Jonathan Leder Interview

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Jonathan Leder. One of the most amazing simplistic photographers out there. I could probably say the best simplistic photographer out there working on film today. All of his photos could be described as “iconic”. “Memorable”. “Mesmerizing”. He’s shot for Nylon, BabyBabyBaby, and A4 mags to name a few, and done campaigns for Urban Outfitters and Lips Jeans. I would love to drive by a giant billboard with one of his photos on it, because I think the bigger they are experienced, the more they come to life. Speaking of things full of life, let’s actually talk to the man, Jonathan.

Trey Taylor: Can you please fill this out?
Name: Jonathan Leder
Age: 36
Occupation: Photographer
Currently Resides: Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Favourite Song: This Must Be The Place / Talking Heads. 

Trey Taylor: So you’ve grown up in New York. You know, it’s odd because tons of fashion photographers and models move to New York and then say they are from New York. You were there the whole time. Do you feel different than the people who plant themselves in your city?
Jonathan Leder: Yes, i suppose so… I grew up on the upper east side of Manhattan actually. Near the Metropolitan Museum.  It was really a great place to grow up. I went to the same school for 12 years, from 1st grade to 12th grade. Its called Collegiate. So it was like an amazing experience. I think all of us that grew up there felt a bit different than the kids that are always coming to NY to “make it”.  As a kid, i think you never get bored growing up in NYC. There is always something interesting to see or think about. Always something that makes you wonder.  In that sense i think its great. . At the same time I think that having grown up in the city is what makes me so fascinated by America. Which i am. I am totally fascinated by America, especially post war 20th century american culture. The kind i never had a chance to really experience first hand growing up.

TT: What was it like growing up in New York. A fashion mecca. Did you always find it exciting?
JL: I think you take it for granted. I just thought everyone grew up in places like new york .  I guess looking back my family and friends were “stylish” as you say, but i never really realized it till later. 

TT: Your work is cinematic. I like the word cinematic because I think it means that a story is told. All your photographs tell me a story. Do you try for that?
JL:  Yes.  Absolutely. I am glad you asked.  I hate pictures that tell no story at all. I cant stand boring studio fashion pictures that just try to sell people clothes. Its so meaningless.  My pictures arent perfect, and they are not the best, and not all are good; but at least i can say i am trying for something. To provoke something. To make people feel something when they look at them.  They are just way too many cold, perfect, retouched, meaningless photos out there. I wish there werent. 

TT: What is aesthetically pleasing to you?
JL:  Oh, so many things….Great light, locations, girls, film, grain, things that are a bit imperfect, but still beautiful. Things that are raw. Things that are fleeting. 

TT: What does the word fashion mean to you?
JL: Not much.  I am much more interested in the girls and the locations and the mood than in the clothes. I do appreciate great designers and great clothes, but so much of what you see is just about selling product.

TT: Who are some of your favorite photographers / artists?
JL:  William Eggleston, Diane Arbus, Mark Rothko, Robert Mapplethorpe, Gary Winogrand, Stanley Kubrick, to name a few. 

TT: Do you feel you have to adapt to what people want or do you mostly shoot for yourself?
JL: I try to only do jobs where i can do the pictures i want to do. Its very very hard for me to do anything else. 

TT: Your black and whites are to die for. I love that grainy gorg-osity in most of your bee + dubs. What appeals to you?
JL:  I dont know what a bee +dubs is?! But thanks.  I have been shooting and processing my own black and white since i was really young. I dont know.  Black and white is easy i guess. 

TT: I usually hate boring people with annoying photographic jargon. But the composition of your photographs is something that people need to step back and look at. Your simple photographs seem to have a profound effect the way the models are placed within the frame. Would you agree?
JL: Thanks again. Yes. I agreee. I feel very strongly about composition. It is why i can not work with a range finder.  I really just have to be able to compose in the frame. Composition is one of the most important elements in a photograph. I wish my compositions were a bit more daring actually. I am a bit conservative i think. I am going to try for more here.

TT: Tell us what you think the world needs.
JL: No more crappy Conde Nast magazines!!!

TT: What do you know that you would never have dreamt at the age of 16.
JL: That life is more like a circle, than a line.  You cant run away from yourself. 

Thanks Jonathan! I really hope to one day visit NYC and be photographed by you.