OLD SCHOOL IS NEW SCHOOL
Interview with Steven Lyon
The fact that you worked as a male model is well known. What was the trigger that made you want to work behind the camera?
Actually I never wanted to be a shooter when I was a model. I wish I did and paid more attention to what was going on!. It started on a trip to Bali with my girlfriend. We stopped in Singapore and I bought a Nikon F4 35mm film camera. Shooting her in Bali was my official first pics. Later I shot my girlfriend in Ibiza and really got the photography bug. She was gorgeous, so it was easy. Its really a shame I don't have any of those negatives any more. Bummer.
Your photography is quite powerful. Which photographers inspired you?
Easy... Peter Lindbergh , Herb Ritz , Paolo Roversi , Sante D ‘Orazio, Jaques Olivar and Ellen Von UnWerth. Each one in a different way. I also love Sebastiao Salgado and Peter Beard for many reasons.
You regard yourself as being somewhat old school when it comes to photography. What do you mean by that?
The industry has forced me to say im old school... I hate that! .. What ?... I like film so im old school?... I like images that tell a story?.. So Im old school?!... If that’s the criteria ... then maybe I am old school. But maybe I am just combining traditional film photography methods with today. I love cinema and cinematic lighting. So that’s what I mostly do. Pretty simple. It's what I like so it's what I do. I also love to mix light sources and color temperatures. Studio flash is always fun and detailed it's just a different hat. Thats how i see it.
And by the way. Of course I shoot digital when the job warrants it and its great!
What do you think is the difference between your approach and current photography?
No Idea. I see all the mediocre images in many major magazines today and imagine there is no approach or concept. On location I like to be able to find the shot that fits the story we are creating. I don't like to be married to a story board. I know the story I want to tell. Its great to have a reference and of course direction but I need to be free to explore.The fun is finding the images to get that across. I pride myself on knowing what i want and getting it fast. Why bore the team and model with indecision. You will loose them.
Normally I always have a few different cameras on set and one assistant dedicated to just cameras. While he is loading a camera, I´ll be shooting another. You can have fun in the edit and post making it all work. There is also one or two assistants on lighting. On film days I use my DSLR as a polaroid. Burn 20 frames and show the team what you see.
But sometimes the best images come with no team or assistants. When you have a good connection with your subject keeping it simple is great.
Also I love to hear about other shooters approach! I love talking shop with other photographers and creatives. But I doubt it will change my own. Now for sure talking with great cinematographers would expand my box. Working with a good cinematographer to design a look for the shoot is the best. Especially when they understand my aesthetic and style. I´m a cinematographer myself so working together with one even better is a great day. It’s not always possible but its great way to work. Like a movie set.
You shoot not exclusively but a lot on film. What is so fascinating about it?
It´s not fascinating.. It's what im used to and the look I like. Simple. Digital is so much easier. In every way. I´m used to shooting three rolls of 120 film which is 30 frames. Digital photographers of today shoot hundreds of frames for one shot in a catalogue! haha ... Editorial shooters for Vogue are shooting hundreds for one shot in the magazine...were is the photographer? Anyone can through enough shit on the wall and eventually one will stick! Thats photography today. Im sure its an editing nightmare. Know your camera and vision and not bore the model and team... get the shot in 50 frames. Years ago in Paris, when i was a model I was shooting the Claude Montana campaign with Paolo Roversi. He was shooting 8x10 polaroid. There were 12 different outfits for the campaign. After 2 to test the light... He shot 12 polaroids.
You recently said that you don't let others do the post. Why are you doing this to yourself? Do you want to have your look completely under control, or are there other reasons?
Of course I want my work under my control! How can a photographer say ... yes! This is my image! If they don't have control of the image from start to finish! Especially in digital. A RAW file can go many ways in post. I believe the photographer should at least finish off the image, but really they should do all the work. It so sensitive and it's really an art form. Especially now with digital everything. I believe it's your responsibility to know your craft. Which today means also doing your own post. I´ve been at this so long I rarely spend more then 30 min on an image. Light it right and a little burning and dodging...Beauty can take longer for sure.
If not give the retoucher equal credits for the photo, because we all know its well deserved.
You mentioned that you convert digital images back into analogue negatives after editing. What is behind it?
