Behind the Lens
Merrimack Valley Magazine Photographer Kevin Harkins
Photographer Kevin Harkins thinks the Merrimack Valley is well on its way to becoming a bastion of artistry.
“As children, we grew up as mill town kids,” says Harkins, a Lowell native who now lives in Londonderry, N.H., as he reflects on the area’s past as a less than favorable destination for the creatively-minded. “Now, people are moving from the big city to our area.”
Harkins has reason to be excited about the growth in this region: In addition to being a native, he’s been snapping photos of it for Merrimack Valley Magazine and other publications for years. As a commercial photographer, Harkins has a list of clients that spans the region, including Middlesex Community College, Bellesini Academy and Enterprise Bank.
Commercial photography pays the bills, but Harkins still finds time to do the traditional artistic work that got him interested in the medium in the first place. While the two can be quite different, he tries to bring quality control to all his work, no matter what it’s for.
“I’d love all my commercial work to be fine art,” Harkins says, “but it isn’t. Still, you try to keep the quality as high as you can.”
Harkins first picked up a camera as a child, playing with his father’s Polaroid 95, and he hasn’t looked back. He attended The Art Institute of Boston, opting for a varied course schedule with “a little bit of everything” before graduating in 1977. Now, despite having more than 30 years of professional experience under his belt, Harkins says he never stops looking for new things to learn and ways to expand his repertoire. His latest experiments with infrared photography have left him feeling as exhilarated as the day of that formative Polaroid moment.
“I never stop learning,” he says. “I’m 60 years old, and some days I feel like a newbie straight out of school.”
Harkins attributes some of his success to his early adoption of digital photography, although in his humility he’s quick to mention that he doesn’t consider himself a “pioneer.” He found himself beginning to work with the technology in 1998, and by 2004, he had moved completely into the digital space. While other artists at that time resisted the change, he says, he didn’t want such stubbornness to put him behind in an industry he cared about deeply.
Despite his photos being ubiquitous in the Merrimack Valley, Harkins’ work in the area hasn’t been limited to what he does behind the lens. Part of his contribution to the local arts scene has consisted of serving on panels for a variety of organizations, including the Lowell Cultural Council, the City of Lowell Office of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the New Hampshire Creative Club. Again, he’s cautious to remain humble in his description of his work.
“I was asked to serve on a lot of those, so I did,” he says. “You get asked, you serve.”
One of the most exciting developments in local art, Harkins says, has been the revival of physical workspaces for artists. In 1992, he gave up his studio and began taking commissions by phone and email. Now, many communities, including Lowell, have started offering spaces for artists to spread out.
“All the things I wished for came about: low rent, SoHo-style living, a diversified lifestyle,” he says.
Harkins recently found a new space at Western Avenue Studios in Lowell, which offers brick mill workspaces to more than 300 artists. “Actually, I just picked up my key!” he says, laughing. Harkins says getting the new space has opened his eyes to the growth the local arts scene, and he can’t wait to see how being in such a place will allow him to grow his own enterprise.
Kevin will be appearing on the Jan 15, 2020 episode of the 495 Podcast. Visit our podcast page for more info.