Photographer David Vance graces the cover of MGT - Spotlight - MyGayToronto

Photographer David Vance graces the cover of MGT

By DREW Rowsome

20 November 2017

David Vance's photographs are instantly recognizable and, as even he has to admit, very influential. You may not know his name, but you will recognize his style and many of the images. His specialty is in making a subject beautiful, ravishing, and extremely desirable. For the celebrities he photographs, that is a demand, for the models who appear in his books and artwork, it is an honour. Vance is also surprisingly self-deprecating, smart and sassy, and took considerable time to not only give us insight into his art but to choose personal favourite photographs to illustrate his thoughts.

Drew RowsomeWhat inspired you to become a photographer?

David Vance: As a child of 10, I was interested in art. Drawing, painting, etc were my favourite pastimes. By the time I was 14, my parents began to worry that I would pursue that as a career and end up a "starving artist." They bought me a darkroom kit and veered my interest toward photography. I concurrently met a photographer whose portraits looked like paintings and was swayed in that direction. He used a technique that was developed in the 1930s which incorporated selective chemical toning and watercolor. I began to emulate his technique and light.

How does the approach to your commercial work differ from your personal work?

For many years I did work for advertising agencies where I was subject to the demands of art directors. It was lucrative, but didn't arouse me in the way my portrait and figure work did. It was more homogenized and less artistic. My favourite was editorial work where I had more control of the art direction. Now my commercial work is mostly public relations portraits and personal portraits so it corresponds more closely with my personal work.

There is a consistency to the models in your male photography. What do you look for in a model?

When it comes to models, I have very eclectic taste.. I love a pretty face. Faces have always been my primary visual attraction. If the body is exceptional but the face is not at least interesting, I lose interest. Other that that, and equally important for an ongoing muse-type relationship, I have to connect with the model. There has to be electricity. Some call it rapport. I don't know what it is exactly but it's a kind of fire that keeps the inspiration alive.

What gives a photograph that quality that makes it art?

It needs to be evocative. If it doesn't muster some emotion in the viewer, it fails.

what qualities make a photograph erotic?

This is an age old quandary. I don't think there is a single correct answer. What's erotic to me may not be to someone else. It's personal and individual, kind of like "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

When shooting nudes, how do you make the model comfortable?

This is a question that I almost always get in interviews... The sad truth is that  some people who don't know me, hold me in high esteem or put me on some creative pedestal, but actually I am very real. That is to say more specifically, I am funny and clumsy. Once I've tripped over equipment or cords a couple of times. all the pretense disappears and we are all on the same playing field with the same goal: to make beautiful images. That being said, many of the men I shoot are fitness models who are already comfortable with their bodies.

Which photographs are you most proud of?

I don't really know how to answer that. I love all my children equally. I do have some favourites, I guess, but I've been doing this for so many years that it's too difficult to choose. I am particularly fond of a photo I took early on. It was in my first book, Visions. I think it's in the forefront of my consciousness because I just got blocked on Facebook for a month because of it. I shot it in 1973. Eight years later Annie Leibovitz did the famous photo of John and Yoko that was on the cover of the Rolling Stone which was very similar. Maybe I was an inspiration . . .

I am also very fond of the images in The Woods book because they are close to my heart.

What advice would you give an aspiring photographer?

The best advice I ever got was from a professor in my first year at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He told us the best thing we could do with our camera at this point was to put it in a drawer, then go out and experience life. See a play, a film, get laid... it's your life experience that creates your point of view, that makes you an individual and that's what makes your work unique.

Is it more difficult to shoot celebrities than models?

I don't think one is more difficult than the other. I work best one on one. Where I have run into difficulty is when there is interference from agents and publicists.

You have many photographs featuring dancers. Are dancers more inspiring to work with?

The best! I love dancers, gymnasts, aerialists, athletes, basically anyone who can move gracefully and has command of their body.

What celebrity was your favourite to shoot?

I have photographed Olympic gold medalist Greg Louganis a couple of times, once in LA for Exercise For Men Only, and once in my studio in Miami and on location for Playgirl. He is a really humble, wonderfully talented human being.

My most gratifying experience has been with singer Dionne Warwick who I have photographed since 1982. She is a strong personality, she knows her brand and what she likes and doesn't. We have great fun together and have become friends over the years. When she comes for a session she always likes to have a bacon burger which she makes in my kitchen. We have made so many memorable photos that I made a special book to commemorate our collaboration.

What was your worst or funniest celebrity experience? They can remain anonymous . . .

My worst experience was shooting was with Lil Wayne who was two days late. It was a shoot for the cover of a trade magazine celebrating the 50 anniversary of The Hit Factory recording studio. We had to shoot in sections because everyone wasn't available at the same time. When he finally showed up he was difficult and really unfriendly. He didn't even shake my hand when we were introduced.

You have had 11 books of photography published. Which is your favourite?

Of course I love all my children equally. I will admit that I am partial to The Woods book and also Jungle Fever that I self published.

Several of your books have sold out their printings. What is the best way for our readers to explore your earlier work?

My first two books, Visions and The Ultimate Book of Nudes - not my title - are out of print but may be available on ebay. For The Woods book I have created a second edition that is available on demand in hard and soft cover versions as well as eBook at

Does having your work so available on the internet enhance your profile as a photographer?

I suppose. I can tell people to google me and there are a lot of my images.

Does it give you pride?

I have pride in my work but it's nice to share it with the world.

How does it affect your business?

I think  being so readily available it waters down the value of the images. I would prefer that people buy my books and prints.

What would be your dream shoot?

Photographing Barack Obama. Maybe the whole family. I have great respect for them and the image they project to the rest of the world.

As an iconic photographer, many of your images are instantly recognizable as your work. Which photographers do you admire?

At first I was drawn mostly to portraiture and I loved the work of the Hollywood photographers of the 1930s, especially George Hurrell. When I started leaning more toward fashion, I was particularly influenced by the work of Richard Avedon.

If there is anything else that you feel our readers should know?

There is a general misconception that I only photograph pretty people and models. That's not true. I am available for private and personal photos of anyone who is interested in commissioning me. Also while I appreciate the positive response my images receive on social media, I am particularly grateful to those who actually purchase my books and prints. It allows me to continue doing the work I love.
Please visit my websites:
and for those who are on a budget I have posted many of my images on

David Vance can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Model Mayhem and at

More of Vance's work can be found in our latest MGT Issue #52. David Vance can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Model Mayhem and at