I never thought, oh, maybe one day I could do this as my job - Danny Kaan Interview
Danny Kaan is a photographer, making a name for himself photographing events all over the West End and beyond, both on and off stage. I was lucky enough to talk to Danny about how he started out and how he has grown his platform, as well as about his love for all things theatre.
How did you get into photography? Has it always been a hobby of yours?
No, it wasn’t always a hobby. I was on a summer holiday with my mum and my two little brothers, and we had these advertisement papers coming through the post every week. And then there was one week where there was a camera on sale and I said to my mum, I am going to buy this camera. She went ‘you’re absolutely not’, but I really wanted it. I think it was about 500 euro, and I think I was 15/16 then, so 500 euro was a lot of money, it still is a lot of money, so I had to work for it. My mum was like ‘you’re absolutely not getting it, I’ve never heard you talk about cameras, why would you want to spend so much money on it, if you want one, buy a second hand one’. But I was determined that I was going to buy it, so I did.
Then the first event I attended was called ‘The Musical Singalong’, it’s in the Netherlands, it’s a bit like West End Live but it’s in the evening instead of during the day. It looks really nice with all the lights in the dark, so I took a few pictures there and I really enjoyed it, so I wanted to take more photographs.
I started taking pictures at curtain calls at shows in the Netherlands. Here in the UK, you’re not really allowed but there for all shows you can do whatever you want during the curtain call, just not during the show, so I did that a few times before flying over to London for West End Live and took my camera there. Then, at one point, Carrie Hope Fletcher shared one of my pictures and I was like, oh, so actually, people really like the pictures, so I thought that maybe I should do it more often.
I always dream really big, dreaming that I’m Ariana Grande’s photographer, always insane dreams. Then one day, I saw that Jason Robert Brown was doing a concert at the palladium and I just thought that I’m going to email them, ask if I can come and take some photos and they said yes. So, I thought that I am just going to do that more, just keep emailing people and seeing what happens. And that’s literally how it started growing and growing, I got to do things and couldn’t believe that I got to do so. That’s how my love of photography grew.
So, your love for theatre definitely came before the love for photography?
Definitely yes. I love theatre. I can’t remember a time that I didn’t. My very first show was The Lion King. I went with my mum to see it and literally from that moment, I was obsessed. I think I was ten or eleven when I saw The Lion King, but I can remember everything about it. I was so impressed by everything that came along. When I was 14/15, we had We Will Rock you here in the Netherlands, and there was a Dutch celebrity playing the lead, and I was obsessed with that celebrity and I still am. So, I went to see the show and then a friend of mine got free tickets a couple of times, so she went to see the show twice. At the time, I didn’t think that seeing a show more than once was a thing, I thought that you see it once, why would you want to go again? But then this friend was like ‘oh, I know you’ve seen this already, but I’ve got a free ticket, do you want to come with me?’, so I did, and then we had different actors in the show.
Yeah, different performers make for a different show
Yes, it’s so cool to see different people do this show, and my love of theatre grew. And then as I got older, I was getting out of the house more on my own and making money for myself and I got to see more shows, and I just loved it. We don’t have loads of West End shows coming to the Netherlands, just two regional shows and two touring productions, and that’s all we had. So, if I wanted to go the theatre, I had to go and see the same thing, as I didn’t have much to choose from.
It's the same here, with the Theatre Royal Plymouth, I don’t get to London as often as I would like, so I have to make the most of the touring shows when I can
Yes, you have to. If you are not in London or New York, or have to travel long distances, sometimes you just have to wait for the touring shows toc come
Yes. So, you got into photographing theatre just by taking your camera along? It wasn’t really a set decision?
Of course. I mean, when I was younger, it was a dream to work in theatre, but I didn’t grow up thinking that I was going to do photography and stuff like that. Quite recently, I got to do the production shots for Les Miserables, and then I found a picture I took when I first saw Les Mis, and I could never have imagined when I saw the show that one day, I could take the production shots. I mean, I took a photo outside the theatre, of the pictures that were there then, and never thought, oh, maybe one day I could do this as my job. I then studied marketing, but I never really dreamt of doing this kind of stuff, it literally just came along one day.
A while ago, the actress playing Christine in The Phantom of the Opera was Dutch, and I had done some photos for her back in the Netherlands when she did a concert there. And she said that when I come to London again, she would take me backstage at the theatre, so we did that, and I thought that it would be really cool to take some pictures of her getting ready backstage before the show. So we got that all set up and we did this backstage photoshoot, and she shared the pictures, and more and more people got to know me and my photographs. More people started to ask me to take pictures for them, and that’s really how everything got started for me.
Social media is such a big thing now, a lot can be set up using it and using who you know
Literally. When I moved here, almost four years ago, my social media really started growing. For example, I wanted to do a photo shoot when Six was just starting out, and amazingly then, my Instagram had more followers then there’s did, of course that’s definitely not the case now but still. So I emailed them and said that it would be great exposure for their social media and that my followers would love it and that’s how I got to go and photograph the show.
I studied marketing, so I understand why social media is beneficial for some people, but as much as people have said yes to letting me come in, many have said no because they had no ideas who I was and what I was going to do. For example, I asked Marisha Wallace if I could do a shoot with her when she was in Dreamgirls and she said yes, but the marketing people said no, they didn’t want to let me in the building because they had no idea who I was. You’ve got to make a name for yourself first.
