Exclusive Interview: Photographer Steve Read Gets Candid on Diversity In The Modeling Industry

The fashion industry would be nothing without it’s skilled, and sometimes scandalous, photographers. Steve Read is one of London’s most recognized photographers working today shooting some of the worlds top models. Read then displays his work on his site and his uber popular Instagram profile (it’s @stevetakespictures!) We decided to talk with the experienced photographer where he opened up about models, Instagram, and diversity in the industry.

So first thing is first. How did it all start with your photography?

I got started in photography as a hobby in university as a way to make friends essentially. I graduated just as the financial crisis hit and ended up assisting, Rosie Hardy, a fine art/conceptual photographer I followed at the time on twitter who still produces phenomenal work. Through her I ended up assisting Lara Jade who is a fantastic fashion photographer. It reached the point with assisting that I felt confident enough to test and work with fashion models of my own.

You’ve worked with some of the worlds top models. Any models or actors/actresses made a lasting impression on you?

I think Belle Lucia was a big highlight for 2018 for me. She’s one of the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever worked with. Jasmine Dwyer I think is a phenomenal talent and killed it this year at fashion weeks across the world. Hamidah Brinkley I think is going to be one to watch as well.

Diversity in the modeling industry has been a hot topic for many years now. How have you personally seen the landscape changing?

I think diversity is an important issue in the industry. I know my work isn’t as diverse as I’d like it to be and it’s something we can all do better with. I think the industry is changing. Instagram is a significant part of that. It can be undeniable to brands that certain models or influencers can attract eyeballs when you can see the numbers attached to their social media. Not to mention consumers are incredible vocal on social media platforms about demanding diversity and calling out bad behaviour from brands. There are issues with gate keepers having less power in the industry but it has created a more democratic playing field in a sense for many individuals. Although it does feel depending on your position the power imbalance has merely changed from casting directors to instagram followers. It still sucks hugely if you’re on the outside.

I feel like we need to be careful about thinking we’ve solved the issue because there’s one model from a marginalized group doing well. We need more than one Ashley Graham or Munroe Bergdorf. While on-camera diversity is improving, I still think there’s a lack of it behind camera. It’s hard to think of many black fashion photographers. It feels shocking but sadly not surprising that Tyler Mitchell was the first black photographer to shoot a cover story for Vogue.

Do you have any insights on the different perceived expectations on men and women in the industry and the standards they are held to?

I think it’s certainly the best it has ever been for a woman in the fashion industry. There’s so many great women shooting and killing it. Is it perfect? It’s hard for me to comment too specifically being a man in the industry. I’m sure there are a lot of issues I’m not seeing.

A good photographer friend of mine has related she struggles sometimes to be taken seriously as a young woman in certain situations – usually in terms of client negotiation. I think that is a fairly universal issues and not necessarily industry specific.

Where do YOU think the industry needs changing and what do you do to help the cause?

I think models need a stronger union and there needs to be more independent protections for them. Both in terms of money and physical safety. Some agencies are great and some are less so. The industry is carried by young women and its important that they feel safe and protected in the world place.

I do my best to try and listen to problems raised. It feels difficult to make big changes as a freelance photographer. I always do my best to create a safe environment on my shoots.

It’s crazy how Instagram has become such a artistic platform. How has Instagram helped you grow as a photographer?

I think the community aspect of it has been important. It’s powerful to be able to have a living portfolio that’s connected to models and makeup artists. A lot of the models I work with are because I’ve shot a friend of theirs or someone they know. When someone comes to shoot with me they know who it is they’re working with and who I’ve worked with previously.

Thanks for all your insight! Where can we check out your work?

My website is https://www.smread.com/ and my instagram is @stevetakespictures

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