An Interview with Actor and Fine Art Photographer Parker Stevenson
A genuine person shares his thoughts and feelings without pretense.
In the presence of a genuine person there is trust.
With trust comes the willingness to expose ourselves.
A genuine person serves to invite one to let their self be known for who they really are.
- Carl Rogers
This quote is the guiding principle of Parker Stevenson's photography website, ParkerStevensonShadowWorks. Most of us know Parker from his work in television ("Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries," "Probe," "Baywatch," North and South") and film ("A Separate Peace," "Our Time," "Lifeguard"). But in addition to acting, Parker has a passion for taking photos and traveling and has been pursuing a second career in fine art photography.
He was so personable that we started talking about travel and photography and I shared some photos that Margaret and I had taken on our vacations. One thing lead to another and I ended up asking him if he would consider doing an interview for a very new, very small website about travel and encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and live life, see the world, and try new things. And he graciously said yes.
I just want to say thank you, Parker, for all the time and thoughtfulness you put into this interview and for believing in this website! You are a true gentleman and it is an honor having you as a part of this venture!
Following Parker's interview, you will find links with more information about his career and photography and links to the many places and interests he mentioned. Without further ado, here's Parker:
© Parker Stevenson
What are your favorite places to visit and why?
My favorite places to visit are NYC because it’s there that I feel the most alive, Maine because I have the most wonderful childhood memories there, and Italy for the refined aesthetics and food.
The most inspiring place you’ve visited?
Most inspiring to me is Venice, Italy because I’ve been there many times since the early 70’s and I still want to shoot every single thing there I see.
Favorite city in the United States? The world?
My favorite city in the US is NYC because it has everything… my favorite city in the world is NYC because it has everything…:-)
For a great guide to New York, check out:
Savored Journeys.com Shortcut Travel Guide to Manhattan, NYC
What is the most fun and adventurous thing you’ve done in your travels? What are some things you would recommend?
For me it’s what you see and the people you meet that matter, not the luxury of your accommodations. Getting in the car and taking off to explore for a few days here in the United States has been just as exciting as my travel in Europe, Africa, South America, and the Far East. Risking striking up a conversation when you’re so out of your comfort zone or instinctively taking a huge detour believing there is a shot waiting somewhere ahead and then discovering where that leads for me is as exciting and adventurous as anything I have ever experienced. When I was younger I used to think I would find myself thru extreme sports or exotic locales, but now I know that for me it’s the searching inside that provides the greatest rewards.
What was the best food you’ve ever had and where?
Tuscany in Italy, where even the simplest local wine and food is perfect, absolutely delicious and perfect.
Any particular hotels or resorts that were unique or had outstanding service?
- Hayman Island in the Whitsunday Islands of Australia at the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef.
- The Norfolk Fairmont Hotel in Nairobi Kenya for its history and location in the center of Nairobi.
- La Posta Vecchia Hotel, J Paul Getty’s Villa turned Hotel on the coast 35 min. from Rome and built on the remains of excavated Roman ruins.
Somewhere you haven’t been that you want to explore?
Quebec City, Canada. Have wanted to explore Old Quebec and photograph the City Center for decades, maybe some day.
What was your favorite location for photo shoots as an actor and a photographer? The most exotic?
While on location, I loved exploring the outback of Australia from Echuca on the Murray River north of Melbourne, and of course Melbourne itself and the South Coast drive from Melbourne heading East with its outstandingly beautiful and rugged coastline. Although I never made it to Tasmania I should have. One of my travel regrets along with my not accepting an invitation to explore the Amazon River and Delta in Brazil. I’ve learned that when you rationalize “oh I can come back another time for that” you never do.
What are your favorite subjects and places to photograph?
My favorite photographic subject is pure form, whether it be architectural/landscape/or found objects, or an image of a person caught in motion for what it reveals about the energy and spirit of that person. As to places to photograph, I am always hunting for the spots where forces meet and interact: people, tides, waves and the shore, storm fronts approaching, or emotions in collision.
