Interview by Fran Domínguez
I just saw you are in Sweden these days, so welcome to Europe! Moving there or simply enjoying the beautiful extra-long Summer days in Scandinavia?
Yes! I just arrived to Sweden about five days ago and I am here for a month! My boyfriend has an island out here in Dannholmen and it was his father and Ingrid Bergman's island they had together. She was the greatest actress of all time, they just honored her at Cannes and we got to see the documentary of her whole life and travels which was amazing, so this island is very famous here and a landmark for the town. It is absolute paradise and so much fun!
It is my first time here and I'm enjoying my vacation very much. My boyfriend is a wildlife and high fashion photographer so we will be shooting a lot here and have some jobs booked as well, but it's mostly vacation and relaxation time!
Are you planing to visit any other country during your stay in Europe?
Yes! We will be visiting his family in Spain, and then I go off to London at the end of this month for a job, and I used to live there so I'm very excited to go back and work and see all my friends! After London I head back to America and relax for a few weeks then it's back on the road. Have a lot planned this year! Lots of traveling and amazing stuff to come!
Now, back to the US if we may. You have had the chance to work all across the country, mainly in New York & Los Angeles, also recently in Miami... Where have you found the photographers or stylists that have inspired you the most? Where do you feel 'at home', photography-wise?
Well, I love working in New York the most out of those three. The jobs are always so cool and there is just a different type of vibe in New York when it comes fashion and photographers. It's a very fashion forward there and I love that! But you can't beat the weather in La and Miami which is always nice when you are working long days. I would say I get the most inspiration from Los Angeles and New York when it comes to photographers and stylists. My favorite photographers to work with are in LA and NY and the locations are endless! I definitely feel at home photography wise in both those places, I've always lived part time in LA and part time in New York so I know both cities so well I feel very at home.
Big fan of your work with Kenny Sweeney (big fan of Kenny's work in general actually). Could you tell us a bit of what is it like working with him?
Kenny Sweeney is actually one of the first photographers that I worked with in LA. He is so incredible at what he does and he taught me so much about modeling. I didn't always think I was going to be a model growing up, I got scouted while I was going to college in San Diego. And when I first got to LA I definitely had a lot to learn! He always made time to shoot with me and work with me to get better shots and also helped me put together my book! He was tough on me and I have to admit I was very intimidated by how much he knew at first but in the long run it has made me the model I am today. He has an eye for the perfect shot and his pictures have this class and are so timeless. He just has so much feeling and depth to his work. He is so easy to work with as well! Super cool and down to earth and very professional.
When we shoot nudes I never feel uncomfortable or even like I'm naked because there is so much more to what we are creating than me just being a nude girl on set. He really made me comfortable in my own skin and I owe a lot to him! I think some of my best images are with Kenny and whenever we get together to work it's always a banger!
How many photographers do you recon would call you 'muse'? Anybody who made you feel particularly proud of your work?
Man, I've worked with so many photographers I have definitely heard from a handful I am their muse. Which is the ultimate compliment! I love that people show me so much love and connect with my work and my main goal is to inspire people and it makes me so happy to know I am achieving what I set out to do!
Kenny Sweeney of course makes me feel very proud of our work! Antoine Verglas & Kesler Tran are also some of my other favs to work with and every time I get to sit back and look at the outcome they never disappoint! All of them are very encouraging and inspire me with our images to keep creating and moving forward in my career. They have all given me solid advice on the industry as well which is nice to find, as this industry can be very difficult at times.
My boyfriend Kristian Schmidt also makes me feel very proud of the work we have done! Not just because he is my boyfriend but he has worked with top models around the world and his work is insane! On top of being a photographer he brings awareness to the world about wildlife, it's so inspiring. When we first met he told me he hadn't felt inspired in so long and we both just got right to creating and we have some really insane stuff coming out soon! Some for prints in magazines and also for print in his galleries he does. I also got to shoot with some incredible animals which I hadn't done before. He is up for anything which I love so our work options of creating insane images is endless!
Have your style and taste been changing during the years as you were getting more experienced? And if so, how do you feel you have changed and what would you say have been the reasons behind this metamorphosis?
Of course! With experience comes change and that's a good thing! I definitely feel that in the beginning I knew my talent but wasn't 100% at the level of knowing what I was capable of and also what type of model I wanted to be. As I progressed and worked more and did more shoots I became way more comfortable with myself and learned what I knew looked good, and what didn't and that I wanted to eventually be a supermodel!
At first I think I would have worked for any company or shot with any photographer where as now that I am established I pick jobs that are higher paid and suit my book and work with select photographers for trade. Having an agency and an agent that pushes you and shows you that you can make serious money from the industry really changed my perspective on things and made me take modeling a lot more seriously. When I had moved to LA and was searching for a bigger agency I worked with a lot of people to build my book. Then once I got an agency it was so much easier! Not having to sort everything like jobs and stuff out on your own makes life easier. Plus agencies know what photographers are good and right for your book to book the jobs that are right for you.
A huge reason behind my metamorphosis or change I think would be when I stepped out of LA and into New York and the European market. It really changed my whole perspective of modeling. LA is very commercial and nowadays is driven heavily by social media. It seemed that pretty much anyone can be a model if you have a lot of followers and I also find that there are quite a few fakers in LA. But that's just the business there and how it is. There is still amazing work and lots of money to be made but to me the jobs I do in New York or Europe for example made me feel like I was modeling for actual fashion and high fashion companies. You have to be a certain height, have the "look" that sets you apart, and be good at what you do. It made me appreciate modeling again and gave me hope that their are still "supermodels" out there the way there used to be.
I'm so happy I didn't just stay and work in LA as it has been such a blessing to be able to work and make money while traveling and seeing the world. As a model now with experience I know that there are SO many markets out there in so many different places, if you aren't booking work or happy working where you're at, don't give up! Get up and go find where it is you can work best because the possibilities are endless!
The Nude Maja by Francisco de Goya on a textbook vs. one of your photos censored on Facebook. Your thoughts?
WE WERE BORN NAKED!!! I think it's comical how we have to censor pictures. I get that some people have different religions and views but at the end of the day a naked human never hurt anyone, especially an amazing photograph that has so much more meaning to it that just a girl being nude. I think that fashion nudes are not for everyone because not everyone understands them. A close minded person will see it as a terrible thing that a girl is naked and also the nudity is all their eyes can depict. In reality there is usually so much more to fashion nudes than that! There is depth, feeling, emotion, or whatever else it may be depending on the photo.
But to me, people who need things censored are very close minded human beings. I always have tried keeping and open mind and try to worry about what's best for me. People who spend time criticizing something so silly as a fashion nude probably lead very boring and unfulfilled lives. But still I get that there not for everyone and if you don't like it just don't look. That's just my personal opinion, but maybe it's because I am an artist on many levels and my mind works and sees things differently. And hopefully one day we will be living in a world where censorship isn't necessary and being nude in incredible fashion shots won't be so offending to people.
Such a pleasure having you here. Thank you so much for your time Leia!
No, thank you!!! I love your guys' website! So many amazing articles featuring very talents human beings on many levels! I love that you guys appreciate fashion and art and share it with the world through your different platforms online! So happy I got a chance to interview with you guys! Keep killing it and thanks for the opportunity to sit down and talk a little about myself with you guys!
Find out more about Leia Contois on her Instagram @therealleialu