Meet Canadian-born photographer Todd Anthony Tyler, who will be appearing as judge on the premier cycle of Asia’s Next Top Model. For over a decade, Tyler has operated a studio in Shanghai, China, becoming an authority on Asian beauty as well as one of the most sought-after contemporary photographers in Asia as well as worldwide.
Beauty is Diverse talks with the fashion jet setter about what it takes to be a top model, how the far East is inspiring the fashion industry and more!
BID : How did you get your start as a fashion photographer, and what inspires you most when doing fashion editorials for magazines such as Vogue China ?
TODD ANTHONY TYLER: Photography has been a lifelong interest of mine. At the age of five, my mother gave me a little 110-cartridge camera, the type that looks like a rectangular sandwich. You just pop in a cartridge, close the back and start clicking away. I remember taking my very first shots quite vividly on a family vacation to Niagara Falls. From the first moment, I looked through the viewfinder and discovered I could frame the world the way I saw it. I was hooked.
I shot a lot of photos in my youth. By the age of 13, I raised the money for my dream camera, a Minolta X 700, a single-lens reflex camera voted ‘Camera of the Year’ in Europe. I still have it in my collection of old cameras, and yes, it is a bit typical of a photographer to collect cameras, but I love the memories behind each one. Later, I acquired a more professional grade camera and spent many weekends photographing mostly animals, birds, insects, flowers and landscapes. At first, I was not that into shooting people. Occasionally I would enter a photo contest. As a kid, it was encouraging to get some recognition for images I was taking.
Photography was my hobby, and although I felt passionate, I never had any real aspirations of making a career out of it. I modeled for about 10 years, working in all the major markets from Milan to Japan. It was not until my last year of modeling full time that I considered turning to photography as my next profession. I initially followed my love for nature and travel, and wanted to be a National Geographic photographer. After about a year of shooting action-adventure/travel type shots like rock climbing and mountain biking throughout Asia, I then started to shoot some fashion models that I knew. At first, I really didn’t think I would like fashion photography, but I quickly became hooked for the creative aspect of fashion images. The career transition itself, from model to photographer, can be quite difficult, in part because of a stereotype that models want to become fashion photographers, and as a result no one wants take you seriously at first. In my case however, I had been taking photos from sometime and was fortunate enough to secure work with some of the world’s best publications that encourage innovation. Often times, I am credited as both photographer and creative director, and it is both the creation of an image and the story told in the image that drew me to shooting fashion.
BID:The fashion industry has been getting lots of inspiration from the far east over the past two season, what do you feel drives designers to Asian culture for inspiration ?
TODD: I honestly think a big part of it is accessibility. The world is a much smaller place with the Internet and social media. Asian cultures and countries that traditionally were inward looking or insular have started opening up to the global community. Huge Asian populations are now developing into major consumers, and a financial interest is undoubtedly also at play behind some of the interest in both Asia and Asian-inspired designs. Along with these reasons, I think there is a shift in the Western perception about Asians and Asian culture. Stereotypes are being broken down, and change in even political conditions have allowed for greater influence to flow from the East into Western fashion. I also think fashion designers continue to look for new ideas or something fresh to inspire them. In Asia, there are many different cultures and traditions even within one country or community. With the current rise in accessibility, all these Asian sub-cultures, which have been around for thousands of years, are essentially being rediscovered and become sources of inspiration.
BID: With the rise of Asian influence in fashion , we’ve been seeing more Asian models on the runways such as Liu Wen , Su Hei , Fei Fei Sun. Can you tell me who your favorite Asian model is?
TODD: It would be tough to pick just one favorite. From personal experience, I really like Liu Wen a lot. She is wonderful to photograph and such a genuinely nice person. Other Asian models I like are So Young Kang from Korea, Cambodian/American model Mey Bun, and for classic beauty Indian model Alyssah Ali. As for up and coming models, I think mainland Chinese models Yezi, Yi Hang and Gaojie will soon emerge on the international market.
BID: What are your goals for Asia’s Next Top Model in terms of photographing the girls for the show? Will we be seeing a variety of themes?
TODD: When first approached about being on Asia’s Next Top Model, I had a concern about keeping some credibility or authenticity to the shoots and the fashion elements of the show. There is no doubt we are doing a reality TV show, but the entire panel of judges and model mentors are striving to produce images that could possibly be seen in a magazine, fashion catalog or advertisement. Finding the balance between production schedule and reality is the trick, as there is a very fast turnaround time on images, which is usually not the case when shooting professionally. Yes, there will be a variety of themes for the shoots, as we want to challenge the girls to see their natural abilities in front of the camera and have a baseline to evaluate how they evolve and improve. I really try to give each model an opportunity to produce a great shot.
BID: Which qualities will you be looking for in the model that will be selected as the winner of Asia’s Next Top Model?
TODD: Outside of being of course an Asian beauty that possesses the physical characteristics that are standard for an international top model, I am personally looking for a girl with personality, character and confidence. A top model is not just lucky enough to be born with the height and physique that photographs well and looks good on a runway. You also want someone who is quick witted, takes direction well, can evoke emotion – in effect be somewhat of an actress. The winning model will be someone who understands what it is like to be both professional and personable.
BID: Can you share your knowledge and experience on what it takes to be a successful international photographer.
TODD: First, and foremost it takes perseverance. You need to have an unstoppable desire to succeed as a photographer. A touch of insanity is also helpful. All joking aside, if you have all of that, then you need to recognize if you honestly possess any real natural ability. Many people like to take photos, and with digital cameras taking a photo is a pretty easy process, but creating an image is another thing. You also need to have some kind of business sense. As a professional photographer, you are running a business. Many people fail because of poor business practice and money management. On an international scale, you need to be good at networking and being efficient and proactive in having people be aware of your work. Of course, your work does need to have some kind of merit and global appeal. A personal strength is my range in publications and advertisements, which appeal to a wide variety of markets.
BID: What are your thoughts on diversity overall in the fashion industry?
TODD: There is definitely a little truth to the logic behind why certain people or looks are celebrated in fashion and fashion photography, such as the correlation between the human brain/eye being drawn to symmetrical faces and the relative perceived attractiveness to increasingly symmetrical faces. No doubt, people perceive certain physical characteristics as attractive for various reasons. These characteristics are factors in decisions made on imagery in advertisements and thus the model selected to be photographed. That said, I think we are now perhaps seeing the most diverse group of top models in the history of fashion and fashion imagery in terms of ethnicities. This is a reflection of the ever increasing immediacy of the world we live in and that the world is simply a smaller place as a result of the Internet, social media and changing political landscapes. For whatever reason, it is an exciting time to be shooting such a wide range of beauty.
For more information on Todd Anthony Tyler, please visit www.toddanthonytyler.com
Follow him on Twitter @ToddATyler - twitter.com/ToddATyler
Get updates on the Asia’s Next Top Model, www.asiasnexttopmodel.tv