LVT NEGATIVE. Yes I do some times. It's a dark room negative from your hires file. Has to be at least 750mb file for a 4x5 and over TB for an 8x10 negative. Two reasons... one.. There are so few master printers left in the world. So I can do all my burning and dodging and have the printer just copy what I did in the dark room. Two... If you have to do any retouching outside of burning and dodging you can make a negative to reflect those changes. But in the end you have a negative to be printed in any dark room.. old school. It also adds a natural film grain to a digital file.
A lot of your photos are in black and white. Are there certain criteria why you choose black and white instead of color?
Thats a great question... Most people think I shoot mostly BW. I don’t! I shoot what is right for the image and I love color. Especially color neg. film. Out dated film is really cool to use for my personal work. For me as an artist and since I do my own post. It's another element I can play with. Yes, I love the simplicity of BW and for sure its my favorite for many images. But let me say... my BW images have a “formula” I came up with for a certain look I like and it is mine. Color I experiment with a long time before I decide on any color palate for any particular series.
What does a Steven Lyon photo shoot look like? Are you more on conceptual side rather spontaneous? You're not really a studio type, are you?
I like big location productions. Like a movie set. If that’s not possible we go down from there. And I´m very happy in the studio BTW. Many interior location jobs on my site are studio jobs with a great set decorator and lighting. Like a movie which... for sure film directing is my future.
Your photographic focus is very sensual and body focused.
No your right...I love cinema, romance, sex and beauty. But I´m more than that and it pisses me off when people think im an erotic photographer... Yes I am ... but I´m more a photographer that wears a few hats. People want to put you in a box . Fuck that! ... I love shooting a charging Lion as much or even more then a super model being and fabulous. It's ironic... I was just driving and thinking of this today... I love beauty...In any form. I love the human body. It's timeless. When you introduce clothes, it becomes something else... maybe it´s fashion.
What do aesthetic standards play a role in your view?
I´m all for the new plus size movement. It's great to see fashion changing. As for me in my imagery, I´m drawn to the tall, strong sexy models reminiscent of the 80’s. That goes for men and women. That being said, beauty and sexy is in every one. You just have to find it. Thats my job and what’s fun.
In addition to your work as a fashion and editorial photographer, documentary photography plays an important role for you, especially wildlife photography. What is driving you here?
I love this planet and it´s crime we are killing it in every way. I love travel and documenting my journey and the people and places I see. Photo journalism is an incredible medium with a camera. And wildlife... well that’s just a thrill and privilege . To capture these beautiful creatures in their habitat on film for me is so challenging and amazing. Our generation may see many species extinct, if we don't wake up and do something. The poaching has to stop. Deforestation has to stop. Global warming is real. People need to wake up.
You will come out with a magazine, called Indulge. Why do you do that and what do you want to do differently? What is you're the driving force?
Let me reverse that order. My life is my driving force. I´ve been in front and behind the camera almost 40 years now...My own evolution led me to designing and creating a new publication which is called... INDULGE. Indulge is a magazine not slaved to fashion or seasons. It's original in every way. No advertising and supports this planet and the animals on it. Indulge will be profiling artist from all mediums who are like minded and trying to make a difference. Featuring the master photographers of legend. All editorial photography to be shot on film. It's pretty much everything opposite of most other publication. Maybe its doomed! HAHA we will see.
What role do print magazines nowadays play for you?
Everything ... I´m from the time of magazines and super models. I love that! And so does the rest of the fashion world. Magazines unfortunately are a dying breed. But I believe the right format can at the very least survive and spread culture and inspiration to the individuals that seek its message. There is a big difference in seeing an image on line and holding a well printed magazine in your hand.
You are now coming with three books at once and are preparing various exhibitions.
The books are finished. Publishing and release dates are pending. For sure not at the same time.
ARTIST OF LIGHT
NAKED ... as I see it
IN MY ROOM... Paris chapter
ARTIST OF LIGHT will be released first. It's a Potpourri of my work. NAKED is pretty obvious and IN MY ROOM, Paris chapter is really cool. It's a series I shot in my bed room in Paris over 10 years. Now that I live in LA and finally gave up my Paris flat... The book is finished. IN MY ROOM” ... LA Chapter is under works!
For more of Steven Lyon: www.stevenlyon.com; www.lyonheartlove.org and @steven_lyon
For more of Daria Polka @daryapolka