Documenting fashion

Add a resource

From the Editors: David Leslie Anthony is Fashion/Advertising Photographer who works in L.A, NYC, Chicago, New Orleans, and Europe (Paris, London). David shoots for numerous International magazines and commercial clients.

Exclusive interview with David Leslie Anthony

David how did it start out for you, being where you are today
- a very successful photographer

I think “success” is something that we all chase, and means different things to different people. I started out teaching myself about cameras and photography back in the latter part of 1989, in Los Angeles. I bought a camera, bought books, learned about F-stops and shutter speed relations, experimented with various films, and through trial and error, and advice from photographer friends, slowly began the learning process. To me, the most important aspect in the learning process, was to keep notebooks of what I was doing regarding film snippets, lighting, outcome, etc. When I finally had some work to show model agencies, I began getting some small testing shoots, working for free in the beginning. I had to prove myself, and that I could produce what the agencies needed on their models. During this time, I was also learning about developing my films and printing my photos.  

One day in 1990, I went to the film store to buy colour developer for E6 film, and bought the wrong developer for C41 film. In the darkroom, I saw that my E6 transparency film had suddenly become colour negative film, and when I made contact sheets, had these weird, distorted, wonderful colours!  I asked my friends at the colour lab what “I did wrong”, and was informed that I used the wrong developer. I then went out and bought every type of E6 film I could, and experimented. Then I went to pawn stores, and film stores, buying up stocks of outdated films, adding filters, etc. I kept experimenting in ways that, with digital today, will never allow you too. This technique was called “Cross-Processing”, and at the time, only a handful of people were doing this, such as Nick Knight and Javier Vallhonrat.  6 months later, I was contacted by an ad agency in L.A. to show my book in this “cross-processed look” for a major ad campaign.  Both the Art Director and the client’s wife wanted to go with me as the photographer, but the client CEO decided to go with a NY photographer because his “style” was similar to what they had already been doing.  So he shot the campaign.  The client and ad agency didn’t like the outcome, so they had him reshoot it.  Again, they didn’t like it… so they tapped me to shoot. A few months later, it was my work that ran in the Fall/Winter Campaign ads for Z.Cavaricci.  These ads ran in Vogue, Glamour, Marie Claire, etc. with my name running down the spine!  From there, I was shooting denim ads, small editorials, and model testings on a regular basis. I owned two Canon A1 cameras, and would shoot with one, and hock the other, to pay for film and processing. Get paid, and get the camera out of hock.  It was then, that I realized that it wasn’t that “I was so good”, but that I had gotten lucky, regarding the work I was getting.  I realized that IF I wanted to get where I really wanted to be in the industry, shooting for the top magazines and clients, I had to be in the “heart of fashion and photography” which was Paris, in the 90’s. So I packed up minimal gear, one(1) small suitcase, what monies I had saved… and made my great journey to Paris!  People thought I was crazy to leave working in L.A., but to me, shooting denim ads at Zuma Beach was NOT a career-maker.  

Before I moved to Paris, I made a small list of photographers I really wanted to assist and learn from, and contacted each one of them. From there, I made a decision on whom I wanted to learn from. I became assistant to one of the top photographers, and what I learned in those five years in Paris, definitely paved the way to where I am today. I also learned right away, that if you move to another country, make sure you have enough monies to get a place to stay. I made that mistake, and ended up buying a sleeping bag, and carved out a hole in a hedge grove in a park in Paris, where I slept. BUT, it was the most wonderful thing to happen to me! I walked the Paris streets at night, and saw the city in eyes that no tourist ever would.  I saw light, I saw people interactions, I saw wonderful pictures in my mind! I did earn enough money to finally get myself a small apartment a few months later. While assisting, I learned things that schools will never teach you. I learned about working with clients, the business side, the “what if’s”, how to think and how to “see”, along with technical things. I learned that a photographers “style” was NOT how an image looked, because the look will always change as both time and trends change, but it was how the photographer saw things. Everything from the places a photographer has traveled to, the places they’ve lived, the people they’ve loved and have loved them, music, and life experiences, all go into shaping a photographers “style” or viewpoint. Because those elements find their way into your photographs. I highly suggest to young photographers today, to find mentors, do assistantships, and intern, because it will be the best learning experience you can have! Develop a range to your work, not just “one visual look”. Understand and learn demographics. Each magazine and every client has a certain demographics that you are shooting/catering towards. When I’m shooting for British Cosmopolitan, I’m NOT shooting for Harper’s Bazaar, so I don’t try and make it look the same. If you don’t learn about demographics, you won’t be working much. Also trends. For example, if it is Spring/Summer and all your photos are “dark and moody”, again, you won’t be working because seasons also dictate “trends” not only in fashion, but also in photography.  

