Interview with NYC Fashion Photographer Shane LaVancher
Shane LaVancher lives and works in New York City. The primary focus of his work is fashion and editorial assignments. His work is often compared to paintings, as they represent a collision between the worlds of fashion and art.
Shane LaVancher: I’ve always considered myself an artist, working in paint mediums from a young age. I finally picked up a camera senior year of high school and it just made sense. I needed a quick way to create content and distort viewer perception in order to design artistic illusions. I had no clue what I was doing but I think that’s what made it so appealing.
After my BFA coursework in advertising photographic illustration from RIT I moved to Manhattan’s lower east side and immersed myself in creative culture. The innate qualities of this talented community compelled me to view my previous ad work from a painter’s perspective; that integration really kick started my “build it up” approach to both my commercial and personal photography.
PP: How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?
SL: I design photographs that look like paintings, making you look past the image itself. They’re dreamy, whimsical, and sometimes a little sinister. The consistent element is an interpretive narrative, something beautiful at first sight can easily turn ugly when you look twice. The beautiful part about it is that no one takes away the exact same story.
PP: At what point did you realize that photography is what you wanted to do as a career?
SL: I was always going to be an artist in one form or another. In college, my late mentor who was a painter convinced me to man-up and get over my indecisiveness and to approach photography as a career.
PP: What are the biggest challenges of working in New York City?
SL: Making and sustaining real human connections. Every day is filled with new people to meet and opportunities to interact with all types of personalities. The hardest is maintaining long standing relationships. People in New York are always busy with their own endeavors and it’s difficult to create the foundation necessary for earnest friendships. You can spend a lifetime trying to meet absolutely everyone in your field and never get beyond name recognition for the majority of the group. It’s the law of attraction In New York, you’re constantly presented with new paths, opportunities, relationships… choosing them is what defines you.
PP: Your projects are a collaborative process. Tell us what is like to always be working with new stylists, models, and designers.
SL: The collaboration is what I really love. I can’t get enough of being around other innovative minds, it is so invigorating. You feel like you’re getting away with something when you click with your team. Like its illegal and nobody is there to say no. There are so many elements of my work that I just couldn’t execute without the skill and passion of the people I work with. All you need is a shared vision and your hearts and labor will fill the gaps.
PP: What kind of impact do you hope to make in the fashion world in the next 10-15 years?
SL: The modern fashion world is really wacky. I can’t really say what kind of impact my work could have there. I just know how to make fashion look good, while giving it contextual depth. I pin it to a story or a generation’s state of mind.
PP: What does fashion mean to you?
SL: Fashion is a loaded word. It’s easy to love and easy to hate.. Most people out of the industry think of superficial socialites when they hear that word. It’s kind of tragic actually, because fashion originates from something so far from that. It’s an art that has so much to do with the development civilization. The tough part is seeing past the commercial aspect. I try to remember that commerce drives innovation and innovation drives commerce.
PP: What projects are you working on now?
SL: I’m working on a personal project called Machines, which I’m very excited about. I’ll be making a story based on humans relationships/dependency with machines and technology. It will be really fabricated science fiction. I’m exhibiting this project in the fall at “The Royal Society of American Art” in Brooklyn.
PP: How much equipment do you typically bring to a photo-shoot?
SL: It ranges from a camera and a bounce reflector, all the way to a truck-load or studio full of grip and lighting equipment. It’s purely assignment based.
The fancy things marketed to photographers are all tools that may or may not be necessary to execute a certain idea. Not letting technology define your style is important.
PP: Talk about the biggest struggles you had when you first moved to New York, and what are the biggest challenges facing you now?
SL: When I first moved to New York I didn’t have much work, like everyone else. I didn’t really know many people either. When you don’t know anyone its scary. You think the industry is infinitely huge.. It was like trying to comprehend the size of the universe. But once you dip your toes in, you start to find out that this industry is quite small and you can grasp the size of it. Most of us know or know of each other. Now, my biggest challenges are staying focused on my style. I always have a splash of my own flavor even in commercial assignments, but keeping your personal ideas completely uninhibited is the real challenge. Artists are influenced by all of their experiences and surroundings, good and bad. It’s grabbing the experiences by the reigns and owning them that makes an artist.
PP: Many regard you as among the hottest young fashion photographers in the city. What advice do you have for the next generation of photographers coming to New York now.
SL: Have a plan, but don’t expect it to go that way. Rolling with the punches is a New Yorkers requirement. I’ve had opportunities that I never would have imagined. Some of them are hard to prepare for. The best thing you can do is be open to things happening outside of the photo world. The more you see, the more lines you can draw to what you do.
I just started taking piano lessons after I was on a shoot in a dance studio. I knew less about the piano than anyone in the world. I just felt like jumping into it. After my first lesson, I drew so many lines between my creative process and a musicians. All artists work within parameters of a medium. The keys of the piano are like a grey scale. You have a range of octaves from high to low, or light and dark. Some artists work in the lows or the darks, and some work in the highs or the light end. Finding the contrasts and mixing in the correct harmonies is what makes the crafts into a work of art. Using and understanding the scales, or octaves or whatever medium is the foundation of an artists. Really owning a medium is something so intriguing to me. So, understand your medium and maybe dip your toes into a couple of others. It will open your eyes even more to what your passion is. And you’ll appreciate other artist and really comprehend what a master of a craft or medium really understands.
PP: A couple years ago you collaborated with another artist to create a series called Toxic Beauty. Tell us about these pictures and how they came about.
SL: I worked with a sculptor and painter Jason Clay Lewis, and a Creative Director Clementine Allain to create Toxic Beauty. Jason worked for the famous American painter Jasper Johns. We used Jason’s sculptures as a foundation to create a cultural opinion heavy series. It was a special project to me, because it held everything that I think makes a great photograph. It’s easy to look at, has a deeper meaning behind the beauty, and executed in a classical painterly style.
PP: What photographers from the past or present have influenced you the most?
SL: Helmet Newton is one of my idols from the 20th century. He knew how to pull something and connect with his subjects. He could embrace imperfection and make it intriguing. That’s not an easy thing to do. I’m a fan of a lot of today’s talent. I really like Miles Aldridge, and Tim Walker. Miles has an amazing knack for color. Tim has a sensitivity for composition and juxtaposition that keeps you feeding off of the implications.
PP: What makes a great fashion photograph?
SL: Taste. It has to have good taste.
PP: Of all the images you’ve made so far in your career, which is your favorite and why?
SL: That’s like asking what your favorite food is. I’ve never liked that question either. If you put a gun to my head I’d say Let Them Eat Cake; it’s elegant, soft in color, sexual, and culturally rich.
PP: What’s the most important thing you want potential clients to know about you?
SL: While my passion for the art is immutable, I rely on client collaboration to guide the creative process, ensuring my delivery is consistent with the desired narrative.