Photographer Dan Lecca



PART 3: DAN SPEAKS OUT...

The Look On Line asked Dan to answer a few questions about his colorful past and gave him the opportunity to respond to some of the stories we'd heard.

LOL: You are the preeminent runway photographer in the world. There have been rumors and stories about you going around over the years. What has been the price you've paid for your success?

DL: Of course the hostility bothered me. I consider myself to be a good friend, and have done everything I can to help others whenever I can. The slander happens less and less in NY, I physically don't have the time to see it. We are very well organized, these days, I arrive at the last minute, so there's almost no time to have an encounter. Maybe twice a season something happens if I'm very tired. Then maybe I'm probably not so nice.

Our priorities are the clients. We try always to do the best possible job for them. We always anticipate any problems they may have regarding their show, and tell them how to fix it. The price I've paid for my success has been a lot of sleepless nights.

LOL: Lots of people say that you were once a rock star! Is that correct?

DL: It's true. I was a Rock and Roll star in Romania. Our group was called Choral. I was most famous between the ages of 19 and 21. In 1968, we were #1 in Romania. Our children (twins) were born in July 1969 and we left Romania on Jan 10, 1970. We went to Rome where Cory's parents were and worked for 9 months until we got enough money to go to the States. I came here not speaking a word of English, except for the words 'Good Day'. Initially, Cory and I spoke to one another in French. She quickly learned Romanian, and today, we speak Romanian to one another and talk in English when we're discussing business.

LOL: How did you make a living in the States not speaking any English?

DL: I was a graphic artist but my portfolio was lost forever in a trunk that never got here, I have 11 years of training in the fine arts.

I took a job as a short order cook and eventually landed in a textile studio as a 'man Friday', answering telephones and running errands. At first, I was terrified of answering the telephone, but slowly, I learned English. I kept the place running but I really wanted the chance to design. One Friday, as always, I was the last one there, when a client called, furious. He said that I'd delivered 5 children's sketches that were all wrong. The client told me what he wanted, and I worked all weekend on the sketches and delivered them on Monday morning on my way to work. Guess what? He bought my sketches! I graduated to design and was allowed to continue designing provided I could sell one design a day, which I did. All my designs sold out.

LOL: When did you start to feel successful?

DL: In 1976, we took a long family vacation in Europe and Romania and bought a BMW 2000 for $6,700. I loved that car.

LOL: When did you start taking pictures?

DL: In 1976, I went to Puerto Rico for work and bought a Cannon FTB with a normal lens for $170. I loved 3 of the slides so much that I became immediately hooked. The camera became my tool to do something artistic. At first, I had no idea what I was doing. I bought a long lens and a wide lens. The camera went everywhere with me: to work, to lunch, on the streets. I had become a shutterbug.

LOL: When did you first start taking pictures professionally? Who gave you your start?

DL: Some English clients of mine told me I should go to the Paris Vision fabric show. I landed in Cuomo 1st and then went to Milan during the shows. I had some time to kill, so I went to a couple of shows and snapped pictures. It wasn't difficult to get into fashion shows then like it is today. I met John Duka (one of the founders of KCD) at one of these shows. We really hit it off, he was Macedonian and we spoke the same language. At the time, he was working for New York Magazine and bought some of my pictures.

I also met a Texan, Terry Weir, at the shows. He offered me a job as an assistant at his studio. He was setting up to shoot something for Saks (Fifth Avenue) when I made a comment about the lighting in front of the client. Maybe the client heard me, because the next day, Linda Gaunt (who now works for Armani) called me and offered me the job for the next month. I rented the studio from Terry. That's when he realized I was not someone who could be an assistant.

Also through Terry Weir I landed my 1st runway assignment. He was shooting for The Dallas Morning News. He was pissed off about the studio thing, and wouldn't let me use his studio again. But, we stayed friends. I then had to buy lights and a darkroom, which made me independent as far as cameras and equipment were concerned. Terry asked me to shoot Milan for him because he had a huge job in New York at the same time. He gave me the film, I shot the shows and turned in the film with the Paris film. The client, Tracey Hayes, asked Terry for my number. She hired me for all of it, London, Paris, Milan and New York. She's one of my biggest fans.

PART 4: ENEMIES & OBSTACLES

LOL: Who has stood in your way during the course of your career? How did you work around them?