How do the places you visit impact your photography? (This question is from Tom, Joan’s son. He just graduated Ithaca and loves traveling and photography. He actually directed a commercial last year for a local restaurant).
I admire that Tom is charting and respecting his own path as it’s taken me decades to truly begin to respect that for myself. Places do impact my photography because they TELL me what to see. Just observing my immediate surroundings something will stand out as worthy, beautiful, and worth photographing, the same way you can immediately recognize the beauty in a finished image the instant you see it.
What role does light play in your photography? (Tom)
Light and composition are everything to me, and from them come beauty, meaning, and impact.
How does your audience receive your photographs and does that influence your artistic decisions? (Tom)
All that we’re discussing is so subjective so I am not wholly sure how people react to my images, but I hope in some way they are moved by them. I used to worry what people would think of my work as I worked on my images but it was such a straight jacket on my creativity that I had to completely let go of all that. Now I shoot and edit and print my images striving for the most perfect expression of that image. If someone is moved in some way by the experience of one of my images then it works. Without that interaction then the image is meaningless outside of me.
Do you have an all time favorite photo that you’ve taken?
One of the earliest images that I shot and printed myself was a close shot of a group of children’s faces pressed up against a cyclone fence looking at me. Their expressions were so animated, open, and unguarded. I spent hours in the darkroom desperately trying to understand and rid the image of all these small flecks on the negative only to eventually realize the flecks were from a quick flurry of snow that had surprised and animated all these faces. I learned that at each step in this ongoing photographic process there is discovery, the potential for discovery and creativity never stops.
What is on your bucket list of photos you would like to take?
My bucket list of photographic subjects? Still Lifes, Nudes, and Self-portraits. Still Lifes because their simplicity means there is little to ‘hide’ behind in the finished image. Nudes because my conservative background means I constantly battle against my own inner Puritanical censorship, truly there is nothing more beautiful to me than the human form and to celebrate that I need to let go completely of my past and listen only to my creative instincts. Self Portraits because from over fifty years working and that is itself its own defense. I hope to leave all that behind at least long enough in my acting and my photography to get to something more honestly truthful.
Still Lifes…their simplicity means there is little to ‘hide’ behind in the finished image - Parker Stevenson
Who are some photographers you admire and that inspire you?
Do you have any advice for someone interested in a photography career? Did you take any photography classes or did it come naturally? How do you get started as an unknown? Does having a degree in photography help or is it more about the talent?
Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, and learn all you can about the process so you can let go creatively more completely. Schooling is great, self-teaching always, and nurture the joy you experience in the process. Take a break if you’re burning out, your joy will be rediscovered as soon as you pick back up a camera.
What are your favorite cameras? And can you recommend the best cameras for someone just starting out on a limited budget?
I have only used Nikon cameras since the lat 60’s, but a few years ago I picked up a Canon C10 in an attempt to shoot with something less noticeable. People tend to be self-conscious and less natural if you’re carrying around larger equipment like an SLR camera. For someone starting out I think it’s easier to get used to shooting regularly with a smaller camera that you can more easily keep with you. Smaller cameras like the Canon G Series make it easier to shoot quickly and take advantage of spontaneous opportunities. Also, there really is no need to pay full price buying a new camera. Do some research on which brand and model you like and buy it secondhand. Used cameras are rated 1-10 on their condition. 10 being basically new. Even an 8 will probably be in excellent condition. Save some money, and buy a great used camera.
On the subject of cameras, how was the transition from film to digital for you?
Having worked with and on film for so long, and having became so used to the look and aesthetic of film I was reluctant to make a change to digital. A decade ago it was still unclear if digital would be able to replace film but there were already significant advantages in speed and costs associated with production. While producing a movie that involved a lot of underwater work I did a side-by-side comparison of a digital camera and a film camera locked together shooting the exact same view. At screenings for the studio, I realized that even back then neither was superior to the other just different. Having grown up looking at film I of course preferred film but the comparable digital footage of the exact same scene was beautifully clear and colorful. My children who had grown up watching MTV and digital videos actually preferred the aesthetics of digital. The time and cost savings are huge benefits but the main reason I now only shoot digitally is that my own photographic work has moved from a documentarian style to an artistically impressionistic one. Digital allows me to not only completely control the resulting image but to more artistically “paint” rather than document images.
