Through The Lens

David Leslie Anthony

December 14, 2009, by Chelsea Coyle

Currently live in Chicago, but work primarily in New York and Europe.

  • for fashion and commercial work; and for gallery images that are available through the galleries that represent my art work worldwide.
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    Mini Anden
    model: Mini Anden (Elite New York), by David Leslie Anthony

    You started your career as a fashion hairdresser. What made you switch to photography when you were at the peak of your career?
    I moved up the ranks quite quickly (at a very young age) to become International Creative Director at the age of 21 with a major hairdressing company. There, my job was to not only create hair designs for the company, but to also oversee the hair fashion photo shoots and advertising. I also travelled worldwide, performing on stage with the International Show Team at the major hair shows in London, Paris, New York.

    My work was in numerous magazines, and eventually I began teaching myself, and moving into photography. This was a natural progression for me and something I always felt drawn to. 5 years later, I then assumed this same position with another company and also began photographing all the press release photos and designing the staging for our shows.

    I came to a moment in my life where I felt I had achieved all that I could in the beauty industry, and wanted to "retire" before I had nothing more to offer. That, and because I had always loved art, fashion, film, and photography. So in October of 1989, I embarked on a new career; that of a fashion photographer

    How important is a distinctive style in photography?
    I teach my assistants that with "accidents" comes a world of knowledge, IF you are open to it. I always (and still do) kept notebooks of work I did/do, and I have my assistants do the same. Back in 1990 I was selected by the fashion company Z. Cavaricci to shoot their fall campaign which ran in Vogue, GQ, Glamour, Rolling Stone, etc. They selected me based upon a visual look I came upon by accident and which I "pushed and developed" to make it my own look. This was the technique called "Cross-Processing." Back at the time, only a handful were doing this (Javier Vallhonrat and Nick Knight being two of them).

    Since I am self-taught, I went to the film store to buy colour developer. I came home with the wrong stuff and proceeded to develop my E6 film in developer made for C41. I came out with these strange, wonderful colours. My friends who worked at a colour lab then told me I had developed the film in the wrong developers, BUT I then proceeded to buy every type of film I could and experimented with various filters, developing times, etc. That is how I began building my "name."

    The next was to figure out how to take something and adapt it for commercial assignments. I think back then, with people like Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Peter Lindbergh, Paolo Roversi, Steven Meisel, and many many others, having a "look" to your work was very important. Today, I think what is most and more important is that you have a distinct viewpoint to your work. How you "see and view" the world, life, loves, fashion, art, etc. The visual "look" with your work (the physical way a photo looks) will constantly change as the fashion seasons change. For example if you are only shooting things "dark and moody", then you won't be working much in spring time where everything is brighter, more colourful.

    If you look at my work, look at the kind of models I book, how I have them move, what I get out of them, the "feeling in the photos". That is MY style, my visual viewpoint.

    Would you consider yourself someone who stands on the other side when most turn to Photoshop and other photo editing software?
    I consider myself a "purist" when it comes to photography itself. Though I came from a film background, I shoot BOTH digital and film. I also use the computer and photoshop for editing. BUT I do 95% of the work on-set, meaning lighting, filtering, metering, light gels, fog machines, multiple exposures, etc.

    I create my photographs on-set with a vision and direction of where I want to go. I know at the time of shooting what I am going to do in post-production. I don't shoot a picture THEN sit at a computer to figure how/what I want to do with the photo. THAT is what I disagree with. My question then to anyone is, are you a photographer or a "digital technician?"

    I also won't let anyone retouch my work but me. I'm the one who shot it. I'm the one with the vision in my head as to how it is to look and "feel." HOW can a person claim the work solely as theirs if they only pressed the shutter and someone else did the post-production work? Someone else "applied various plug-ins, etc, etc.? When I see a photo that has been obviously photoshopped to death, my first question is... I want to see their raw files, because I assure you that the original does not even come close to the finished product. My thought then goes to "the person who snapped this photo does NOT know photography".

    In the major fashion markets now they say there are "two schools of thought". There are the Photographers and a new group they refer to as "digital illustrators". Notice how they don't even call them photographers?

    No I am not against digital nor the use of it. Like I said, I also do shoot digital. I'm against digital technicians who simply "snap the shutter", then Photoshop the hell of it - those who don't know photography, yet call themselves "photographers."

    Still to this day, the REAL Avant garde magazines are Italian Vogue, W Magazine, French Vogue, Numero and just a few others. They are still photography-based whether the camera format is digital or film. The work is being created by many of the worlds greats!

    In so many of the magazines now, if you look at the ending credits, you'll see digital retouchers getting photo credit. So WHO really did that image you are looking at??? I think that the 80s and 90s were the most creative periods in fashion photography because it was coming from a period of knowledge and REAL creativity. The 2000s will go down as "the period of the digital technician." Digital and computers are wonderful additions to what we do, IF in the hands of photographers who know their craft. When it was only film, people HAD to learn photography BEFORE they could call themselves photographers. They pushed for knowledge and self-experimentation. Today, ANYONE can buy the same equipment, computers, and programmes we can, and ANYONE can buy the same "filters and plug-ins" we can, and those same "filters and plug-ins" work in the same way for EVERYONE!

