An Le is a name that you might have seen in a couple of your favorite magazines. His portfolio includes publications such as British GQ, Numéro Russia, Vogue Portugal (and Taiwan, and Spain, and Ukraine), i-D Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Vietnam, and the list goes on. With that list of credits, the photographer and SCAD alumnus is well on his way to photo-giant status next to Juergen Teller and Mert & Marcus.
But before his success, the now-New Yorker left his native country of Vietnam all by himself at 15 years old to pursue his dream as an artist in the United States. “People didn’t really appreciate artistic careers [in Vietnam],” said Le. “Most art and creative classes usually got overlooked.” His parents supported his aspirations towards a creative career and 15-year-old Le was on his way from Ho Chi Minh City to the States.
After some years of boarding school in Maine, and completing his high school education in California, Le came back to the east coast to begin his study in photography at the Savannah College of Art and Design. It was at the University that Le honed his photographic style and developed the professional skills that have paid off.
“I treated all my school projects as if they were real assignments from a real workplace. That helped me have a sense of responsibility that goes beyond getting good grades.”
During his sophomore year, something clicked, and he knew fashion photography was his niche. “I started to collaborate a lot with my fashion, jewelry, and production design friends, and I always had a lot of fun,” he recalls. Most of his fashion-related work in school were personal projects that he worked on in his free time. Figuring out how to get the best quality shots with technically zero budget, Le utilized every resource that the SCAD photo department had to offer.
Just a month before graduating, Le submitted a project called “The Sea” for the New Exposure competition, sponsored by American Vogue and Bottega Venetta with RED Camera. In a moment he recalls vividly, Le won.
He unquestionably believes it is the most memorable project that he has worked on so far in his photo career. From facing countless challenges with booking models in Vietnam to almost having to pay approximately $3,000 to rent the camera that was required to be used in the contest, Le was close to giving up.
“It was a surreal moment for sure in my life [to be awarded the grand prize],” he remembers. “After that, I realized anything is possible if you keep trying.”
What he enjoys the most, besides being a freelancer and choosing his clients, is his ability to be as free and as creative as he wants. More or less, it keeps him on his toes, which is needed since he says he gets bored easily. The freedom to execute his visions, collaborate with the various eccentric personalities within the fashion industry, and the sense of liberation from convention and reality are what speaks to him as a creative.
Whether it be a reference towards his interest in fine art and art history, like his shot of Thom Browne wearing a crown of thorns, or a hyper-glam moment with Sarah Jessica Parker, there doesn’t seem to be a moment that Le can’t execute well.
His recent cover story for British GQ quickly rose to icon status. Iconic is the right term to use for this matter, too. Did you ever imagine seeing Naomi Campbell on a magazine cover with her boyfriend? I don’t think so.
“The most exciting part of that shoot was that it felt very timely and currently,” Le explains. “It was the first time [British GQ] had a black woman and man on the cover, and they look happy and fun.” He goes on to explain how the April issue is a celebration of culture and diversity, and how it is always a pleasure to work with Naomi— and yes, Le is on a first-name basis with Naomi Campbell. Casual. It happens to also be the best-selling issue that British GQ has had to date.
What is next for Le? He seems to be on top of the fashion photo world right now, which he is. But because of non-disclosure agreements (I tried to get it out of him!), you’ll have to wait and see what he does next.
Follow him on Instagram at @anlestudio to keep tab on the amazing projects Le is working on.
Cover Image photographed by James Sakalian III, courtesy of An Le Studio