Fstoppers Interviews Fashion Photographer Kesler Tran (NSFW)

This article contains images and/or video that the editors have flagged as NSFW (Not Safe for Work).
To view this content you must be logged in to your Fstoppers account.

Kesler Tran is a photographer based out of Los Angeles and New York specializing in fashion, editorial and beauty. Of the three, one will probably find his beauty work resonating the strongest; it teems from every pore of his images. His eye for light and shape, as complex and trained as it is, seems effortless when one browses through the images on his tumblr. With the sheer amount of content, it's also hard to imagine him ever taking a break. Thankfully, he took one for us.

Can you tell us about yourself and your photographic background?I've been shooting for about five years now.

What got you started in photography?Nothing really, I just bought a really expensive camera. I started shooting import models (like most Asian photographers), then eventually here I am :)

What kind of gear would we find in your bag?My 5D, speed light, Elan 7, 5-10 rolls of film. Thats my standard.

Do you prefer strobes or natural light if so what kind?I prefer natural light, no reflectors or anything.

Where do you find the majority of your inspiration (both inside and outside of photography)?I visit a lot of blogs, social media, etc, etc.

What is your mental checklist before a shoot?Bring bug spray.

What is your thought process for location scouting? When shooting studio, how do you approach it differently?I don't really have a process for scouting, I just go. Studio requires a more "creative" approach - mainly because it gets old quick. You always have to think of new ways to shoot something.

What is your favorite subject to shoot?Female models.

What is your favorite thing to shoot for yourself?Editorials with a full team. It's rare, but I would like to shoot more FASHION :)

What do you do on your down time?I'm an avid knife collector, shopaholic and play a lot of video games.

What has been your most memorable moment in your career so far and what was your breakthrough image?Hmm, there are many. I would say, either the helicopter shoot for Treats! magazine early this year, the mud shoot a few months back, or the Yacht shoot last year - mainly because they are concepts that I've always wanted to do.

How spontaneous is the process for you? Do you do a tremendous amount of pre-planning or prefer feel it out on the day?I'm pretty spontaneous, and it scares a lot of people who are used to the planning process. Obviously this is not something I would consider "normal." I do, however, try to plan things out as much as possible, but shit happens.

Can you explain the expressions or emotions that you are looking to capture or present in your images?I prefer emotions that are translated through the photo instead of model "expression." This greatly relies on my ability as a photographer than the models ability to "move" and allows me to work with a lot of less experienced models.

How important of a role does post production play in your work?Postproduction is part of my job, although I shoot a lot of film which still requires postproduction (scanning, adjusting and color correcting). Aside from color toning and blemish removal here and there, I try to do as little as possible. I want my photos to look as natural as possible.

What is the one thing you wish you had more of in your work?Fashion. I'm so picky about wardrobe and styling in general. I think this is because when I look at high-end fashion editorials for inspiration, I can't easily accept lessor concepts.

What is the one thing you wish you had less of?Free time. With too much free time, I tend to overspend on things I don't need… i.e $1500 knives, $2000 jackets, $500 shoes, etc.

What defines the decisive moment of your photographs?When I capture a shot that expresses beauty, timelessness, joy, sorrow... something that makes people stop and think.

View more of Kesler Tran's work on his website. Follow him on Tumblr.

 

81 Comments

Commenting is closed for this article.

I love well shot images of half-naked models as much as the next guy, but this type of photography seems to have hit some sort of creative dead-end. There's few people who manage to do something that really breaks the mold. It's the same, tired "stoned model gaze" if there's a gaze at all. Some of the angles are done so to make the women seem powerful, and the models absolutely are talented, and the post-processing is absolutely top notch. It's just something we've all seen.

Yes Tobias, I completely agree! Posting boobies on tumblr (that have of course been sharpened and run through the requisite instagram-esque filters) isn't exactly anything new, nor art really. Nor is it quite a business. When you hear a Beatles song or a Dylan song, you say "That was the Beatles! That was Dylan!" That's the mark of a true artist. :) When you see these photos you go, "That could be anyone in LA, or NY, or Paris, or Bismarck, or Topeka perhaps!"

Yes the processing is good and the models are cute. But art? Not so much.

I do not agree that it isn't art. I absolutely see that there's a lot of effort in planning these shots, setting them up, exercising, model training, posing for them, lighting, shooting, post-processing and publishing. I just think that there could be a bit more imagination to the shots, here you have amazing looking women, and it's the same "look stoned and show me the goods"-type of shots. Art nude is art, most definitely, but I think there is so much more to convey, so much expression going to waste by not challenging the models, by not trying to take this art form further.

