Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, April 23

Gapers Block

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A native of Jackson, Michigan, Brian McConkey came to Chicago in 1988 after graduating from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in Spanish. After working with several different photographers, and after setting up an impromptu studio in the front room of a shabby apartment on the border of Uptown and Lakeview, McConkey came to find that he wanted to photograph people for a living. After serving a brief apprenticeship under one of the top headshot photographers in the city (who now practices his craft on the West Coast), McConkey opened his own studio in 1992, and has since become the go-to photographer for actors who need headshots and for anyone wanting a gifted portrait. Today, McConkey lives in Evanston with his wife Rachel and their two sons, Quinn and Jack. To discover more of McConkey's expertise, visit him at

Q: No denying your work reveals you have a great grasp of aesthetics. No doubt you're an artist, a craftsman. However, your work goes into the hands of agents and casting directors, not onto gallery walls. Assuming you consider yourself an artist to one degree or another, how is your ego fulfilled when you know that your work will be viewed by such a limited, select audience?

McConkey: I'm content with my work and myself because I know that my photographs of my clients are getting them work. Nothing makes me more pleased than when I know that a client gives me a great expression. That, along with great lighting, creates a fantastic headshot. My work may not be on gallery walls but it is in a "gallery" of sorts. My gallery consists of anyone who sees the photograph. They may not be an agent or a casting director, but they could be a potential client who may not necessarily be in the acting field but may need a photograph of themselves for one reason or another. I may be known as a "headshot" photographer, but I am a portraitist!

Q: Eyes: gateways to the human soul, right? What have you learned about eyes (what they might tell; what they likely conceal) in the course of your work as a professional headshot photographer?

McConkey: In my business the eyes are paramount. I am always working to get an expression from my client that will render a genuine expression from their eyes. When this occurs the eyes just "pop." The expression from the eyes can make or break a photograph. I have always wanted to emulate other photographers whose work I have admired strictly because I noticed confidence, warmth and a self-contentment from the subject's eyes.

Q: I imagine conversation is an essential part of your headshot sessions, that your ability to converse serves as a way for you to bring your clients into a comfortable "space" during their sessions. Is the art of conversation something that you consciously work at?

McConkey: I definitely do not consciously work at the art of

conversation. I wing it! However, without conversation the client is like a fish out of water. Conversation is the key ingredient to the client feeling at ease with his surroundings and with me. It can be unnerving trying to be comfortable with a lens pointing at you and even more so when you need to look into that black hole of a lens and provide an expression. I want them to feel as though they can find a confidence with the camera and have fun with it at the same time.

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About the Author(s)

John Hospodka is a life-long Chicagoan, and today lives with his wife in Bridgeport. He does not profess to be an expert in anything; he's just a big fan of the arts and is eager to make more sense of them. Direct comments or suggestions for interviews to

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