Steven Lyon is an enigma. Hailing from Los Angeles, his career was forged by Andy Warhol's lens on Sunset Blvd in 1982. For over three decades, Steven has engineered a creative legacy both in front and behind the lens. Now living in NYC, his focus is on his Lyonheart organization, filmmaking, and his love for photography. Recently, Steven invited our creative director over for a chat. With his dog Rudy (a birthday present from model Lara Stone) by his side, he was generous, open and a pleasure to talk to.
Early on in your modeling career, you were very successful and muse to a great many prominent talents in the fashion industry,
when did you realize you wanted to be a photographer?
After modeling, I moved to Los Angeles and planned to pursue a career in acting because I had been cast as lead actor in a movie. I knew I wanted to do photography because I love it and I have the skill for it.
Then one day, over dinner, I told my friends I wanted to be a fashion photographer and would commit moving to Paris for a year to pursue it.
I ended up in Paris without ever returning to the US for six long years because I was so immersed in trying to succeed in this hard industry, carving out my identity. I didn't want to return to the States until I succeeded.
Even after I moved back to the US, which was three years ago, I still keep my place in Paris.
Did you see a big change in the fashion industry throughout your time in Paris?
The industry in general changes very dramatically throughout the years.
Is it for the better?
I don't think it is... It's less glamorous now. There are fewer jobs and more models out there.
The top models make much more money than ever, and the middle tier models are making a whole lot less than they used to.
Currently, there is a very steep separation of class in the modeling world, income-wise. This applies to both the male and female models in the industry.
However, I am happy that top guys, like model David Gandy, is commanding the kind of rate usually reserved for top female models.
In today's world of homogenous photographic styles, your distinctive images jump out and grab the viewers' attention.
How did you develop this style?
I was always drawn to the styles of Peter Lindbergh, Herb Ritts, and Paolo Roversi. I used to work a lot with Paolo as a model
and he was very supportive of what I was doing as a photographer.
When I first started shooting in LA, I would become very friendly with film lab technicians asking them for honest critique on my photographs. Photographer Cliff Watts is a good friend of mine whom I would take my negatives to for some critique.
Cliff used to help me a lot during my early days in photography.
Then during my time in Paris... again, it was the lab technicians there who provided a lot of guidance by taking me into the darkroom and let me watch them print. We discussed the process of negative manipulation and use of filters.
I listened and learned from that. I was never afraid to experiment and eventually I found my own style.
What type of gear do you use to create this stunning body of work and do you still use analog film?
I only shoot analog (non-digital) film and I'm an avid camera collector, I have an incredible list of analog camera.
For years I shoot Mamiya RZ but for available light, I use Pentax 67.
I have 12 Pentax bodies since they break all the time. I own duplicate lenses for the Pentax.
I have a Hasselblad that on a very rare occasion when I have to shoot digital, I mount a digital back on my 503. I own a Canon EOS 1V, a Linhof 4x5 master technical, a Sinar P2 8X10 and two Littman Polaroid 45 that Mr. Littman custom-made for me.
Sometimes I would go back to 35mm film because I like the grain but for the most part, I am a medium format/4x5 kind of guy.
During a shoot, I would use 3 or 4 formats in one job and load the same film stock in all those different cameras.
I would then treat the exposed film with my own chemical mixture during the processing.
As you can imagine, I still travel with tons of gear and some heavy duty film bags that almost landed me in jail a few times
because I was adamant on not letting my film pass through the x-ray scanners at airports.
Nowadays, I just let my assistants handle it because they are much more diplomatic than I am in dealing with airport custom officials.
What type of set up do you use for your short films and were they usually created in conjunction with the photo projects you were shooting at the time?
That's how I do it.
Since I use movie lights, it's easy to come in with a movie camera so I can do still and movie series at the same time.
There normally wasn't any budget for us to shoot the two separately so I tried to kill two birds with one stone.
In the future, I would like to direct film and continue on with photography.
Eventually, I will move into the fine art world and just shoot what I like.
I want to leave a legacy, a great body of work that appeals to the public and shown in prominent galleries.
That, and making a very selective artsy movie would be my ideal career of choice.
As for your images, how much post production involved in creating that final look?
I tried not to do any post production that a printer could no do in the dark room lab, which really is just a lot of burning and dodging,
What you see in the final image is essentially the same as what I see on my viewfinder. My test Polaroid pictures can attest to that.
All the grains in the photographs were from the stock film that I shoot them with.
You cast striking models that exude very sexy but strong personalities.
Did you deliberately cultivate that or they just turned out that way?
I especially like strong, confident women both in my photographs and personal life.
However, I didn't delibrately shot the women in my photographs looking confident. It naturally turned out that way and I'm quite proud of that.
Nadine from my Cuba shoot is the personification of that type of woman.
She is very confident in her look and it shows in the photographs. When it come to shooting the nude images,
it's about mutual trust and all the models I've worked with trust me, which make things easy.
You made a series of shoots of your models looking into the mirror with you in the background of the picture.
Where did this concept come from?
It all came about 12 years ago when a model friend happened to be in my Paris apartment.
I own this giant mirror that I procured from Beverly Hills and shipped to my place in Paris. It's hanging on one side of my bedroom wall.
She suggested that we do a shoot using the big mirror.