Yes Tobias, you write, "it's the same 'look stoned and show me the goods'-type of shots." Yes, just as fashion requires clothes, art requires more than, "'look stoned and show me the goods." OK, so we see their goods for free on tumblr. Once upon a time folks had to pay to see the goods in playboy/penthouse etc. So yes tumblr can be cool I suppose for the cash-strapped consumer. But is it art? Not so much.

If you skim over websites that are specialized in this form of photography you'll find pretty much the same stuff in copious amounts.
It's executed in the most prof. way but other than that slightly yawn eliciting. Probably the real merits of this guys is his capability of delivering highest quality on each and every assignment. Less gifted photographers show a higher degree of variance in their work.
I like the shots because of their impeccable execution but I'm not completely sold on them.

Marvin Hagemeister's picture

To be honest I don't know other photographers who have a similar style, especially his color works. Whenever I browse on tumblr or facebook, I immediately recognize his images.

Actually the color works seem to be inspired by one of many instagram/histagram filters. Many, many, many photographers on tumblr are doing this, for instance: http://lucima.tumblr.com/ Often there is a faux lens flare or shadow photoshopped over the naughty bits, which the photographer uses to say, "ha ha ha i saw her naughty bits because i was there with the camera and all you get is photoshop. ha ha ha no naughty bits 4u!" i mean shooting them in swimsuits/clothes could save a lot of time in photoshop, photoshopping over the naughty bits. but until they can make enough money posing for tumblr nudes, perhaps the models can't afford clothes?

You obviously do not like/appreciate nudes. Fair enough. I find a lot of nudes pointless and, frankly, boring too. Maybe that makes you the wrong person to critique that aspect of these images, though. My guess is that you are the only one who thinks a photographer obscures genitalia to taunt the audience,

Actually DeathNTexas, I love nudes very much. Here's one, the Birth of Venus:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Birth_of_Venus_(Botticelli)

Note how hands and hair are used to largely cover up the naughty bits. Granted, having a model pose like this would not afford the photographer a view of the naughty bits, but it would save them some time in photoshopping lens flare in, so as to hide the naughty bits from the tumblr viewer.

Ha, ha, ha. Now I get it. I have fallen for troll bait. Lol. Sorry, I thought you were serious. I should have known.

To DeathNTexas, logic, reason, aesthetics, and art = troll bait.

Oh well. You can lead a horse to water. . . but you can't make it drink. :)

Sorry, I meant to leave, but you caught me before I went.

I thought you were joking because of two things.

1)Botticelli's Birth of Venus is not photography. Although a valid reference point for posing, composition, etc, I thought its use was irrelevant because I thought this was strictly about nude photography. I understand your point, now, though (which I will get to in a moment).

2. Although it is also irrelevant, I believe you are sadly mistaken if you think Botticelli did not see his models "naughty bits". As someone who shot a few nudes early in my career, let me say that no matter the pose in the image, through the working day, you will see a lot more. It is inevitable, and it is non-sexual.

And now I understand your problem with these photos... you don't want to see genitalia or nipples, and that is a valid choice on your part. However, that is your personal choice and different from saying that no one should see these things. Or that the art is less "good" because you can see genitalia. Your personal choices, morals, and values have nothing to do with the quality of the art itself. If you don't like it, that is up to you. If you see no personal value in it, again, that is your personal taste.

However, analysis of aesthetics (and reason and logic) are not dependent on taste (or values or morals). What I see in your "evaluation" of nude photography in general is a lot of personal preference, moralistic judgment, and what I would consider a prudish view of the human body, while the person you are responding to is generally trying to discuss the art in art's language (aesthetic, composition, color, etc).

You have every right to express your taste and personal opinion, but what you are doing is not a critique of the art or art form, it is a personal moral statement.

lol. DeathNTexas writes, "1)Botticelli's Birth of Venus is not photography." Really? You mean that's not just some hipstagram filters?

You're making this way, way too difficult with your ejaculatory deluge of psychology 101 moralizing.

The article states, "Kesler Tran is a photographer based out of Los Angeles and New York specializing in fashion, editorial and beauty."

Fashion requires clothes.

Editorial requires magazine editors (as opposed to boobies on tumblr). Oftentimes you will see fashion models wearing clothes in magazines/editorials. They are paid for this, as opposed to donating their boobies for free to tumblr's hipster billionaires.

Beauty requires a spiritual sense in addition to naughty bits run through hipstagram-esque filters.

