With Leonard Lewis

Carey Untitled #1 by Leonard Lewis

FA4M Mag interviews Leonard Lewis.

FA4M: You still work with film, which is becoming more and more a lost medium. Why?

The images presented on FA4M are some of my older images shot on film. I now shoot digitally almost exclusively but I do actually prefer the look of film. To me film and digital are two completely different entities and require somewhat different skill sets. A film camera is primarily a manual instrument. A digital camera is a computer with a lens. Film produces images that are more similar to what the human eye sees. Digital has a crispness, a sharpness, due to the images being reproduced by minute square pixels. It also tends to saturate the colors more intensely than what the eye sees depending on the camera. Film images are composed of small round dots or grain, which creates a softer image, closer to the average human’s vision. But as technology advances, digital is addressing these issues and matching film in many ways.

Digital saves money in film and processing expenses, as well as many hours in transportation to and from labs, delivering contact sheets or film to clients, and most importantly it gives the photographer much more creative control over the final image. It saves time in this ever increasingly fast-paced world. Clients and editors want to see the results ASAP.

Although I shoot mostly digitally, I still do most of my work manually. I take my light readings, focus, and light balance calculations by hand or in my head. I have become skilled at this from so many years of shooting film. Digital cameras will do most of this for the user.

There is much less flexibility with film. You have to get the shot right the first time or spend many hours and a great deal of money and energy to alter the image. With digital I am now able to retouch my images myself instead of relying on a second party with whom one needs to build a relationship, an understanding, in order to be in tune with my vision. I can now tweak or alter my images in any way myself without a darkroom, another expense. Whether I print my images myself or send it out to a print lab, I am now able to completely control the print as well. It either matches the image on the monitor or it doesn’t. A poorly executed print can completely alter the feel of an image.

So it is really a trade off. Art photographers have the luxury of using film with its visual benefits if they prefer because they work on their own time, but for commercial photographers, the work needs to be turned over fast and as inexpensively as possible.

FA4M: What is the most satisfying moment of your production process?

The most satisfying moment of my production process happens after all of the preparatory work has been done, the shoot has begun, and slowly the model and I are in complete simpatico, in the present moment with no interruption, feeding off of one another’s energies. They position their body in a certain way or I give them a specific description of what I want and they interpret it from their point of view and execute it. The adrenaline is pumping. The magic happens. Everything at this moment is crystal clear, and I know that something beyond description, the illusive essence of human spirit, is being captured and translated onto a two dimensional form, the photograph. It is one of the most elevating, and at the same time, grounding, life-affirming experiences that I am fortunate enough to have on a regular basis.

FA4M: You make it sound like sex.

For me, emotionally and spiritually it is like sex in many ways except that I know that something has been created that can be shared with many people, not just another person and myself.

FA4M: How do you find and engage your models?

Most of my models are professional models, fitness or fashion, who are looking for, or are willing to do body/art shots, nudes. Occasionally, I will see someone at the gym and I approach them. I observe how they carry themselves and move their bodies. This gives me some idea of what I can draw out of them during a shoot. I always refer them to my websites so that they can take a look at my work to assure them that I am legitimate and to get them excited and confident about the shoot. Many of them have some type of dance background, an awareness of their body and how it moves, or are someone who seems flexible or moldable who can take direction. I look for a well-proportioned body. Proportion/balance is everything. It doesn’t necessarily matter how big or how small someone’s muscles are. Good skin is certainly a plus, although some of my models have very scarred skin due to their sports backgrounds, but thanks to Photoshop this is easily remedied.

FA4M: How would you describe your work?

Sculptural, human, timeless, classic, tactile, ethereal. I strive to capture a yearning, striving quality, for something beyond this physical life.

FA4M: You have a chance to work with an old master. Who do you pick?

