Brad Trent is not a household name in St. Albert. Even in New York where he can often be found in the company of superstars of all stripes, it’s not the sight of his face or even the mention of his name that would stop traffic. And yet he wields a lot of power in that camera of his.
And he credits his time in St. Albert for helping to turn him into the photographer to the stars.
“I had a teacher at Paul Kane that really pushed me along. (Donna Powell) was very instrumental in how things turned out because I didn’t really know what I was going to be doing,” he said.
The self-professed class clown didn’t really know what to do with his life. A guidance counselor suggested architecture so he studied math and physics, always with a camera in hand though. Even though he was involved with things like the yearbook committee, he didn’t put any more thought into it.
“To me, a photographer is the guy that has the studio in the shopping mall that does weddings and stuff like that. That’s not what I was interested in.”
Upon graduating, he went to NAIT’s photography school just for the chance to play around with cameras and be in the darkroom. These kinds of programs “are what you put into them.” Not all of his classmates got jobs afterward, he noted, and even fewer are still doing it.
He moved to Calgary and picked up a retiring photographer’s business. While not exactly the ‘shopping mall wedding photography’ that he dreaded, there was a lot of corporate annual report shots. He did some side work for a modeling agency.
The work paid the bills and he carried on for a few years that way. His girlfriend at the time was a model and the agency moved her to New York, so he went along.
That was good timing. The recession hit and lots of Cowtown photogs went under. But making the leap to the Big Apple didn’t mean he was going to land on even ground.
“I got out at the right time but it didn’t change the fact that I left Calgary on a high and then I moved to New York to work as an assistant. Living like a rat is not a joke. I was living in shitty, awful apartments with roaches for pets,” he recalled. “It was more than starting from scratch but I was getting sick of oil rigs and gas plants. I thought, ‘This is better.’ I figured I’d end up in Toronto. Why not? Give it a shot.”
With the right connections through the agency, he was at least in the right company of people to get his name – and his work – better known. Soon, he was working for such big photographers as Albert Watson, Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort, and Rebecca Blake. It wasn’t the be-all and end-all, but it was enough to give him a nudge in the right direction.
“I realized that there was no way on god’s earth I was going to be a fashion photographer. You really gotta give a shit about fashion, and I really didn’t care.”
At least he knew people. He kept himself open to do any and all work. Things finally clicked when he finally broke through to work with magazine editorial photographers.
He landed a major gig shooting pics for Life magazine’s special Constitution issue in the fall of 1987.
That’s when he knew that he had really made it. Soon after that, he was regularly working for Life, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, People, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, Forbes, Inc., and USA Weekend. He was working with photographers whose works he remembered from back when he was eight.
It was his work with Sports Illustrated that especially leant some clout toward him getting stars on his own lens.
“At that exact moment, athletes were suddenly becoming more than just guys who played with balls. They were now turning into these superstars that companies wanted to use in their advertising. Because of that, I started getting a lot of advertising. I was shooting these guys for Sports Illustrated and then I’d get a campaign for Pepsi.”
If athletes were celebrities, then other celebrities would soon be in his studio. In fact, they haven’t stopped. His portfolio includes Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Steven Spielberg, Enya, Patti Smith, and Bryan Cranston, not to mention all of those other business and sports types that are on his regular roster too.
“I just like the fact that I’ve been able to bounce around, and yeah, you end up in the room with some pretty cool people. It just happens.”
So maybe he didn’t always have this as a life goal. It was always something that he knew.