Parker Stevenson, recently returned to acting, embraced a different creative outlet during his decade away from TV and movies: photography
By Michael Aushenker
His name is Parker and he carries a camera. But this ain’t no Spider-Man flick.
Actor Parker Stevenson — returning to television after a long hiatus in shows such as Monday’s episode of “Longmire” — expresses his creativity through photography when he’s not working in front of the camera.
“I always have the camera in my car,” said the Venice resident, who turned 62 last month.
Stevenson is currently shooting the photographs for an upcoming book about roller derbies and has work headed to an upcoming exhibition at The Hague.
“I spent four days this winter exploring the entire complex and recording my impressions of the vast interior spaces and architectural details for an exhibition of oversized prints on silk this fall to be held in the [Richard Meier-designed] Hague Complex,” Stevenson said.
But as an actor, for anyone 40 and older, their first association with Stevenson often boils down to three words: The Hardy Boys.
After landing “Lifeguard,” a movie in which Stevenson played opposite Sam Elliott, the young Stevenson snagged his career-making role, co-starring in ABC’s “The Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew Mysteries” series from 1977 to 1979. Based on the popular young adult novels by Edward Stratemeyer, “The Hardy Boys” featured Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy as young amateur sleuths Frank and Joe Hardy. The show turned Cassidy into a teen idol.
Stevenson parlayed that success into playing Burt Reynolds’ archrival in the 1983 feature film “Stroker Ace,” then met now ex-wife Kirstie Alley while making the 1986 TV mini-series “North and South,” a Civil War drama also starring Patrick Swayze and Jean Simmons. Stevenson appeared in the original cast of “Baywatch” in 1989 and returned in 1997-98 for the syndicated version before playing a recurring role on the second season of “Melrose Place.”
And then Stevenson retreated from Hollywood, putting his acting on the backburner to deal with a well-publicized messy divorce from Alley and to raise his children.
While Stevenson may have left Hollywood, his creativity never deserted him. He soon reconnected with an old flame: photography.
Stevenson’s love for the art began with shooting wedding photos at 14 and continued with architectural photography while he attended Princeton’s architecture program.
Stevenson did enjoy some chances to work behind television cameras thanks to “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff — “He misled me. He told me they were desperate,” Stevenson said, smiling — but finds working with a still camera more expedient and reliable.
“I don’t need anyone else’s approval,” he said.
For a while, Stevenson shot portraits of people he met during his day job, including Hasselhoff’s daughters.
“I quickly stopped that. Shooting people like that was always embarrassing,” — especially if the subjects rejected the results, he said.
“I know how awkward it is, how invasive it is,” said Stevenson, alluding not to the extremities of unwanted paparazzi attention but to the simple daily realities of an actor’s life. “It’s really not fun.”
The only time Stevenson has felt comfortable as a photographer’s subject was with the late Herb Ritts, who exhibited “a calmness and a comfort. You felt safe with him. His graphic sense was really acute.”
Despite how difficult Stevenson’s first blush with stardom was for him as a young actor, “it’s much harder now. The Internet and the paparazzi are a lot more avaricious,” he said.
“For all those reasons, I understand the experience. So when I shoot, I’m goofy a lot of time. I’m talking and sharing my whole life [to put the subject at ease],” he said. “I’m not interested in someone posing or looking handsome. I’m interested in the moments in conversation when someone is open and looking. That’s the only truth.”
Beyond portraits, Stevenson, a decade into digital photography, has shot some emotional landscapes, capturing the contradictions of a homeless veteran’s encampment on Venice Beach, the decay of a Santa Fe back alley or an intrusive industrial landscape of oil derricks.
In just six years of living in Venice, Stevenson said he has witnessed a surge in the number of people who are homeless or sleeping in their cars, poverty that he believes has been exacerbated by methamphetamine use.
Stevenson, in photographing such scenes, does not intend to become the next Walker Evans or Dorothea Lange with his camera.
“I think the image was beautiful and non-judgmental,” he said of his photograph of a Venice Beach encampment with hoisted American flag. “It wasn’t to comment on that, but it was about that image. I feel like it’s somehow exploiting people to do that [kind of photography]. We’re not in the Dust Bowl in the ‘30s.”
Stevenson maximized his three-week New Mexico shoot for “Longmire” by photographing around the outskirts of Santa Fe.
Regarding his turn on the A&E show, Stevenson said, “It sort of came out of the blue. I went in and read for it and got cast in a role that I never would’ve been cast for,” he said, even finding inspiration for it in his neighborhood. “I’m surrounded by a lot of transients here in Venice” was all he could say about his role without giving away details.
In addition to “Longmire,” Stevenson appears onstage at Gary Marshall’s Falcon Theatre in Toluca Lake for the one-night production of “Chasing Smoke” on July 18.
Today, Stevenson equates the adulation he still receives for “The Hardy Boys” and “Baywatch” with “someone coming up to you and saying ‘Hey, we went to the same school’ — a nice commonality,” he said.
“I stepped back. It’s different now. I’m different. I’m such a different person.”
To see more of Stevenson’s photography, visit parkerstevensonshadowworks.com.