And what do you think of Lily the throw and shoot camera?
I hadn’t heard of the “Lily” camera till I read this question so just looked it up. What an amazing opportunity to have our own “paparazzi” that we totally control to document our activities and adventures.
Will you be doing a book of your photography?
I’ve had offers to have my photographs published and would like to see my images collected and in print. Unfortunately, I am way behind on two separate projects and am still working to select the final images and complete preparing them.
Under landscapes on your website, the third one, there’s a picture of a cross in the rain, where was that taken?
The third image under Landscapes on my website of the cross is an example of my love of taking off for photo safari road trips and the resulting “found art.” I take road trips for inspiration and on that particular trip was driving across the mid-west where a huge storm rolled across the Plains with hail and tornadoes. The highway I was on came to a standstill as the visibility ended with most cars pulled up under overpasses to avoid having their windshields broken by the hail. Then for one instant the visibility lifted and light shone on that cross. I took that picture from inside my car then the dark of the storm returned. I have always thought of that image and that moment as so perfectly comforting.
You did voice-over work for National Geographic’s Hunter/Hunted series. Tell us about that experience. (As a side note, Disney needs to use you for an animated movie.)
I narrated “Hunter/Hunted” for a season and loved telling those stories. Although I confess some of the more exotic peoples’ names and locations around the world gave me fits trying to pronounce them correctly.
I’ve read you teach acting classes, what’s different about acting now from when you started out? How about teaching photography classes or workshops?
I have been teaching acting classes although my work is not associated with any particular approach or school of acting. For me it’s a very personal process and no one method works for everyone. I suppose what I have to offer is the encouragement to stay with it, options for dealing with material and the acting choices that need to be made as well as technical awareness of the film making process itself. A lot of actors myself included begin in the business with theatrical training but no understanding of the demands inherent in acting for the camera. It’s a very different set of technical challenges.
Have you done theater? A Broadway play? If not, would you like to?
I’ve only done a few plays and none on Broadway. I was more focused working in the theater during the earlier years of my career when I sill lived in New York. I would like to do a play again and have been having discussions with some producers on doing a play either for the NY Fringe Theater Festival or as an off-Broadway production.
Tell us about any acting or directing projects you’ve recently done or will be doing.
I stopped acting for the better part of the last decade to be with my children but now that they are grown I am back acting again. In the last year I’ve acted in the series “Longmire” and several indie films the last of which was called “The Carpenter’s Daughter.” It’s been wonderful and surprisingly comfortable to be acting again.
Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet? I vote for Pierce Brosnan, Kyle Chandler, Richard Dean Anderson, David James Elliot, Catherine Bell, Anne Hathaway, and Sandra Bullock.
That is a wonderful list. The fun of going back to work again as an actor is that everyone is unique so no two actors will do a scene the same way. It’s always surprising to do a scene because inevitably each actor will bring something special to the dynamics and pace of the scene. Honestly, the talent that I most wish I could work with are no longer with us, actors such as Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Paul Newman.
And because I’m a piano teacher, I’m also curious if you play any instruments? Was that you playing the piano in “This House Possessed?”
I don’t play any instruments although when asked that over the years I’ve usually just said, “I play the radio.” And no I didn’t actually play the piano for “This House Possessed.”
Who is your favorite composer? And what is your favorite classical piece, if you have one? And what is the music on your website? It’s very soothing.
The music on my website was written for a TV movie I produced so I knew I had the rights to use it. I also thought it was an easy reflective piece for background music to accompany my photographs. My favorite composers are: Mozart especially his Requiem in D Minor, Tomaso Albinoni especially his Adagio in G Minor, and Rachmaninoff and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor.
Who’s on your iPod?
Some of my favorites are Pink, Adele, Chet Baker, Justin Timberlake, Rachel Portman, Peter Gabriel, and anything with a wailing guitar.
Anything you want to say to your fans, fellow photographers, and travelers?