Most difficult thing that you've ever accomplished?

Finding my way, and how I see things in fashion and life.  

Photographers have different ways they view photography. What is your philosophy behind what it means to be a photographer?

I think as a photographer, regardless of what type of work you do, we are there to document a period in our lifetime. In fashion work, I’m documenting fashion for my time periods in my editorial and advertising work. For a journalistic photographer, he/she is documenting life and global/local events, etc.

Which do you consider to be your most successful project and how were you introduced to the client?

I don’t know if this would be considered a “successful project”, but I am so proud of being the first to book now top model Karlie Kloss for her first editorial shoot and cover, back when she was 14. When I worked with her, she was like a sponge, soaking in everything I was showing her and explaining to her, asking me to “push her more”, to become as good as she could be. I was first introduced to her by her agency (Elite at the time), and she immediately struck me as having “something magical”. Now look at where she is now in her career, in all the top magazines worldwide, on major covers, and in major ad campaigns. I’m very proud of her!  Another young model I helped start out was Amanda Murphy.

What do you like the most about fashion, glamour photography?

I love being able to create fashion stories, working with beautiful clothes. Even fashions like denim and t-shirts can be wonderful with the right location, right story, and right casting. And of course I love the travel and being able to go to wonderful places and countries for the best magazines!

Things that that inspire you and make you happy besides photography?

Travel and road trips!  If I have the lead time on an editorial or ad shoot, and the location is in the U.S., I will drive because I just love road trips. I see so many things and situations, many that eventually find their way into my photographs. I’ve been able to meet some wonderful people along the way, and see country I wouldn’t have seen being on a plane.

Is there any particular technique that you could share? 

There are numerous types of light modifiers you can purchase, but one that I like to use for my beauty nudes to achieve a smooth gradation of light, can be purchased at the hardware store. It is fiberglass screendoor screen. I buy sheets and cut it to size of my softboxes and clip them on. To me, they are the best light modifiers I have!

How or did a digital photography changed your approach to shooting?

I came from a film background where you had to know how to light, expose, and think about the image you were making. You didn’t have the luxury of “looking at the back” and shooting another frame “until it looked right”.  Yes I do shoot digital and I do use computers for post-production. To me, digital has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I can now do things with the lights on, and files can be sent back and forth to the client, etc., but it’s been a curse in that I’m amazed at how many young people are coming out of these photo schools and they don’t even know how to work a light meter. I utilize all the aspects of what I did when shooting film, when I’m shooting digital. I teach my assistants that they need to “see the finished photograph in their heads” when working. Otherwise, they are simply “clicking the shutter until something looks good”.  

I think about what I’m going to do in post AT the time of shooting, not afterwards. I light for how I want “the photo to feel”, and direct my models. I also move around a lot when shooting, so working connected to a computer does not work for my style of shooting. Plus I can work in “my zone” when I don’t have people gathered around a computer when I’m shooting. I think a big disappointment to me is that unlike when we were shooting film, young photographers don’t experiment, and hone their skills like we used to in the 80’s and 90’s.  I see WAY too many copies and poorly executed “knock-offs” of work (photos) already done in the past, by much better, and people posting them on FB, so they can get “likes”. Utter BS! Just think…how many “girl in a bathtub” photos do we need to see? Done, done, and re-done. Mediocre photos, retouched to death.  When you look at the major fashion magazines, it is not the work of “20-somethings”, but the work of photographers in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond.  It’s the photographers who created the looks, style, and photos, young photographers today copy.  

Photographers such as Meisel, Testino, Mondino, McDean, Sorrenti, and many more. As I said earlier, I do work digital and use computers, but I do so from a film background and knowledge. I tell my assistants “Before you can create the future, you have to know the past… because it’s both the past and the present, that create the future…your future”. Otherwise, without this knowledge, all you can do is copy what’s already been done.

Are there any other artists at work at the moment that you'd like to collaborate with? 

Not at the moment. I’m fortunate to be working with a great cadre of talent.

Is there anywhere in the world you'd like to work that you've not been able to yet?

There are so many countries I’d still love to see. One day...

Thank you David for taking the time to do this interview.
We are happy to welcome you on board among other photographers.
Your photography is very valuable in this community and very beneficial for our readers.

Camerapixo Team

Explore more

We use cookies on this website to enhance your user experience. You can change your cookie settings at any time in your browser. Otherwise, we will assume you are OK to continue. Read more