Art requires a unique, soulful vision that transcends what every hipster and his/her uncle are doing and uploading for free, but I'll grant you this much DeathNTexas, you haven't accused this of being art. :)

I will say it then: This is art. And fashion, editorial, and beauty photography are genres defined by aesthetics. They are not a descriptive title any longer (if they ever were). If they were descriptive, beauty photography would vary from person to person (eye of the beholder and all). Your definition of beauty is incredibly personal, for instance.

The funny thing is that I agree with you on most of your points. I glanced through the photos a couple of days ago and thought they were rather cliched and the nudity was unnecessary.

However, you appear to be imposing the idea that showing breasts (or genitalia) is in itself makes the images not art. My point is that that is a matter of taste, and the quality of art cannot be judged entirely on taste.

I am done now. No trolling. My point is made. Take it or leave it. This is something I go round and round with my students about (the rules of critique vs. personal values). Some of them never get it either.

However, I am proud to say they have never dropped the discussion down to the level of using the word "bewbies".

DeathNtexas writes, "The funny thing is that I agree with you on most of your points. I glanced through the photos a couple of days ago and thought they were rather cliched and the nudity was unnecessary."

Yes! As you say! "The photos are rather cliched and the nudity was unnecessary."

You say you are a professor with students DeathNtexas.

DeathNtexas, are you teaching your female students that "fashion/editorial/beauty" modeling/photography requires them to donate their boobs and naughty bits for free to tumblr, in the form of photos that are, in your words, "rather cliched"?

Is this what you would tell your daughter if she was going into modeling? Or would you encourage her to get paid to model clothes in "fashion/editorial/beauty"?

A different point (actually two).

I teach my students that nudity in itself (male or female) is not a bad thing and if you can justify using, it should not be off the table. Also, not all fashion and beauty photography is nudes. Nudity is stipulated on a job by job basis. I know this from my years as a professional shooter.

Tumblr is a different issue. I completely agree that the internet has really changed the industry in the last few years, and the "donated for free" part is a real problem (for models and photographers). However, nudity is a side issue to that. Using and distributing someone else' work is one of the dominant issues of the day.

I think the subject you are touching on is sexual exploitation v. sexual empowerment. The answer to that is extremely complicated. There are books dedicated to it (volumes about the fashion/photography industry alone). Honestly, I don't have the answer, especially one answer that fits all scenarios.

Is this sexual exploitation? The truth is, I don't have an answer other than to say it is complicated. Sexuality is such a personal, individual thing, and how do we judge it? Do the individuals involved feel exploited? How do we defend against exploitation? Do we say that certain poses should not be considered? Do make certain "kinds" of photos off limits?

I tend to veer towards artistic freedom, but I continue to ask myself these questions. In a male dominated industry (and world) how do we empower our daughters without accidentally judging or limiting what they do?

I know that I said I was done, but I appreciate your comment and the issues it raises.

It is nice to see you coming around DeathNTexas.

Basically tumblr and fstoppers profit off boobies/naughty bits given away for free, and the photographers may enjoy it, but does this really make it moral in your mind?

Should not models be paid for modeling/art/fashion/editorial/beauty? Instead of having hipsters redefine modeling/art/fashion/editorial/beauty as that which fills their pockets while leaving the models uncompensated?

The danger here is to higher art and culture, for all of a sudden hipster fanboyz are proclaiming unto the world that free hipstagrammed boobies on tumblr/fstoppers = fashion/editorial photography, which is a blatant falsehood that professors like DeathNTexas then teach to their class as the Holy Gospel.

I would never limit one of my students (or my daughter) in any way. The women I know are individuals and as adults are fee to make their own choices. That is what I teach my students. I would hope that they are smart and cautious, but I have no say in what they do with their body or their motivations for it. If that includes posing nude, that is their choice.

I agree with you that the industry is easily set up for sexual exploitation, but If I condemn the entire industry (or photographic genre) outright, aren't I condemning the women that happily work in that genre and don't find it exploitative? Isn't that dictating what a woman should and should not be able to do? That is what I mean by walking a fine line to prevent exploitation without imposing limitations on those women... even limitations imposed by other women. This is an issue that out dates hipsters by centuries.

As I said, though, using those images for free to drive traffic (for page hits or whatever) is pure exploitation which is different from sexual exploitation of the models. These models obviously were paid (professionals and all), just not by this blog. And I think that is why I was not understanding what you were getting at. I was unclear whether it was the nudity or the use of their image that you had a problem with.

