Bobby León is a photographer and videographer based in Montreal, Canada whose fashion photography has an added depth to it that tells you as much about the personality of the model as it does about the garments themselves. Enjoy…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got started in photography.
I’m 24 years old, born and raised in Montreal. My great-grandfather was a photographer and I’m the fourth generation working in image making. I remember when my parents got their first point and shoot that recorded videos for only 30 seconds. It was the first time I laid my hands on a camera. I always loved technological gadgets. I was the child who wanted the Go-go-Gadget glasses that take pictures and to be a professional spy instead of an Easy Baker. I started taking photographs when I was 13/14, when I was big enough to borrow fragile things. I’d run around with my neighbourhood friends and our siblings to play in alleyways or the parks, and the family’s point and shoot would always be dangling on my arm. I didn’t care about playing ball, all I wanted was to take photos and then go home and make books out of them. The camera was a way to make things I noticed tangible. I was a quiet and contemplative child, living a lot in my imagination.
My grandmother saw that spark and always found a way to push and help me grow in the medium. She got me my first camera and it’s thanks to her that I do everything I do today. I haven’t had a straight and clear path towards working in photography; I’m curious about so many things, I wanted to make films for a while, I wanted to be an entomologist, an explorer, an inventor. I wanted to study the oceans, I wanted to do films underwater. I started making soundtracks that resemble underwater worlds. I think there’s something about water that fascinates me that I haven’t grasped yet. Photography is like water, there is so much to be revealed from the darkness. It’s a medium of light, you reveal life through light. It’s beautiful. The physics of photography are mind-blowing to me and I never cease to learn.
It’s only recently that I’m starting to get work from photography. I turned to video pretty quickly, as it became another interest of mine. I started when I was 19, and got my first official contract at 21 to film one of Montreal’s top dance companies for one of their new pieces and promotional videos. From that point I have done quite a bit of video work for magazines and fashion brands in Montreal, along with creatives with dancers. I got really absorbed into the world of video, and then projection mapping, to now reconnect with photography. Today I work closely with Andrea Peña, who’s been doing art direction on our shoots and videos. We just finished making the campaign images for a local Montreal brand. It’s a really amazing collaboration that we have, I feel it’s the best to have a creative partner, you can bounce ideas endlessly and fuel each other with creativity. There’s a lot of exciting projects coming up!
How would you define your photographic style?
For the moment, spontaneous, intimate, longing, organic, inspired by music a lot. I want to work toward building a new way of creating images, push it a little bit. I ask myself a lot of questions about the relevance of photography today and how to challenge it, make images truly unique again. I aim to explore that in the coming year. It’s something I’ll make place for during the Mastered Accelerator program. I want to make images that are like music. To look at pictures the way we listen to music and think: How the hell has this come to life? Where does it come from? Why am I so moved by it? I think it’s in that perspective that I’m interested in photography.
I think I’ve been inspired a lot by the relationship between images and sounds in films. So now, whenever I hear music, I visualize something quite cinematic, often in motion, and that becomes the stem for what I want to make.
Who or what are your main sources of inspiration?
Music and dance are two art forms that, to me, are the purest, they come from a place of complete creativity. They come from a place you have never seen. I would like to work toward achieving images that trigger emotions in the same way. I think I’ve been inspired a lot by the relationship between images and sounds in films. So now, whenever I hear music, I visualize something quite cinematic, often in motion, and that becomes the stem for what I want to make. Most of the people I photograph are dancers and people, not models per se. The way their bodies move in space inspires me a lot, and with the juxtaposition of music, I find a mix that sparks my imagination. It’s also great when I can leave Montreal and travel for a bit, even a couple of days. When I stop seeing, its time to leave and refresh the eyes in a new environment. We’re lucky here because we’re close to a lot of fun cities, whether it’s New York, Maine, or even the country side. I just came back from a trip to Iceland and it’s the most incredible place I’ve seen. The nature is so powerful, it’s very, very, very moving. The light, the colours, the vastness, lunar environments, the absence of human traces. Sometimes you’re not inspired directly by the things you see but how they made you feel, and how that has an impact on your intentions before making anything creative. That’s what I came back with. New intentions for my work. I’m inspired to keep learning, and look for new learnings in different mediums to refine what I do and have it make a real impact on people.
