Van Styles has a job that most men can only dream of. Aside from photographing gorgeous women – mostly in nothing but lingerie – his occupation is one that matches his passion. Born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, the 33-year-old described himself as an “awkward child,” one who was adamant to break out of his shell. He found means of expression through skating, his first love.
Little did he know that his love of the kick push culture would lead him into the world of visual imagery. Van jumped from grinding on rails to grinding on visuals as he began to shoot his friends performing various tricks. “I was consumed with everything, the whole lifestyle. I had been skating since I was 12 and that was my thing,” says Styles. His natural knack for capturing images came in handy when an unlikely opportunity presented itself.
While instructing a skate camp for kids one California summer in his younger years, Van was introduced to pornographer Christian Mann; his kids were in attendance at the camp. After befriending Mann, Styles received the chance to produce what would become the first adult film of its kind, the skate porn “Skate Trixxx.” The film featured actual skaters and a slew of young female talent who would go on to have successful careers. We shall refrain from details, but you can go ahead and Google that.
Van inadvertently was knighted as a captain of counter-culture, an adamant skate junkie who now produced, directed and edited adult films. He gathered hundreds of film credits over nearly a decade, and flourished in an industry that faced a rapid decline with the dawning of the Internet tube porn era. As Styles found himself producing his own films, he taught himself photography out of pure necessity.
“Friends of mine would see my photos; they would compliment them and suggest that I keep doing it,” says the photographer. “That was the initial feel. After a while, blogs like Tumblr and Instagram came up so I was able to share it with a lot more people. The reception was great so it pushed me further.”
The positive response pushed him far enough to leave the adult film industry and pursue a full-fledged career in photography. As Styles describes, “Photography became what skateboarding was to me when I was twelve.” Accustomed to filming and directing content that focused on women, naturally that is what became the focus of Styles’ photography early on. His clientele began with the females that he knew best, adult film starlets.
His approach however varied considerably. Styles ditched the lewd imagery for a softer approach. The photographer wanted to portray women in a different light. “The way that I looked at it was, ‘There’s plenty of images of you totally naked already out there. Let’s not do that because that’s expected,’” he says. “The focus is just overall great imagery, being able to create this feeling or emotion when you’re looking at this picture, and the girl’s not even naked.” Styles’ photography is a tasteful rendition on the allure of a woman, honing in on the subject’s natural behavior and leaving the risqué to the viewer’s imagination.
His work with subjects like Asa Akira, Alexis Texas, Jamzz Baby and others led the photographer to collaborate with many popular streetwear brands. The likes of HUF, Sk8 Mafia, DGK, Hall of Fame, JSLV and Deadline LTD to name a few, all enlisted the photographer with a keen eye for the provocative. These opportunities ultimately led Van Styles to launch his own brand, V/SUAL, at the suggestion of a friend. “My friend basically said, ‘Look you’ve done this for so long for everyone else, you need to do it on your own.’ That kind of took to my head and made me realize like that was the next step for my career.”
Now his own boss, Van found himself able to execute work exactly the way he wanted. He no longer had to please the companies that were cutting his checks. More importantly, V/SUAL was founded on the noble principle that everyone involved in a project should get the credit they deserve and be compensated accordingly. Since V/SUAL relies heavily on portrait graphic t-shirts, both the model and photographer are entitled to residuals from the sales of the product, something not popularly practiced in the streetwear world today. An unfair practice that Styles himself is all too familiar with. “I’ve been the photographer where I’ve done things for people where it’s like, ‘Here we’re gonna pay you $250 or $500 for an image. This image is so amazing but you’ll never see anything beyond that.”
Styles’ family, including his mom and sister, is very supportive of his work and proud that he’s remained true to himself. Van comes from a liberal family, with a traditional Italian father that didn’t care what his son chose to occupy himself with as long as it wasn’t illegal. The photographer has been in a relationship for the past year and a half. When you make a career of being around beautiful women, professionalism becomes second nature. “It’s easy to keep it cool because I just really love photography,” he says. “That’s where my mind’s at. It’s not a way to meet girls. I can appreciate when a girl looks good, but at the end of the day I’m not in this to get crazy just ’cause some girl is around in lingerie.”
But, not all women are so cool about Styles and the V/SUAL brand. Earlier this week, Judy Cox, mother to an 18-year-old son and Orem, Utah native was shopping at a local mall when she came across Styles’ brand plastered across the window display of PacSun. Cox complained about the “obscene” display and when the manager refused to take it down she bought the entire stock of V/SUAL t-shirts – burning a $567 hole in her pocket.
In response, PacSun CEO Gary Schoenfeld has stood behind Styles’ brand with a statement that reads, “While customer feedback is important to us, we remain committed to the selection of brands and apparel available in our stores.” As for Styles, he remains optimistic that the coverage will ultimately present the brand to an audience that was previously unfamiliar with V/SUAL. “They say any publicity is good publicity,” he says. “I think it’s not as bad as she’s making it out to be. There’s worse imagery being put on the covers of catalogues. Who is one person to say what’s good for everyone else? That’s what bothers me, I wouldn’t want someone telling me what I can’t look at in a store.”
Moving forward, Styles hopes to elevate the caliber of his work by branching out into other aspects of fashion. Similar to the method of conducting his photo shoots, he is never content with staying in the same place too long. “I’ve done great work with streetwear brands but I would also love to do something more on the high end side of fashion, maybe lingerie or full fledged campaigns,” says Styles. With an eye like Van Styles’, it seems like only a matter of time until a company that goes by the same initials comes knocking on heaven’s door.
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