When you meet Steven Lyon, the male model turned fashion photographer and documentary filmmaker, you know he is unusual. His work is sexy, raw, and somehow timeless. You never know if a picture was taken yesterday or ten years ago. What he shoots is not trend-based, but has lasting value. He has a different perspective on beauty and even life itself. He took a break from fashion photography and focused on a documentary in Africa where he documented the brutal treatment of rhinos. For LEFAIR, he shot Amanda Crew in the desert and met with Katharina Kowalewski to speak about what really matters to him in life.
KK: Tell me about your film, Something That Matters.
SL: I have been working on it for some time now. It is a documentary about the rhino poaching crisis. It escalated to a place possibly beyond repair, but we still have to try. I undertook a 1,000 kilometer journey across Africa by foot with some incredible South African guides. We took almost four months to walk across Africa, and through that journey I discovered so many things about this crisis. That is what the movie is about. I have been involved in the fashion industry for the past 25 years, but now I’m trying to make a difference in Africa — I have put my photography on hold to make this film. I had no idea it would take so long, but it really doesn’t matter. I recently moved to LA and I think I will find people here to complete the project.
KK: You were first brought to Africa through your photography with fashion editorials?
SL: Yes, and I also like shooting wildlife. I love going on safari, I just bring a better camera than most people. I will always go back to Africa. The first time I had a lion or a elephant in front of my camera it was just so thrilling. I was hooked. When I go on theses trips I tell my guides immediately be prepared to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning. I want to be in the middle of the jungle as the sun is coming up. I want to do that for as long as I’m breathing. Just go in the bushes for three months and shoot wildlife. Africa is under my skin. There is something about it. It’s just all these diverse cultures and such an eclectic group of people, but it’s a little bit dangerous so you have to keep your wits about you. It’s just so interesting to me and there are not many places in the world left like that.
KK: From all the people and personalities that you have photographed, is there one special picture that you are especially proud of?
SL: I have not been photographing that much lately due to the film, but a recent tragedy reminded me of one special photo. I photographed legendary rock star, Chris Cornell in his Paris apartment. It was a thrilling experience and I was very close with him and his family. I am proud of the picture, unfortunately now it has become very popular because of his death. I shot Chris a couple of times, in 2005 and 2006. We also started to socialize quite a bit. I would love to say now, let’s do another session, but it is too late. He was the sweetest, kindest, coolest guy. When I first met him, I saw his guitar lying around. I used to make music in little LA night clubs. Chris was sitting there and while we were getting to know each other, I asked him if I could play his guitar. “Here is a song I just wrote,” I said. So I was sitting there with Chris Cornell, performing my songs. And he called his friends and it really broke the ice. I had the privilege to see him on stage. He had so many amazing songs and I saw him also in smaller intimate venues, cafés and at his house. I was at his wedding, he wrote a song for his wife. What happened was such a tragedy.
KK: You went from modeling to photography. How did that happen?
SL: I was a model in the 80s. I was very successful and it was super fun. I lived in Paris for 90% of my career. Then I dabbled a bit in acting back in America, but when I decided to be a photographer, I knew that Paris was the place to do it. That is where I knew people, where there is so much inspiring creativity and where you don’t have all that censorship with your images like you do in America. I would have never become the photographer that I am if I had developed my craft in America. My work is very sensual and gritty. It’s very erotic. It has a certain flair to it that is very European.