Which single image are you most proud of and why?
The images I’m most proud of are those I didn’t plan. Within series of photos there are always one or two that surprise me. I don’t think we create with our brains, we create with our gut feeling, and when only your instinct tells you to press the shutter, that’s when you get something that’s different, that surpasses you. There’s a language transition that happens between your brain waves and the gesture you bring into the world.
Photography : Mastered is a platform for open collaboration, constant feedback, career and project opportunities. It challenges your understanding of what it is to work in a team, how to find the right team to achieve the best results. It’s about ideation and materializing those ideas. You can dream big and make it happen.
You participated in the first Photography: Mastered with Nick Knight; how do you feel it has benefited your career as a photographer? Did you have any breakthrough moments?
Photography Mastered has been an amazing experience. It broke barriers I had set for myself in terms of creativity. With Mastered, you do not learn technical skills through the syllabus, you need to make those learnings yourself. Mastered is a platform for open collaboration, constant feedback, career and project opportunities. It challenges your understanding of what it is to work in a team, how to find the right team to achieve the best results. It’s about ideation and materializing those ideas. You can dream big and make it happen. Our work is viewed by experts in the field and they provide us with feedback and what to look out for in the industry. My trip in Iceland was organized by the program. I met so many talented and wonderful artists from all over the world, many of which I’m in contact every other day. It’s also that, Mastered. It opens the doors to other countries, and a bank of positive and creative energy. You watch others go at it and you’re fuelled by their enthusiasm. It’s never about competition, it’s about the creative community and how to establish our voice. We can all help each other, the fashion world doesn’t have to be so cold and rough. It’s about the work, not the egos. I’ll be joining their 10 months accelerator program where I’ll have the time and room to explore, create, get a lot of experts’ feedback and refine my place in photography. I have so much to learn, and it’s the most exciting because you can renew yourself.
In addition to your stills work, you also do a lot of videography and have been studying other media including projection mapping; do you have plans to start incorporating some of these in to your workflow?
What I found interesting about projection mapping is that it opened so many doors to manipulate images and create visuals that I have never seen before. It’s a pandora’s box, really. The possibilities are endless and I wanted to dive in deeper and find a way to create new images that carried elements that music only does. I haven’t yet found a way to incorporate projection mapping software into my workflow, primarily because I would have to think about how these images should be processed. You work with data a lot so the approach is less organic than what I’m used to.
There’s beauty in the ephemerality of projection mapping, images become an experience, not a memory device or something that you consume and accumulate. I like that. We are so saturated with images, and I’m guilty of making images that follow that train of thought. So I really do believe there is something with the idea of merging photography and projection mapping or generative visuals that speaks a new visual language. I should get back to it, I have had to leave it aside for a period of time, but now that you mention it, it gives me a breeze. There’s a couple of composite images I have on my website that are inspired by that process, I wanted to make organic looking images through the use of highly data-centric and digital programs. I used to make crazy composite images when I was a teenager, worlds that did not exist. In that sense I believe I was close to that idea of making images that feel like music, at an embryonic stage. None of it is online, it’s hanging out in a hard drive somewhere or even in my parents’ computer. The use of generative visuals and projection mapping are probably rooted somewhere in that way of working that needs to come to full circle.
What is next for you? Are you working on any projects that you can tell us about?
Next year I’ll be joining the new accelerator programs at Mastered, it’ll be 10 months where I’ll be working on establishing what it is that I really want to achieve with photography. I’ll be making a lot of content so stay tuned for more! Also this year, Andrea and I will be launching our creative platform and start building our creative agency together, PeñaLeón. We are planning some travels to South America, the south of the US, and hopefully Japan next summer. I’m excited to see what we’ll come up within the next year.
See more of Bobby’s work at:
All images copyright Bobby León.