Throughout his career, Madrid-based photographer Jesus Leonardo has combined sensuality and warm, melancholic tones to emphasize the themes and subjects of his work. Inspired by much of the early 2000s—pop culture magazines, fashion, film, and music—the photographer often documents modern youth culture, whether that be emerging fashion labels or some of Gen-Z’s notable figures and creatives.
Since London College Of Fashion, and later Central Saint Martins as an adult for fashion photography, Leonardo has transitioned into one of Almería’s most exciting to watch. Among several brands and acclaimed muses, he’s worked with the likes of MUGLER, eyewear brand Project Lobster, Jessica Goicoechea’s GOI, and Stradivarius to name a few. “I photograph intuitively and I don’t usually dig too much into what,” Jesus tells us. “I remember the CD covers from the late 90s and early 2000s and they are definitely present in my aesthetic. So I can say that my photography is 2000s style.”
We spoke with Jesus Leonardo in regards to his aesthetic, early artistic influences, and the collective rise of fashion labels across Spain to name a few topics. Read on for our conversation.
Can you tell us a little about your backstory? When did you first become interested in photography?
When I was a child, I had learning problems because I had dyslexia. Therefore my perception of reality had to be very visual to survive. In my childhood, I loved to paint with watercolors and later with oils. In my teens, I began to photograph on film with my father’s AE1 35mm Canon camera. In my free time, I photographed my friends and family. I also used to go out for a walk to take photos of nature.
I still have the albums from my beginnings. During my teens, I started buying fashion magazines monthly. For me, it was a window to an unknown and very exciting world because there were no social networks and the internet wasn’t like today.
For those unfamiliar with your photos, how would you describe the aesthetic of your work and what you hope to achieve through it?
Actually, until recently, it was almost impossible to be able to describe my photographic style until I started to listen to people’s impressions. When I do photography I don’t have a fixed purpose. I photograph intuitively and I don’t usually dig too much into what. My photographic style is warm and somewhat melancholic, colors predominate. Shiny skins…
Music is also present in my photography. I remember the CD covers from the late 90s and early 2000s and they are definitely present in my aesthetic. So I can say that my photography is 2000s style.
Talk to us a little about your early artistic influences, where did your passion for creativity come from?
I think the first artistic memories I have would be video clips. MTV definitely changed my perception of reality. When I was a child, there was no internet and I lived in a small town in the south of Spain, Almería, so the only access I had to photography was on TV. I spent hours in front of the TV watching video clips I fell in love with photography like Björk, Aphex Twin, and Massive Attack.
Also, the video clips produced by fashion photographer David Lachapelle, like Cristina Aguilera’s “Dirty.” Today, that video of Lachapelle is present in almost all my photographs. Shiny and moist skins. Sexual style, very small clothes with bare shoulders. Saturated colors… In my teens, I fell in love with MM Paris’s work that he did for Björk’s Vespertine album too, and the “Hidden Place” video clip.
Out of curiosity, how often does your upbringing in Almería and later Madrid inform or influence your work?
It was a place to experiment, paint, clay mold, and where I learned a lot about the history of art. I met other young artists with the same interests as me and it was very gratifying to see that others had my same concerns. The teachers were very modern and inspiring. The Almeria School of Arts was very important to me.
You also spent some time in London, widely considered a multicultural hub for fashion and arts, studying fashion photography. What was your experience of studying at Central Saint Martins like?
When I went to Central Saint Martins, I was already an adult and I really wanted to learn. For me, going through there was an injection of adrenaline and energy to return to Spain to photography strongly. There I met people from all over the world. I was also able to perfect my English. I have been fortunate to learn from professionals like Suzzane Beirne and Mark Kean, two artists that I admired. It was all a dream!
In the past, you’ve extensively worked on campaigns for fashion label GOI—can you talk about what your collaborative process is like? With that in mind, what is it like to be in Spain at this time when so many fashion labels are achieving success not just at home but globally as well?
When a brand like GOI gets in touch with me, everything goes great. I notice their trust in me and we work on the set in harmony. Jessica Goicoechea and Sandra, her agent, are wonderful. Working with such charismatic set designers, stylists, and people is rewarding. We are now working on the new summer campaign and it is going to be amazing.
We also noticed you worked with Isabella Ching towards the tail-end of last year for Mugler’s Create The Extraordinary campaign—what was that experience like? How is your creative process different when working on more close-knit projects such as this one versus commercial work where many creatives are often involved?
Exactly, there are many people involved. When they get in touch with us, we have to send the proposal to the image department of Spain and the Spaniards communicate it to the central office, in this case, it was to Paris. After receiving the product we carry out the session. At the end of the production, we send the best images so that the central can verify the result.
When we are clear about which images are chosen, I start to edit them to send them with the final finish. Definitely, it has to go through several filters until they publish it. But in the end, communication is very dynamic and almost always is what we are expected.
Beyond that, can you share some of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on this past year?
I have a special affection for a job we did for Vogue Spain. It was outdoors in an old hostel with vintage furniture from the seventies and wooden floors that creaked. Although what I like the most is doing tests. Jobs I do with the team I work with most often. We are usually between four to five people, we meet in my studio to create photographs Simply for our pleasure and beautiful results come out. Nothing pretentious and no pressure.
That kind of work fulfills me a lot. They are almost improvised. We book the models with the idea of simply taking pictures and “see what comes out.” When I have times that because of work I don’t have time to make those productions, my mind desperately needs to be in my studio to improvise with my team.
In regards to the future of art and photography, what are your thoughts on the new wave of digital art and collectibles?
What we are experiencing now is incredible. Fashion is evolving into 3D and the metaverse. It’s wonderful and I want to be on that wave. I am training in a design school for the metaverse and sale of NFTs and in the production of 3D images. So soon we will see the results!
Lastly, what advice would you give young artists and photographers attempting to navigate the increasingly creative and competitive landscape?
I recommend consuming paper magazines. Identify which stores have fashion magazines. Let them read the team credits and if you like their work, follow them on their networks. Know the work of photographers who have succeeded in the past. Another wonderful place on the internet is Tumblr, even though it’s not that popular anymore, that network gives to you a really big break from repetitive selfies and the Instagram algorithm.
In other photography news, Sarah Ohta photographs some of today’s most prominent and emerging artists.