I find it really interesting how companies market their shows, it’s always changing. Online, it’s not really just Facebook anymore, it’s moving to Instagram and TikTok.
Exactly, marketing changes literally every day. Before it was Facebook this, and Facebook that, but it’s changing now. Facebook is an amazing platform to target older people and mum groups but it’s not for younger people anymore, it’s not a way of attracting them to the theatre, it’s insane now how well certain shows are doing because of TikTok and Instagram.
Do you have a favourite photoshoot you’ve done or favourite projects that you’ve worked on?
I think one of my favourite projects would be Dear Audience from last year. I’m currently working on a project with the Theatre Café, which we are announcing next week, which is also insane. I would never have thought that I would be doing things like this, the amount of shows that are involved in this project is insane. But I think the Dear Audience book will always have a special place in my heart because it was in lockdown and at the time, we tried to create something. It was so hectic and so crazy, the amount of people that wanted to be involved. In a time where people were scared to leave the house, queuing for toilet paper, the fact that there was so many people wanting to be involved, wanting to give up their time, that was insane. It was so much work; I will never do something like that again.
But for photoshoots, doing Jason Robert Brown’s concert at the London Palladium. That was really early on, I didn’t live in London yet, no one had really seen my work, so it was amazing that they even said yes. But other than that, doing the Les Mis shoot was next level, I never expected that. But I was so nervous, I couldn’t really enjoy it, I wish I had been able to enjoy it more. I was put up in a hotel for 4 days, and I didn’t leave the hotel other than to go to the supermarket and the theatre, I couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous, I was doing the shoots then editing all night, it was a lot. But I love so many of the shoots I’ve done, I loved doing the shoot with the girls from Six for their band, announcing their first concert together. Doing that was something new for me, it wasn’t a shoot during a show, it was doing their poster, so I got to bring in my own lights and own flashes. It was my first time creating something like that and I was always really pleased with it.
And another thing, I really loved doing the online series called Tonight at the London Coliseum, which was concerts with an empty auditorium. It was my first time back in a theatre after all those months, and it was really memorable because there was no one there apart from the crew and the performer, and it was so cool to walk around a space that’s normally full of joy and so many people and then we didn’t even come close to each other.
If you could photograph any theatre production, be that one that is currently running, or one that you would love to see, what would it be?
I was literally thinking about this the other day because I went to see Wicked, and I was thinking, that if they called me one day, that would be it. I have seen Wicked so many times, here and in the Netherlands. And that really made me love theatre. If they were to call me one day, even if they asked me just to take one picture of Defying Gravity, I would quit my job because I couldn’t beat that. It would be my highlight. But everything I do makes me so grateful; I’ve got exciting projects lined up. The fact that people want me to be involved in things, it's hard to compare because everything is so special. I got to do the shoot for Broken Wings a couple of weeks ago and doing that in such a small theatre and trying to capture the story in that small space, that was special too.
Stepping away from the photography for a moment. Do you have a favourite show that you’ve seen as an audience member? Is it Wicked, or is there something else that really stands out?
I think that Wicked is my favourite because I’ve seen it so many times. I really love riffing, and especially girls riffing so Wicked is the perfect show for me as is Six, I love Six. Girls belting in my face makes me happy. And before I lived here, I travelled to London to see The Last Five Years, and even though I’ve been to other performances of it since, I can literally tell you everything about that first time. I don’t know the people, but I could tell you what the people sitting around me looked like, where I was sat, everything. The show is so special. And my first Broadway show was If/Then, and again I could tell you everything about it, same with seeing Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz in Waitress. Sometimes you can just remember those all experiences. Those are the three that come to mind.
And one final question. Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to get into what you do with photography and theatre? Is it just about setting up that platform for yourself and being brave enough to send that email?
Contact as many people as possible. It’s like being a performer, you may go to 70 auditions before you finally get that role, before you finally get a yes. I’ve sent so many emails, and I may only get a couple back that say yes. And these days, use social media as your portfolio. There are so many people that say that they saw my photos on Instagram, I have a website, but most people find me through Instagram. Five years ago, that would have been different, websites were more important than they are now, but social media now is so much easier. You can go to someone’s DM’s and ask them a question. And photography wise, I would say just take your camera out whenever you can and take pictures, if allowed photograph curtain calls. Performers love it, they love the photographs, and they will share on social media. Taking your camera out doesn’t cost anything, and its experience.
And be brave enough to email. If you want to do something, and you can find the right contact details, there is no harm in just emailing. And if you don’t get a response, don’t email again the next day, leave it for a bit then contact again because sometimes emails just get lost, you never know, so just follow them up. For example, I really wanted to photograph Jessie J, it was one of my bucket list things, and I saw that she was doing a concert in London. So I found the tour managers email address, and he contacted me. But if he hadn’t, I would have contacted again, just following up politely. You have nothing to lose by sending an email, or a message on social media, the worse they can say is no.
And dream big, even if you start with smaller events, they can be really nice and great to do and they can lead to bigger things. And don’t worry if things take time, it took me a few years to get into the press pit at West End Live for example, sometimes it takes time and that’s okay. Just keep trying.
I would like to thank Danny for his time and wish him the very best for his future projects.
You can follow Danny across his social media at https://twitter.com/dannykaan, https://www.instagram.com/danny_with_a_camera/?hl=en and https://www.tiktok.com/@danny_with_a_camera
You can also visit his website here http://dannykaan.nl