Above: Trailer trash
Native Coloradan Leslie Van Stelten is a photographer and photo illustrator living in New York whose work appears regularly on CD packages for musicians, in local publications such as The Village Voice and Go magazine, and in a variety of design and publicity projects. She has exhibited her striking work in galleries all over New York City. Look for information on an upcoming book and more on her gallery showings at her website: LeslieVanStelten.com.
The Advocate: What was the event in your life that led you to develop your skills in photography?
Leslie Van Stelten: The major event that made me actually want to be a photographer was this surreal experience I had In the Peace Corps. I have a degree in biology and was doing agricultural work in Panama for the Peace Corps. One weekend I was hanging out on a balcony overlooking this beautiful church in the French District drinking absinthe and had an epiphany. The future rushed at me and I saw myself as a photographer in New York City. From that point on, as difficult as it was, I quit the Peace Corps, quit biology, and started the process of being a photographer. When I returned back to the States I took a photography class and I knew immediately that this was where I was supposed to be. I understood the physics of lighting. It came to me naturally. I've never looked back.
Who have been the greatest photographers or artists, writers, etc., that have been most influential in your own work?
Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle, Irving Penn, and Ellen von Unwerth. I like their sense of lighting and detail in telling a story. Other artists that have influenced my work are painter Egon Schiele. I love his portraits because they are so raw and androgynous. Kurt Vonnegut is a writer that has influenced my life and my work. I feel like he creates ordinary characters that he puts in extraordinary scenarios that ultimately makes them so important. His stories defy basic scientific laws such as space/time and evolution in either a very spiritual or ironic way. He picks his subjects apart, puts them back together, and uses humor to tackle the basic questions of human existence.
A celebrity you would love to shoot and how you would shoot them?
I would like to photograph Charlize Theron mostly because I have a huge crush on her! I would do something crazy with her like a whole fashion editorial spread of her in edgy textured designer leather set in a run down Victorian environment. Maybe something bordering on S&M imagery; maybe something messing with gender? I see a few androgynous men and women as extras in the shot, gagged and bound in leather accessories by her. That would be a fun shoot!