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    Profiles of Compassion and Courage: Steven Underhill

    stuToday I’m profiling one of our own, Bay Times photographer Steven Underhill. If you don’t know Steven, you are likely familiar with his work, as he is one of the most talented and sought after photographers in California. His love of photography began during childhood, when he would take Super 8 movies while on family road trips. Now you’ll see him at event opening nights, film festivals, non-profit happenings and more.

    SS: How did you become involved in your work?

    SU: Upon graduation from UCLA, I returned to Northern California and started doing landscape photography, shooting much of the wine country. However, I quickly realized my strength was shooting more portrait-oriented work. There’s a big difference between photographing grapes and leaves as opposed to engaging animate objects. My personality was better suited at making subjects feel comfortable with a style I was developing rather than waiting for a sun to set. I placed ads around Sonoma County and started building my portfolio, which included focusing on the male subject, and eventually leading to publications of calendars and photo books.

    SS: Name one of your key mentors
    and explain how he or she inspired your work.

    SU: The American photographer Bruce Weber influenced me. I remember picking up one of his books, O Rio De Janeiro, and seeing a beautiful black and white story where his telling images leapt off the page. There’s a teasing, titillating aspect to his homoerotic work without needing to be pornographic.

    SS: If you could fix or solve one major problem in the Bay Area, what would it be and why?

    SU: I’m all for supporting the arts, and I do so in many different ways, from mentoring photo artists and journalists to contributing my services and photo portraiture packages to many of the non-profits I have the privilege to cover. In the last several years, San Francisco has lost much of its flavor by artists needing to leave the city and Bay Area. Many add to the richness of the culture and landscape, and it would be nice if there were an increased opportunity for affordable housing.

    SS: Among your many achievements, which one are you most proud of and why?

    SU: I enjoy donating time photographing non-profit events, particularly those focused on HIV/AIDS services (Shanti Project, Richmond Ermet Aids Foundation, Academy of Friends and so many more), along with shooting portraits and weddings. I’m most proud of my published material over the years, including 7 photo books, yearly calendars, and magazine work. As an artist, it’s intrinsically rewarding to have your work on display for others to see.

    SS: What are your future goals and aspirations?

    SU: I’m currently building a social media presence to market a kickstarter project and new male photography website. The website would include several models on display, including video. The viewer can also purchase new photo books and prints.,, Twitter: Steven Underhill.

    Stu Smith is board chair emeritus of Shanti Project, board chair of The Paratransit Coordinating Council, a member of the Castro Country Club Advisory Board and the LGBT Senior Task Force, and producer and host of the public access TV program “The Drag Show.” KQED has honored Stu as a 2013 LGBT Hero.