SHOOTING ROCK-AND-ROLL! The Music Photography of Michael Sparks Keegan

BOSTON – Michael Sparks Keegan is living the dream... the dream of doing something he truly loves. Something that simply started as a hobby; hanging out with his brother, listening to music and photographing fun stuff like racing cars and pretty girls.
Now a pro photographer, Michael not only makes his living doing what he loves, but has intertwined his love of music into his craft, having photographed up-close, such musical greats as David Bowie, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, Willie Nelson and Jason Aldean to name but a few. Not a bad gig for a guy who recently claimed to this writer “most of the time, I don't have a clue what I'm doing and things just sort of happen." (yeah, right, Michael)


Article by Joe Milliken * Photos by Michael Sparks Keegan 1. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith 2. Willie Nelson 3. Robin Zander of Cheap Trick 4. David Hull (Farrenheit), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Johnny A. 5. Steven Tyler and friends

“My older brother got me into photography when we were in our early teens,” Michael Sparks Keegan said in a recent SRO interview. He had Muscular Dystrophy and there came a point when he could no longer handle the camera, so I would take pictures for him and we'd develop them in the basement.

“Our mom would drive us up to New England Dragway in New Hampshire and we would spend all day in the sun, photographing dragsters and girls. My brother was a very cool guy and introduced me to all kinds of great music and bands... from The Allman Brothers and Aerosmith, to J. Geils Band and James Taylor.”

Keegan now owns a small studio located in the Boston area and does portraits, weddings and commercial work, yet ninety-percent of his work is done on location, out there in the field where the action is. “Together with my wife, I do roughly 20 weddings a year with people that I really connect with,” Michael said.

“I love the challenge of showing the emotion of the day and man, weddings are one of the hardest things there are to photograph! I don't do more than 20 weddings a year so that each one is special and unique and it also leaves us time to do other commercial and corporate work as well.”

However, Michael's true calling is combining his craft with the love of rock-and-roll into music photography. That unique ability to work with a musician in a studio setting, or on a dark, fast-paced stage setting to bring a moment to life through the camera eye.

“Photographing musicians is not only my main concentration, but also my passion,” Keegan said. “Everything I do seems to lead to that moment when the lights come up and the crowd roars... goose bumps every time. Back in 1983, I started out photographing one Boston band in particular when I met Bob Gay, the sax player for the band New Man, at a photography store in town.

“I told him I could take great photos of his band and really had no idea what I was doing the night I stepped into Bunratty's to shoot the band, but I caught on pretty quickly because I knew I had found my calling. You name the club in Boston back then and I was there, but Bunratty's and The Channel were my favorites."

Yes, Michael got to see many of the great Boston bands of the day, (and yes, this rock music fan is jealous) going back 30+ years, but picking out his all-time Hub favorites is not an easy task. “That is a tough one but I would have to say New Man, hands-down.

“After that it would be FARRENHEIT and John Butcher Axis, then of course, there is Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band. The cool part is that I still get to work with some of these great artists to this day like Charlie Farren, Jon Butcher, Johnny A. and Aerosmith on a regular basis... I still love their music both as a fan and a photographer.”

Working with the aforementioned Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame band Aerosmith has been especially interesting memorable. “Over the years I had crossed paths with Steven Tyler at different events and then I met (Aerosmith drummer) Joy Kramer through mutual friends. So, I called him one day and said I had a new camera and would love to try it out with him.

“I ended up traveling to an Aerosmith show in Philadelphia and spent the whole night shooting from Joey's drum riser! From then on, I try to photograph Aerosmith whenever I can or get to a show when they are in the area... because of my brother, their music has a lot of memories and meaning to me.” Michael also photographed Aerosmith at the Boston Strong benefit concert after the Boston Marathon tragedy.

Another tough interview question for Michael: What do you feel have been the most important or impactful images you've taken? “That is very hard... my hope is that the images I take with my subjects, moves them to some degree and that they may also have an effect on the people that view them,” Keegan said.

“One of my most moving experiences, however, was being asked by a family member of Krystle Campbell to photograph the bikers, who volunteered to protect the privacy of her family during her wake and funeral after her death at the Boston Marathon. I spent two days watching these men and women shelter and protect the family from prying eyes and protest... some truly amazing people and what an honor it was to be a part of what they did.”

Whether it is a photographing a famous band, shooting corporate and commercial work or preserving life-long memories at a wedding, Keegan puts everything he's got into his work and not just because it is his livelihood, but also because it remains fun and exciting for him.

Moving forward, Michael plans to publish a book at some point, revolving around his many music photography adventures. “At some point I would love to do a book, but it is currently on the back-burner until I can sit down and really figure out how I want to approach it... just when I think I have the beginnings of a plan, more work comes along, something changes and I'm back to square-one.”

Of course, being “very busy” is a good thing when you are doing something that you love for a living, especially when the man would probably (I'm guessing) be doing the same thing whether he was getting paid or not. “People always ask me how I got here and how I get to do - what I do,” Keegan added. “I never went to school for photography and if I stop and think about it, I really just got lucky in a lot of ways.

“I learned everything I know through both my mistakes and successes and most of the time, things just sort of happen. I got into the Boston music scene at a great time and crossed paths with a lot of club owners and managers, bands and musicians that believed in me and gave me some amazing opportunities.

“I have worked with bands in tiny clubs with a dozen people in the room, to big arenas with tens of thousands of cheering fans, and the rush for me is the same either way. When the lights come up and the music starts I know I am where I am supposed to be and I am grateful for every minute I get to be there!”

Keep up the great work, Michael! Stay tuned for more. To learn more about the photography of Michael Sparks Keegan, please visit his website at www.michaelsparkskeegan.com.