DL: The man who was responsible for all the photo staff at The Dallas Morning News overruled Tracey (Hayes) and brought in a friend of mine, Evans Cagledge, to shoot the New York shows. Evans was made a staff photographer, which means they have to pay his plane, hotel, everything and it costs a fortune! They soon realized this and rehired me for everything else on a freelance basis. .

LOL: Everyone says that getting The New York Times as a client is what put you on top. How did you accomplish this?

DL: I loved the pictures I did for Tracey, they are shot on the bias, my signature, and are full of strong detail. After my amazing pictures came out in The Dallas Morning News, I approached The New York Times and offered my services. I saw what Carrie Donovan was running and knew that mine were better. They said it was too much money. In 1988 she called me in person before the Couture and said to me, 'Dan, my people have told me that you want to work for us. I'm going to give you a try, so do your stuff, darling Dan.' She gave me a list of 10 shows that I shot for her.

One day after receiving this film, she called to hire me to shoot everything. Getting The New York Times railroaded me for success. By taking the job, I replaced Alexander Agor in NY, Alfredo Albertone in Milan, the guy in Paris, whose name I can't remember, and Jonathan Players in London. Players was a friend and he kept shooting for the daily. From that moment on I was considered a monster. Alfredo didn't speak to me for 3 years. Alexander faded away but was horrible for years calling me names. He made a lot of waves. The guy in Paris disappeared from the scene 6 months later. I was hated in Paris and Milan and even in New York.

I worked for Vogue one year later. Anna herself came into the office I was waiting in and spoke to me. In 1988, Cory came in to help me with The Times and to shoot Tobe with a long lens. Mirabella opened and I was their photographer, Cory shot their black and white page.

LOL: What do you charge to shoot the shows?

DL: I was the 1st photographer to charge per show. Before that, everyone billed a daily rate. When I started working for them, I shot The New York Times for $250 per show. I made a small revolution doing this. Vogue offered $250/day + expenses, film and processing. I got up and left. Anna called one day later and we worked out an agreement.

I charge different prices for different clients. A client like Gucci pays $5,000 - $6,000. If anyone wants to get me, just one camera, my average price is $2,500 + assisting, film and processing for one show. I don’t lowball peoples’ established clients. We have actually raised our prices over the years.

I try to work with people. Many young designers only pay me $250 - that doesn't even pay for the film-changer. I'm making an investment in them. And do you know how much we get stiffed ' I could take them to court but I don't have time for it and it's bad for my image.

LOL: Quite a few photographers make reference to the 'tons of assistants' you have with you, to 'the entourage'. How many assistants do you really have? How does this fit into 'the Lecca Organization'?

DL: The assistants came in much later. At first there was only one for me. To shoot well, you need one good shooter and a film-changer, not a backup shooter. I shoot long lens, with a changer and continuously deliver good film. It's only Cory and I and the changers (one each).

There are exceptions of course. A designer like Marc Jacobs might say that they want a digital photographer up there. That makes a third photographer up there but they don't have a film-changer. For a big client like Gucci or Versace, Cory shoots the color negative look book with a changer, and I shoot the slides. Our assistant Natalie shoots the color negative with Cory as a precaution in case something goes wrong with Cory's film. We don't develop Natalie's film unless something goes wrong. In 3 instances the c41 machine faulted and rendered some film unusable.

We have a great track record, we don't make any mistakes. This intimidates a lot of people and they see our names everywhere. We cover everything. This is why we're so successful, the clients automatically assume that we are the best.

LOL: What of "the photo wars" and your former arch-rival Pierre Sherman? What can you tell us about this?

DL: Pierre Sherman is the most amazing example of how someone can run his business into the ground. How could he expect to shoot Marc Jacobs when he shoots like he does? You can't be shooting up into people's nostrils, the longer the lens is, the more it compresses an image. It's a kinder way of shooting because it flatters the models.

I remember how Pierre used to work, he’d have three other guys shooting as backup. The problems are that you’re wasting space and using too much film. Pierre used to be the 'king' of New York. He may blame me, but he lost the business himself. I’ve heard him say I took away from him - he lost Vogue to someone before me. He used to conduct phone campaigns begging my clients for work. He kept calling Polly Mellen for years, crying on her shoulder. She finally asked me to call him and ask him to please stop. He would call all the designers that I shot for offering to do it for less money than we were charging.