While we were shooting, I realized that, due to space restriction, it was impossible not to get my reflection in the big mirror.
When I got my contacts back, it dawned on me how organic and cool the whole set up turned out to be so I ended up developing it into a series.
Nadine Strittmatter - Cuba
Your Cuba shoot with Nadine Strittmatter is one of my favorites. Can you tell me more about it?
That is one of my favorite editorial shoot as well. Nadine was playing the character of a burnt-out actress being captured in-between takes on a movie set.
She and I decided on the concept and we stuck to the idea throughout the shoot.
I shot 3 rolls of 120 medium format films per set up for that entire shoot.
That equals to 30 frames total because you only get 10 frames out of each roll in a 6x7 format film.
I hired a film production company with a crew of 20 Cubans on top of the American team that I brought along.
On this trip, I flew in a great wardrobe stylist, one make up artist, one hair stylist, and two photo assistants.
I hired all secondary assistants in Cuba supporting the American team to make sure everyone was taken care of.
It was a full on feature film set up and the whole country of Cuba was a great movie set in itself.
As for the props in the pictures, I found an old movie company in Cuba that have these old film making equipment.
I basically hauled everything from the warehouse and used them as props. Acting as the set decorator, I put them all together on my own.
I spent half of my advertising revenue funding shoots like this and I had a blast doing it. This shoot was great and the pictures turned out amazing.
I love the Cuban location so much that I went back and shot another epic editorial five months ago. It's coming out in Wolf magazine as a 38-page editorial, all shot in Cuba.
Nadine Strittmatter - Cuba
Nadine Strittmatter - Cuba
You profess your love to Africa through your body of work and your non-profit organization, Lyonheartlove.
Why do you think Africa hold such a strong influence on many great artists, past and present?
It's the modern day wild west, it's untamed, a little bit dangerous and full of the unexpected.
I grew up just like every kid, dreaming of adventures in Africa. When I finally went there, I wasn't disappointed.
You are very passionate about raising awareness on the poaching crisis in Africa and use the social media to educate people about the crisis.
Can you talk about the film project "Something that matters" that you are promoting through the Indiegogo campaign and give us an update on that?
I've been working on a self-funded film shoot for 4 months. I am currently raising money through the Indiegogo campaign to complete this project.
hopefully it would be a successful campaign and that is one of the reason I am bombarding my social media with it.
In order to finish this project, I need to spend another three months in Africa and a month in Asia.
The one month in Asia will focus on the high demand for ivory and rhino horns which is the big trigger in poaching spike.
For the first time in history, starting in 2008, there exist a middle class in China who crave ivory, lion bones and rhino horns,
the rare luxury items that in the past were only reserved for the wealthy 1%.
That is the cause for a steep increase in animal poaching in Africa.
From there we back track through Thailand to Maputo Mozambique where the poaching syndicates are.
That's where they recruit young boys from South Africa who just want to feed their hungry children,
unaware of the damage they have caused by slaughtering, and driving the rhino as well as other protected animals into extinction.
This film is about raising awareness on what"s really going on over there. It's actually an uplifting film.
I am not showing all the carnage in my film. Instead, I am introducing ways to fix the issues and ultimately,
alter the desire for the demand that lead to these slaughtering in the first place.
Hopefully this film will be seen in China and it will have an effect on the younger generation who can influence their parents
and made them aware that it's not cool to collect these artifacts that threaten the extinction of species.
We know that as people get older, particularly general population in Asia, they become desensitized to animals and their well being.
I am hoping to plant the seed and reach the younger generation before it's too late.
You can't blame people for their heritage, their beliefs and history. You can only change that through raising awareness.
This film is not made to criticize. I want to show that there is another way. It's been a struggle and a journey where I am swimming upstream every day.
I had to put my photography career on hold to fully dedicate my time into this project.
The only thing I did photographically last year was the one trip to Cuba.
Excerpt from "Something that matters"
What can we expect from Steven Lyon in 2015?
I am opening a studio in Jersey City that will be a fully functional facility where I shoot, edit my movies, and print my photographs under one roof.
There will be a permanent 8X10 camera set up and I will invite interesting people, celebrities and artists to come for sittings and build a personal body of work that will stand the test of time.
There will also be an annual book project called FILM that highlight images shot on analog film from all facets of photography ranging from fashion,
landscape, wild life, and what have you. The book will align itself with a different charity annually and the proceeds will go to that specific charity.
There will be gala auction exhibits of the work by each contributor from the book and proceeds from the auction will go to the charity of their choosing.
Other than that, I will go back to more shooting and traveling.
There is an epic safari shoot much like the scale of my Cuban project that I had lined up in Botswana.
It will be a recreation of a 1915 safari along with the old tent and explorer gear. Red Camera and Apple are backing this project.
I will be getting all the Red cameras that I need and the editing hardware from Apple, who is the official sponsor of this trip.
There is also another shoot in the Philippines on the horizon. I plan all these big shoots like a proper feature film production.
Now that I will have a studio at my disposal, I will be doing what I haven't done in a long time, which is to shoot inside a studio.
I am also finishing a narrative short called "You belong to me" which I am currently editing and it will be submitted into film festivals.
This will be a very exciting year.
By Man Sumarni
Music video directed by Steven Lyon for Richie Kotzen's song 'Larger than Life from his new album 'peace Sign'