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    Roberto Cavalli
    Roberto Cavalli, by David Leslie Anthony

    What photographers have influenced you and how?
    Many of these people I've come to know personally and some I've only met. Others are photographers whom I love something about their work, because they are always challenging themselves, and "pushing themselves." They are the one's creating what others copy: Nick Knight, Javier Vallhonrat, Mario Testino, David Sims, Mario Sorrenti, Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Albert Watson, Stan Malinowski, Craig McDean, Paolo Roversi, Tim Walker, David Bailey, Melvin Sokolsky, Christopher Mcaub, Terry Richardson, Bruce Webber, Brigitte Lacombe, Ellen von Unwerth, Tom Munro, Pamela Hanson, Greg Lotus, Greg Kadel, Satoshi, Patrick Demarchelier, Arthur Elgort, and I'm sure there are more, but this is what immediately comes to mind.

    What everyone of these people have in common is, that they ALL came from a film background even though many are shooting digital now. They all are true photographers. Influence can come from how their work makes you "feel", what you see in their work, how and what they get out of the model, location, etc.

    Did you have a moment when you realized, within yourself, that you were skilled enough to do this for a living and if so when was that or what was it like?
    This past October made it 20 years I've been a photographer. When I was an assistant, my mentor told me "don't change your style, change your market". I actually worked in Toronto and Vancouver for a period. I couldn't get "arrested shooting fashion" there. No one would hire me.

    I returned to the States (I have duel-citizenship), and the SAME work I was doing that people in Toronto hated, got me booked for shoots and getting offered contracts with Conde Nast and Hearst publications. Within six months of returning to the States, I was shooting for the International editions of Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, German Vogue, and shooting ad campaigns with people like Britney Spears for Pepsi U.K.!! This past year, I was selected to be part of the famous Art Basil in Miami alongside many of the top photographers in the world! You have to believe in yourself.

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    Britney Spears
    Britney Spears for Pepsi (UK), by David Leslie Anthony

    What inspires you to continue shooting and how do you keep motivated when a certain shot or moment just doesn't happen?
    In the 20 years I've been a photographer now, I've NEVER had a shoot occur without something not "go wrong." You could book a makeup artist that you have worked with many times before, and on THIS particular shoot she/he "just does not get the concept". You could be working with a model you have worked with prior, and today she get's her period and she does not feel "into it". You could have an assistant fail to pack certain equipment, and they didn't tell you, and you suddenly need it... and it's 1500 miles away from your location. It could be a bright sunny day, and suddenly become overcast. It's HOW you deal with these situations that makes a true professional, and is part of what I learned by being an assistant.

    As a photographer (and sometimes art director!), where do you find your own artistic inspiration?
    I communicate with my International Editors via emails and phone calls, so I am both Photographer AND Art Director on about 75% of my shoots. I don't think an artist and/or photographer is ever truly "satisfied" with their work. For me, I'll look at my work afterwards and think "what could I have done more? What could I have done better". That is the "growing process" that true professionals continue to deal with, and what keeps them on top of their own careers. It's what makes them who they are.

    Anyone can learn the technical aspects of photography from books. Anyone can buy a digital camera. "Style and feeling" NO one can teach you. You either have it or you don't. When I read comments from young photographers about how they consider "their own work amazing", 10 out of 10 times it's utter crap! WHEN you become "self-satisfied" with your own work, you have stopped growing! Since I am under contract with both Conde Nast and Hearst Publications, I have been fortunate to meet photographers like Craig McDean, Mario Testino, Albert Watson, etc. and I've NEVER heard or read about them saying "how wonderful they think their work is" or "how amazing their shoot was". These are some of the MOST humble people I've ever met. As I'll always say it's the "run-of-the-mills" who have the biggest egos. They don't know a damn thing about the past! They simply copy what they see already done in magazines and think themselves "creative". I always tell my assistants "You MUST know the past, BEFORE you can create the future," because the future is made up FROM the past.

    What is your favourite shoot to date?
    I've had many very good shoots where I came away with work I truly felt happy with, so I can't really name just one.

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    Karlie Kloss
    Karlie Kloss (Next Worldwide), by David Leslie Anthony

    What do you look for when casting?
    I look for something unique about them, something different, where you can see within them that they "just get it". One model that I helped launch her career by booking her for her first two(2) editorial shoots was KARLIE KLOSS (with Next Agency, NYC). Karlie "gets it"!! She is wonderful to work with and look at how fast she rose in the industry!

    What would you be if you could not be a photographer?
    I've thought that question myself, and nothing else comes to mind.

    What do you love the most about this career?
    The ability to do what I love, and get paid for doing it. The fact that I've been to so many countries around the world, met so many wonderful people, and againŠgot paid for it. The ability to then take the money I've been paid, pay my bills, THEN shoot whatever I feel like shooting and not giving a damn whether anyone likes it or not.

    What advice would you give to young people starting out in today's market?
    1st: Learn the past. Study the photographers who are at the top and WHY they are at the top meaning their work. 2nd Realize, and I DO mean realize that A LOT was accomplished by many long BEFORE you were born. That you are dealing with numerous people in this business who know MUCH MORE than you, have SEEN much more than you, have EXPERIANCED much more than you, and did so when you were simply "just another sperm cell". 3rd Don't mistake "a photographer's style" as how a photograph looks. The visual imagery will change every season just like fashion AND life changes. A "photographer's style" is how they see things, how they view the world, how they view music, life, sex, the people they love and have loved, etc. THIS all goes into creating a "style". "Style" is a viewpoint. If you look at my work, see the kind of models I book, the strength in how I have them move, what I get out of the shoot. THAT is my "style". The physical look is simply that. The look I chose for that particular shoot.


    Blogs We Follow

    Cailin Hill (The Model Burnbook)

    Natalia Zurowski & Jasmine Chorley Foster (The Business Model)

    Madison Schill & Addison Gill's (Mind Over Model)

    Ania Boniecka (A n i a . B)