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 backstage may be another story. On shooting the whimsically elegant "Absolut Vanilia" launch, he notes "the bottle was a nightmare. It has weird reflective qualities, tiny raised writing, translucency. Technically, it was very difficult getting its qualities to represent on film." He also shot the latest for New Balance and MVBMS, featuring N-emblazoned feet rippling with tensed muscles. Again, the work homes in on parts. "The microcosmic stuff really fascinates me. I like to abstract things, show something familiar in a different light." Or, as is likely in Steele's case, as something else entirely.