LOL: What is the single most important thing to you? What has driven you over the years to work as hard as you have?

DL: Undoubtedly my family. It's because of them that I'm where I am today. My kids were admitted to go to Ivy Leagues and I didn't have the money. That's when I started seeking more work, in 88, 89. That gave me really no choice, I had to produce another $70,000 a year. I just had to come up with that money. Once they were done with school, I didn't want all that work, but I'm locked in, everybody wants me. As soon as collections are over, I hide in the corner and we don't call everybody. Cory and I are hoping less people will call next season. When we receive the call though, we always say yes. Eventually, as all things do, the work will stop.

LOL: How was it in the beginning as compared to the present? Do you like it more now or then? Was it more pressure then or now?

DL: I started shooting runway in 1980-81 and made no money until 1986. I actually lost money the first two or three times. I was just interested in it. What still attracts me is that I really like to live dangerously I always want to take a chance.

I left a wonderful career in Romania to be a nobody in the West. On the Runway you have to take the moment when it happens. Some of the models look down, close their eyes, take a funny step - you have to avoid all of that constantly looking for the perfect shot.

There were a handful of us shooting from the back in the 80's, mostly the Italians and the French. I started shooting from the side. After 1 season with a 100 millimeter lens I moved to the 200. I would shoot from the left straight down, and I saw that it had the look of a 400 millimeter. That's when I realized that it I'd be better off shooting from the back. I was very badly received at first. Those who were already there didn't want me there.

That's one of the reasons for shooting for the house, securing your position. A good position was even more precarious in the cramped New York showrooms.

PART 5: RELATIONSHIPS

LOL: In every city there is one key player who controls access to the shows. Who's a player?

DL: NEW YORK: Fern Mallis, Kevin Krier, KCD

MILAN: Kevin Krier, KCD for Versace. Carla Otto for Prada, Dolce and Jill Sander

PARIS: KCD for Louis Vuitton men's and women's and soon for Yves Saint Laurent. The houses of Ann Demeulemeister, Celine, JPG, and everyone PR Michelle Montaigne handles. LONDON: Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan produced by Bureau Betak.

OTHER PLAYERS: Alex Betak, of Bureau Betak, Jan Kroeze, lighting expert.

LOL: What is your relationship to Fern Mallis" You shoot for just about everyone in NY. Why not for the CFDA house?

DL: I used to give the CFDA film for free at the end of shows. They work now with Pierre’s (Sherman) former assistant, Randy Brooke. Some of the film he’s had published is out of focus and not in frame.

Fern has done a lot for NY. A lot of time she took our suggestions, but in my opinion the conditions in New York would be improved if she would listen to us. What I don't like about the CFDA is that they give out 300 badges. A lot of photographers with badges come to the door and cannot make it in. At most, 150-200 photographers can fit in the tent.

LOL: Photographers complain that you tape up the runways, crowding those out who are not a part of your clique. How did this get started"

DL: We exchange favors. In NY we pre-assign spots for ourselves and the top photographers and those who are important to us and to the house.

In Milano, Alfredo takes care of us at Prada MIUMIU and D&G, and I help him at Gucci, and others. Also Marco, and Fabio - we watch out for each other. They shoot for Ferreti and Narciso R.

After the 10-12 spots, I can help the rest to go slightly left, slightly right. We always watch out for the Fairchild people, CNN, we have a moral obligation to do so. An imbecile who shoots for the house wouldn't think of this.

The French really hate us, but we're dealing better with them, because we have made an effort. The French photographers detest Cory and I, the English and the Italians. There are many French photographers because of all the little newspapers and they insist on being in good spots. We veterans are the ones who need the good spots.

PART 6: THE FUTURE

LOL: How much longer do you see yourself doing this"

What about shooting as a paparazzi photographer"

What's next?

DL: I'll probably never stop taking pictures. The movies attract me enormously, but I'd like to shoot, direct and edit it myself. I know exactly what I want all the time when I shoot or cook. I'd like to return to a simpler way of taking pictures with a Leica. I love black and white and take pictures of nature.

I hate the paparazzi. Years ago, I was walking on 6th Avenue with my camera, and I saw John Lennon in front of me. He said, "Don't mate" and I put it down. I knew then I could never be a paparazzi.

Cory and I want to shoot a cookbook, we're going to start on that this year. I'll publish it myself.

-the end

DFR: Daily Fashion Report