Don’t know if I could name one. My first choice would be Michelangelo. I think that we loved and appreciated the same things, or have a similar “aesthetic.” His work embodies physical beauty as a physical representation of spiritual beauty, human emotion and inner struggle, a yearning quality, to me at least. Actually we are both Pisces and were born on the same day. Maybe it’s a Pisces connection? 🙂

If I had a second choice it would be one of the great masters of old Hollywood portraiture, specifically Josef Von Sternberg or George Hurrell. Their lighting was genius as were the moods they captured. The lighting for many of my nudes is directly referenced to them. Their images are very “dramatic.” I call it – heightened reality. I think they both encapsulated in their work a contemporary version, in their time, of what Michelangelo did in that they worked with actors and movie studios that were consciously attempting to build their stars’ images as god-like figures with human qualities. I do the same thing in much of my work. It is very exciting.

FA4M: Who are your contemporary influences?

My most contemporary influences would have to be Richard Avedon and Herb Ritts, although they have both passed. Again, I feel that their work embodies that illusive, human/spiritual, almost god-like, essence I keep referring to.

Avedon’s work ran the gamut from portraits that sometimes emphasized and even exaggerated human, physical “imperfections,” the physical results of time shown on one’s face, to creating the opposite extreme of imagery of perfect, physically beautiful, god-like fantasy personas and situations such as in “Dovima With Elephants,” my favorite fashion image of all time. It is much more than a fashion image. It is a work of art. His fashion work was brilliantly inspired and set a new standard in fashion photography. I constantly see his work referenced today in fashion and advertising.

Herb Ritts’ work embodies these same qualities usually using mostly natural light, which was one of the fashion/portraiture photography trends of the 80’s and 90’s. He also set the contemporary standard of his time.

As for today, I purposely try not to dwell on any one artists’ work. I am too easily influenced and I want to speak my own voice through my work. I grew up in the world of art through my family, their friends, and business associates. I have that as my foundation. When I see beautiful imagery in galleries or magazines, or anywhere, I take in what speaks to me and I move forward. There are so many talented artists in the world today. We as a culture have become a very visual animal and digital has made photography more accessible and easy for most anyone to take a solid, quality image.

FA4M: Where do you find motivation and inspiration?

I find inspiration in anyone or anything that exudes life, or gives me a sense of healing, calming, soothing, as does for instance something in nature, of the earth. If it is a person, it could be a particular emotion or energy that they emanate.

I am inspired by movement. Movement indicates life. I might capture a person’s energy through the way they move their body, combined with the flow of their clothing for instance. Hands and feet are particularly expressive. I try to capture the essence of movement in my images even if there actually isn’t any.

Sometimes a particular piece of artwork inspires me. I see an image that projects a particular feeling and I want to capture that same or similar feeling from my perspective. Or I see a style of lighting that I feel is very complimentary to heightening/accenting a human face or body and I use it as a model to build on.

My inspirations vary as society and our world changes. It is infinite.

FA4M: What is beauty?

I think it is definitely true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and there is physical beauty and there is illusive, spiritual, emotionally based beauty, whether it be describing a living thing or an inanimate object.

Once a person, or anything for that matter, has touched our hearts we find it to be “beautiful.” We love it. We feel an affinity, an appreciation, a commonality, an understanding, a oneness with them or it. Don’t our loved ones appear to be more beautiful to us, even physically, the more we get to know them?

Sometimes I go to a gallery or museum and have no immediate attraction to a piece of artwork and then I read the information plaque and gain a greater understanding of it’s background and/or the artist’s intention and learn to appreciate it and then find it to be more attractive to me than at first glance. I learn to see the beauty in it.

So what is beauty? All I know is what is beautiful to me and that varies from day to day, moment by moment, as my consciousness expands.

FA4M: What is erotic?

Any one or anything that invokes the physical, sexual, carnal desires within us, igniting our senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch as well as our imaginations. It causes us to want to be in physical, sexual, communion with them or it, to be one.

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About fa4m

Fine Art for Men is an international online gallery showcasing the male nude in fine art as well as gay art and homoerotic art while including contemporary artists and collectible vintage works.