DOORS are opening all over the shop for Peel portrait photographer Phil Kneen following a rollercoaster year.
The 42-year-old father-of-three is making quite a name for himself with his innovative and often shocking images.
In fact this week he is waiting to hear the results of this year’s NME photography awards. He was shortlisted for the music magazine’s Professional Music Photographer of the Year award after submitting four entries portraying singer Dylan LeBlanc and members of The Vaccines and Bo Ningen.
Last year he came second out of thousands of entries in a portrait photography competition by The Guardian with a shot of Port St Mary musician Bonzo Slater.
His creative career has been a long and interrupted one which suddenly snowballed after a productive meeting of minds with musician Simon Campbell a couple of years ago. But Phil, who also teaches at workshops, first got behind the lens as a teenager. IOMToday
‘When I was 15, my dad returned from teaching in Saudi Arabia and brought me a camera back,’ he explained. ‘I loved it from the start. I took pictures of people – it was always people really, I don’t have the patience for landscapes.
‘From then on I knew I wanted to work in photography.’
He started by working for Keigs and then Island Photographics before setting up his own photography company when he was about 18. However, after becoming a father aged 24, he gave photography up for other better paid jobs. He hardly touched a camera for the next 10 years. A visit to South America stirred his creative juices once more.
‘I bought a camera at the airport and that was the start of it again. I took pictures of people all over Bolivia,’ he explained. But having a third child meant another few years delay.
However, about four years ago he started photographing live bands in island venues.
‘I was out every weekend taking thousands of photos and that’s kind of what got me into music photography,’ he said, ‘I’m not passionate about music like musicians are. It’s the musicians themselves I’m interested in. They are always fascinating characters.’
Phil was then approached by Simon to do some promotional shots for his music and, using Simon’s contacts, he started doing more promotional portrait work rather than live gigs. Another boost to his career was when music promoter Lenny Conroy took him over to Amsterdam to shoot Davy Knowles who was supporting Joe Satriani on tour. ‘Lenny basically got me access all areas and I hung out with Davy all weekend,’ he explained.
And doors have continued opening wide for Phil ever since. In May Simon took him to London to photograph various musicians including brothers Rhys (The Horrors) and Huw Webb (S.C.U.M), The Vaccines and Bo Ningen at gigs and parties. ‘I took portraits of the Vaccines in their dressing room,’ he said, ‘I was given five minutes!’ Simon’s island-based company Supertone Records now manages Phil. He has since been offered freelance work by The Guardian, including photoshoots with Happy Mondays lead singer Shaun Ryder and Tim Burgess of The Charlatans. And next year he’s already booked for jobs in London and Iceland.
‘I’ve been waiting 20 years for this,’ he said. ‘I’m not as far up the ladder as I’d like to be but the more doors that open, the more open! I’m at a point now where I can approach people and say this is what I do and these are my photos.’
In fact, a book of his best works so far is in the pipeline. The photographer said he would love to work with Ian Brown one day and even the island’s politicians.
It would seem Phil’s edgy work, of which some has been banned from Facebook for being too dark in content, is now proving popular.
‘In a way I am trying to shock,’ admitted the man who is to use a pig’s head in his next shoot, ‘Not in a bad way but I do want people to look at them and go “Oh my God”. And I like it that some people don’t understand them.
‘I personally think a good photo shows an angle or maybe a situation that you wouldn’t normally see,’ he added. ‘Or something that is so familiar that it looks so natural.’
Are you growing a moustache for Movember? Contact Phil to get involved in his latest project – firstname.lastname@example.org
l For more information or to commission a photograph email email@example.com or visit www.philkneen.com
All article photos are by Phil Kneen.