Who needs agencies and art directors? Young, gifted and gay, photographer Steven D. Hill kickstarts high fashion career with a $200 camera and an army of MySpace models
It’s easy to generalize that America’s youth are lazy. Some are — but not all.
About a year ago, Steven D. Hill stopped at the Dallas Voice offices while I was shooting models and a designer for a local fashion show. Hill didn’t have a reason for showing up. He knew the models and just wanted me to look at his portfolio. The kid’s work was Nike-campaign ready — filled with razor sharp images of ethnic models and hyper-real urban settings.
I gave him my business card and told him to let me know when he had something going on: a gallery exhibit, landed a big advertising gig, had just photographed J-Lo … something.
He certainly kept in touch: The 23-year-old was as persistent as a dry cough. But his professional career was stagnant.
That didn’t mean Hill wasn’t shooting. He never stops. He’s just … unknown.
"I picked up the camera about four years ago. Since then, I’ve only had about 30 jobs that paid — just headshots and family portraits," he explains.
The fashion world likes its talent fresh. Hill’s so fresh that he doesn’t even have a studio. He works from his tiny bedroom inside his mom and grandmother’s home in Southeast Dallas. Having enough room to work meant getting rid of his bed.
"I could care less about having a bed. I just want to do what I love," he says.
Hill primarily shoots with a Fuji S700, a seven-pixel camera he bought at Wal-Mart for about $200.
"It’s not a digital SLR [single-lens reflex]. The Fugi is more raw — not as sharp as an SLR. It’s more like a point-and-shoot," Hill explains.
Over the years, his talents have evolved.
"When I started, I didn’t know how to adjust the F-stop and aperture. I didn’t know how to keep light out and let light in. It took me a year to get it down," he says.
Indoors or outdoors, Hill says he can quickly adjust to any light source.
"I take shots, and keep testing and adjusting and looking at the preview till I get it right," he explains.
It’s obvious that he knows his PhotoShop tools. He also knows when too much is too much. While looking at a local photographer’s Web site — an artist interested in hoochie-mama aesthetics — Hill points out the gaudy technical aspects.
"It’s so overworked. The shots end up looking like paintings. He’s done way too much post-production," Hill says.
Hill’s favorite photographer is obvious: David LaChapelle, the brilliant god of sinfully vulgar gloss. But there’s a noticeable difference between Hill and his muse. LaChapelle is from Fairfield, Conn., which Money Magazine ranked as the "best place to live" in 2000. Hill is from one of Dallas’ most neglected zip codes — where South Dallas meets Fair Park.
LaChapelle often shoots glitzy celebrities in the ghetto. Hill inverts that formula.
"I’d rather escape Southeast Dallas. I want to take the people here and their sense of style and go somewhere else — somewhere that’s no so rundown," he says.
Last Friday, Hill stopped by my office again. I asked him to shoot something special for Dallas Voice. By Monday morning, he had conducted a MySpace model audition, shot at four locations, pulled wardrobes from gay East Dallas retailers House of Dang and even edited a video segment.
All this work will be viewed online, a venue Hill has masterfully exploited. The Internet is where he meets aspiring models, and when models see HIll’s work, they know his talent is undeniable. Perhaps this Dallas Voice article is the start of a brilliant career.
To view Hill’s Dallas Voice portfolio, visit Sooak.net/dallasvoice.
MORE IMAGES FROM HILL’S SHOOT:
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 19, 2008.