In focus with Hollywood celebrity photographer Brian To.
Brian To has been a successful photographer since 1990, after graduating from UCLA Film school. But it was his work in front of the camera modeling for famous photographers such as Greg Gorman, David LaChapelle, and Steven Meisel. During this period befriending photographer Herb Ritts was a big blessing since Ritts strongly influenced Brian’s style with his clean, often sensuous approach to the human face, the body and beauty in his photography.
Brian says there is nothing more beautiful than capturing a truthful moment. “I simply try to create a free environment, which allows subjects to enjoy the purity of the moment as it happens.” Explains the young photographer.
His journey into celebrity photography started with photographing Antonio Sabato Jr. for his book “No Excuses – Workout for Life”. Brian also had the opportunity to be the set photographer on a number of movies. He has photographed Hollywood directors, such as Bryan Singer and John Schlesinger who inspired him to direct his first film “Audit” starring Judy Greer, Sally Kirkland and Alexis Arquette.
The film premiered at L. A. Film Festival in 2001 and went on to win Best Short Film at the WIN Femme Film Festival. Filmmaker Magazine 2002 named Brian To their No. 5 to watch in “25 New Faces of Indie Film.”
“My background in film directing really helped me understand how to bring out the best with actors, models, and celebrities,” Brian explains.
…personality matters!® had the pleasure of interviewing the man and the artist behind such beautifully captured moments, most of which can be seen on his website.
Brian, tell us a little about your life and why you think it played a role in what you do today.
I was a film major at UCLA, and then pursued modeling for a while where I got to work with photographers such as Steven Meisel for a CK One campaign, L’omo Vogue, and an Italian Vogue cover. I remember showing Meisel some of my art photography and he told me I would probably be a better photographer than model, and that I would probably do it whether I liked it or not. And in a way, that has always been true.
What do you like most about photography?
Photography comes so easily and naturally to me. My love of movies and TV makes it interesting – to live in a place like L. A. and shoot celebrities. Although more lately, I romanticize about being a big fashion and advertising photographer like Herb Ritts. I like capturing a real moment that is flattering, unique, and transcends what most people think is beautiful.
How much of you goes into your work?
I have a more free approach and try not to control the outcome too much. Although it does seem like I like to try to eliminate distracting elements in shots so it can be more pure. I tend to be aware of positioning a lot, and will try to either adjust to the right angle, or let the subject know how to adjust by a slight hand movement or using my own body like a mirror to them. That must be how the modeling background helped me be a better photographer.
It’s sort of like dancing:
I think anyone can learn to pose.
Can anyone learn to pose for a camera or does it help to have some natural abilities?
I think anyone can learn to pose, but it is always easier when it comes naturally from the subject, and you don’t need to say a word. Some people are so comfortable, free, and creative and know how to fall into the exact right position. It’s sort of like dancing. When you are in sync with someone, it is amazing. And it’s what every photographer, I imagine, loves feeling, which gives you a rush.
So, in your opinion, what kind of people photograph well?
I remember shooting Charlize Theron at the Oscars this past year, and she just entered and posed and moved to my ‘clicks’ without me having to say a word. The line of her body and dress was so elegant, her neck was relaxed, and her facial expressions were just lovely to shoot. I think she is a celebrity who had a modeling background, and you can always tell when they do, because your job as a photographer becomes so much easier. Maybe this is why I love working in fashion and shooting catalogs.
Charlize Theron just entered
and posed and moved to my ‘clicks’.
We often hear the words “the camera loves her/him.” Is there truth to that statement?
I think there is truth to this statement for sure. I remember photographing Antonio Sabato Jr. for his workout book, and it seemed to me like you couldn’t take a bad picture of him. Some people’s bone structure and body even from the worst angles and light still look good. This is usually true of most supermodels – the only difference is that they instinctively know how to find the best angles and light.
You talk about a “clean” style in photography. Could you please explain what that means?
I remember first having a real attraction to photography after seeing this sexy Calvin Klein ad for underwear, which I think was shot against a white wall outside in Greece somewhere. It was so simple and clean with no distractions, except these elegant dark shadows that seem to create strength and accentuate the line of the body. Usually simplicity has the most impact, and is often the most clear-cut, and is why I think so many fashion and movie poster ads have that sort of style.