Leon Steele

Monaco Reps

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Leon Steele

You might say that Leon Steele has superhuman vision. If he examines an object long enough, he can practically turn it into something else. Animal backs against cloudy skies become gorgeous landscapes, albeit hairy ones, in a personal series that earned Steele a 2003 Association of Photographers award, as did a photo for Sure deodorant, out of Lowe/London, in which he managed to make even an armpit lovely, like a glowing, otherworldly sculpture. "It’s about having your eyes open," the 32-year-old London native explains. "That’s the best thing about being a photographer. You walk around with your eyes open."

Steele shot the animal backs quickly, while standing in the middle of a cold field with a 3-ton bull and horses, but photographing the armpit was a more considered process. "It’s like treating the body as a still life," he explains. He applied the setup, lighting andlarge format expected for still life to a dancer’s posed body. That was followed by an arduous search. "It’s not like fashion, where you’re shooting lots of different shots. It’s the process of finding one perfect picture, and working toward it. That can take hours."

Steele studied his craft in the U.K. and assisted various photographers, including fellow Monaco Reps shooter David Stewart, from whom he learned an appreciation for simplicity. That’s evident in all his projects, though what goes on backstagees may be another story. For example, Steele says the recent launch of Absolut Vanilia was his most challenging still life project to date. "The bottle was a nightmare," he says. "You’re trying to show it off as best as you can, but it has weird reflective qualities, tiny raised writing on the front, as well as a translucency. Technically, it was very difficult getting the bottle’s qualities to represent on film. We had to come up with some new techniques." Out of the struggle, however, emerged the whimsical images of wafers and ice cream cones in obeisance to the iconic vessel. Steele also shot the new campaign for New Balance, for which he suspended models from wires to capture detailed black and white photographs of their feet and legs rippling with tensed muscles and emblazoned with the shoes’ familiar N logo. Like his other work, the photos home in on body parts. "The microcosmic stuff really fascinates me. I just like to abstract things and make people see something familiar in a different light." Or, as likely in Steele’s case, as something else entirely.


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