There is always an apparent conflict between fully experiencing the moment and photographing it. I used to think they were mutually exclusive but I have come to appreciate that they are not. The intention to search for subjects to photograph helps you see all that is around you, it actually engages you more in experiencing your surroundings. As long as your eye is not locked to your viewfinder you will find that your interest in finding subjects to photograph will enhance your entire experience of life.
Parker’s 10 Commandments for Great Travel Photos:
1. Travel light.
2. Have a backup for your camera just in case.
3. Keep your camera ready to shoot quickly, the best opportunities never last.
4. Hunt the best light of the day, it’s where the magic is.
5. Trust your instincts.
6. Go where your curiosity takes you.
7. Risk taking a “Bad” shot, it usually never is.
8. Don’t shoot for others’ approval, shoot for your own enjoyment.
9. Trust your intuition.
10. Shoot, shoot, shoot. We no longer have to worry about the costs of buying and developing film.
ParkerStevensonShadowWorks - http://www.parkerstevensonshadowworks.com/
Features include headshots, portraits, landscapes, architecture, a book cover “The Jetty,” and more.
Parker’s Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/parker.stevenson.520?fref=ts
Yes, it is Parker himself on the page with his latest photographs and news.
Parker’s Instagram Page - http://www.oninstagram.com/profile/byparkerstevenson
Parker Stevenson-now - http://parkerstevenson-now.com/
Great page for the latest information on Parker happenings including any public appearances.
Parker appears in Win, Lose, or Love on the PixL Channel - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTlGgP2k96w look for him around 1:45.
National Geographic: Tigers Mangrove Man-eater with Parker Narrating - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1VJ1JQx8n0
Parker’s body of work on the Internet Movie Database - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0829017/
Links of Interest:
The Official Website of the City of New York - http://www1.nyc.gov/
The Official New York City Guide - http://www.nycgo.com/
Visit Maine - http://visitmaine.com/
Italian Tourism Official Website - http://www.italia.it/en/home.html
Official Website of the Municipality of Venice - http://www.comune.venezia.it/
Discover Tuscany - http://www.discovertuscany.com/
Hayman Island Great Barrier Reef Australia - http://hayman.oneandonlyresorts.com/
Whitsunday Islands Australia - http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au/destinations/whitsunday-islands/
Great Barrier Reef - http://www.greatbarrierreef.org/
Nairobi Hotel: Luxury Resort Hotel in Kenya - http://www.fairmont.com/norfolk-hotel-nairobi/
MagicalKenya The Official Kenya Destination Website - http://www.magicalkenya.com/
Hotel La Posta Vecchia Rome Official Site - http://www.lapostavecchia.com/en/
Rome Capital Tourism Official Website - http://www.turismoroma.it/?lang=en
Quebec City and Area Official Web Site - http://www.quebecregion.com/en/
Echuca Moama Official Visitors Guide - http://www.echucamoama.com/official-visitors-guide
Melbourne, Australia Official Travel and Accommodation Site - http://www.visitmelbourne.com/
Discover Tasmania - http://www.discovertasmania.com.au/
Amazon River Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_River
Aria Amazon Cruise Ship - http://www.aquaexpeditions.com/luxury-cruise-ships/aria-amazon/
Photographer Herb Ritts - http://www.herbritts.com/
Photographer Lillian Bassman Fan Page on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lillian-Bassman/40737982290
Staley-Wise Gallery Lillian Bassman - http://staleywise.com/collection/bassman/bassman_exhibition.html
Architect and Photographer Carlo Mollino - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Mollino
The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation - http://www.mapplethorpe.org/
The Photography of Diane Arbus - http://diane-arbus-photography.com/
Diane Arbus Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_Arbus
Artsy - Discover, Research, and Collect the World's Best Art Online - with more Art from Parker's favorite photographers and many more! - https://www.artsy.net/
Nikon - http://www.nikon.com/
Nikon DSLR Cameras - http://www.nikonusa.com/en/index.page
Canon U.S.A., Inc. - https://www.usa.canon.com/cusa/home
Canon Global - http://www.canon.com/