to New York. But in my mind I had just missed New York City too much, London is probably the only other place in the world that I could feel comfortable as long as I did away from New York, but after three and a half years of being away I just had to come back. I had started reaching out to friends that I knew here to see how I could make it all work. A friend of friend worked at Milk Studios, I basically got off the plane and walked right into Milk and that’s kinda how it’s been.
I first started in Digital, I interned there and started getting some freelance work from them. Then I approached Equipment hesitantly because I knew what I was going to be in for if I took that job. It’s almost like going back to school but it’s different because it’s more like boot camp than anything else. So I knew that I would be working 12-16 hours for the next 6-8 months, I knew what it was going to be high stress, high energy. But I knew if I just swallowed all my pride and ego, the things I would learn here would be invaluable. Once you’ve put your time in working with these guys and you show them what you’re made of, they’ll take care of you afterwards. It becomes something much bigger than a job, it becomes family.
What are you shooting now?
I’m shooting mostly fashion at the moment. I’m working with a lot of different young stylists and makeup artists. Really loose ideas, loose shoots, finding cool locations and not really having any idea of what the outcome is going to be. I like location a lot, I have my own studio in East Williamsburg. But shooting studios is a completely different beast to me than finding some strange location and making it interesting. Studios are more a math problem for me, I like being thrown into an empty warehouse and chasing the sun around the room and making that work. I find it more exciting and a lot more rewarding.
Have you had the opportunity to be the photographer you want to be?
Yes, I just got a new client which is a company called GLAMSQUAD it’s a fairly new company, it’s an app that you can book these major talented makeup artist to come to your house and do your hair and makeup. I’ve just done my first couple of shoots with them and we’re planning more and more material.
You’ve recently did some work with Vogue Italia, can you tell me about that?
Vogue Italia in my opinion the coolest of the Vogues at the moment. It doesn’t even look like any other Vogue, its just really unique and the talent they have shooting for them is amazing. They had this really amazing setup for young emerging talent, where they take the time to look at new undiscovered photographers. You just basically submit and the editors actually look at it and if they like it they end up using it online and if they don’t it kinda just disappears. I only submitted five photographs, three of them were published.
If you could take one person and an inanimate object with you to a deserted island what would they be?
My father, who recently passed away, and a pen. He had so much wisdom to pass down to me that it was difficult to grab on to all of it. A pen would allow me to preserve everything that he had to teach me and being on a deserted island would afford me the time capture it all.
Follow Kevin on instagram @kevinjude