Interview by Diane Vincent. All pictures courtesy of Jonathan Leder
What would you like to depict through your obsession for America and its glamourous figures pin-ups?
Well, clearly photography is a very personal experience. As an American, born and raised in the latter part of the 20th century, I can not help but to feel an affinity for this time period and aesthetic. To me, this is really the golden age of American culture. Post war, pre internet American culture. I think in many ways it was a very positive and optimistic period of time and therefore something that we try to recreate to a certain extant.
There is a certain heroic quality and freedom to the images that I am trying to create. I am not only looking to the past for inspiration, but it is about a return to a more honest aesthetic regarding beauty.
Our society today is so much more conservative in many ways that it was in the late 70s and 80s. People are afraid to take risks today. Everything is focus grouped to death. Things become falsified and stale.
Honestly, if you don’t like my pictures, thats cool. They are not always perfect, but at least we take some chances and we try.
How did New York City where you grew up have an influence on you and your work?
I think being surrounded by the New York City for 30 years was a huge help. There is a lot you learn simply by osmosis. That is by being surrounded by something. Museums, artists, galleries, wealth, culture, all of these things help influence you. I remember receiving my first William Eggleston and Robert Mapplethorpe books at the age of thirteen. I remember studying DeKooning and Rothko, and artists even earlier than that. I think having so much culture at your disposal when you are creating your own work is essential.
It may be possible to, but probably it is hard to take decent photos if you are not familiar with art history – painting and photography , as well as architecture and design. Being able to grow up in a place like Manhattan was certainly very helpful.
That said, I no longer live in the city and really I am inspired by travelling across the country to find unique places and locations for my shoots. For the past year I have been living on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and in upstate New York in the Catskills. At this point I find more inspiration from the small cities and towns, than I do from the big cities.
Your shots present charming creatures a long way off from the smooth and photoshopped photographer’s fashion models that we usually see. How does the background in which you grew up inspire you today?
I would start by saying, that although many fashion models are attractive in the face – I do not find this tall skinny body type to be very inspiring for the most part. It is a very big shame that the model industry is so dominated by the runway and the runway figure.
I understand that designer’s make samples for press and runway, and these samples are all one size (super small) and that it can be hard to use “larger” curvier girls, but that said, it is really boring to see model after model, with the same size zero body.
Let’s face it – the majority of straight (non gay) males would probably agree that anorexic women are not really what they are looking for in terms of beauty.
The fashion industry , for the last ten years, seems stuck in this repetitive cycle of importing the same face over and over again.
It would be nice to see some change.
But alas, fashion – much like fine art – is becoming a field that is more and more self referential. That is it relates less and less to the average consumer in the street and more to itself. Locked away in its ivory tower.
We look for young women to shoot who are beautiful, but who dont have to fit the fashion model mold. I could care less what show a girl walked in, all that matters is what kind of photo she takes and if she is pleasant to work with.
What is the purpose of your work as a film director? Is it a means for you to complete your photographer’s vision?
I find film work much more creative and much more satisfying. Of course the image in a film is very important ( depending on the director of course ) , but with film there are the elements of Music, Editing, Narrative, Juxtoposition, drama, etc.
I love working in film and can only hope to do more work in film in the future.
How did your collaboration with the French label Kitsuné come into being?
A friend of mine, an art director / creative director who used to work at French Vogue, introduced me to Gildas work. So when Gildas asked me to direct a video for Is Tropical, it was an honor.
Your talents as a photographer are unanimously hailed through the world and overwhelmingly plebiscited by a large number of company brands and fashion magazines. Why did you particularly care about making a video for the release of IS TROPICAL new hit single, “Lies”?
Well, from the first time I heard it , I though its an amazing song. Really great and catchy. And the concept fit perfectly with my film work at the time. I had just recorded that footage of the vultures a few days earlier , not knowing what I would do with it.
Could you tell us more about this video in which you draw a parallel between eroticism, carnal pleasure, and starved vultures….
Ahhh, you seem to have got it! I hope most people who see the video get it. I dont know exactly….I loved the idea of the young women working in the strip club, who is preyed upon by vultures daily (i.e. men?) and forced to live a life of Lies…. Something like that? I try not to think to much about it, it just has to feel right.
I did edit this video myself though and I thought the multilayered juxtapositions of the imagery were really cool. It was a pleasure to do. Good thing I like the song so much!
What do you want to express through women’s nudity?
Beauty. It is nice to know that at least the photos I make are something that can be enjoyed by many people, you know? I can admire some of my photographs for there artistic quality – but at the same time you don’t need elaborate titles or a college degree to understand them. That makes me happy to put something beautiful into the world. Cheesy huh?