The remarkable thing, Miguel, is how viciously we are attacked (by professors such as DeathNTexas no less who are placing their students in vast debt while ejaculating pop-psy sermons) when we suggest that fashion models ought get paid for modeling clothes , as opposed to donating their boobies for free to the tumblr/fstopper hipsters' businesses, for which the models receive no compensation, but only "exposure."

Dear DeathNTexas,

Above you write, "You obviously do not like/appreciate nudes. Fair enough.. . .Maybe that makes you the wrong person to critique that aspect of these images, though."

Suppose your daughter said, "Daddy I don't feel comfortable shairng my boobs and private parts on tumblr to grow their business, especially considering I am compensated in no way, other than "exposre.""

Would you look your daughter in the eye and say, "You obviously do not like/appreciate nudes. Fair enough. . . . Maybe that makes you the wrong person to critique that aspect of suchimages, though."

When it comes to opinion, how can someone be wrong? Would you really try to shame your daughter into adopting your own "correct" opinions?

What ever happened to freedom?

You make the assumption that models are not paid, or do not understand that they are signing model release forms. I think you are assuming a level exploitation that (although happens) is not indicative of the industry. You also draw the conclusion that a model is more concerned about her breasts than her face. This will not always be the case. No two models (because they are people) feel exactly the same way about their body. There are different levels of comfort with nudity all the way from never wearing shorts to walking naked down a busy street and everything in between. Assuming all models fit into one or another category will cause you a lot of trouble as a photographer.

Specifically, if my daughter models nude, that is her decision. I would try to coach her as best I could (as an informed industry insider) to make sure that she was aware of what her decision means so that she is not surprised by what could happen, but ultimately.... it is her decision and has very little to do with me.

If someone is displaying an illegal image of her nude (ie. she has not released that image), then I would encourage her to sue the pants off that person. However, signing a release literally means releasing control of your image, nude or otherwise.

Again, is your problem with the fact that tumblr and fstoppers are not paying the models for their image (which no publication pays models to use an image— payment goes to the legal author, the photographer), or because the model is nude in that image? Or is it because some of the images could be considered sexual in nature? Is the expression of sexuality off limits for models and photographers?

I was under impression that fashion photography was all about the garment, the apparel and selling new "what to wear" trends, and here clothes are rather optional. So my question is what genre of photography it really is?
I'm not trying to bash Kesler - I really like his work, and his style (kudos for keeping film alive) - just wondering how to call it.

The article says he "specializes in fashion, editorial and beauty." The girl that's lying in the mud showing her bewbie--is that fashion, editorial, or beauty? All three? Fstoppers writes, "His eye for light and shape, as complex and trained as it is, seems effortless when one browses through the images on his tumblr," which ought read "His eye for light and shape of bewbies. . ."

Throughout the tumblr page, the bewbies/muddy nudity overshadow the sense of any higher spiritual beauty, until it becomes gratuitous and boring. Playboy is like sixty years ago, and bewbies on Tumblr is sooo 2006. What about shooting professional models who don't show their bewbies like Kate Upton and Victoria Secret Models? Are not such models beautiful and fashion icons too? Do any of his models feel beautiful without showing nipples, like say Jennifer Lawrence?

Marvin Hagemeister's picture

I read your comment a few times, but I think you are too focused on the nudity aspect and miss what his images are about. Try to look purely at the shapes, the composition and the way he uses light and you'd see why people (including me) love him so much.

Hello Marvin, I lean more towards Gretta's opinions. Yes, to paraphrase your own words, "Try to look purely at the shapes (shaped like boobs), the composition (showing boobs) and the way he uses light (on boobs) and you'd see why some people (who like boobs), like him so much." I love the female form, and I do consider a it a work of art, but the question is, would you love the photography without the boobs? I can almost hear some folks saying to the girls, "If you don't show boobs and look high on meth, it is not art, nor fashion, nor beauty, nor photography." I know fstoppers enjoys the NSFW, but here's some art depicting a woman's deeper beauty without boobs (it is possible!):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mona_Lisa,_by_Leonardo_da_Vinci,_from_...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Girl_with_a_Pearl_Earring.jpg

Now let us talk about light, shadow, art, shapes, and exalted feminine beauty, without nipples screaming at the viewer "hello! hey you! you there! look at me!"

Marvin Hagemeister's picture

Hi Stacy, no I don't like the images simply because of boobs. For me his images would work with fully clothed models as well and that's the point I was trying to make.

Hello Marvin, you say "For me his images would work with fully clothed models as well." Marvin, not to belabor the obvious, but if they were fully clothed models, they wouldn't be his images, nor art, nor style.

What you are saying, Marvin, is "For me the airplane would fly without wings as well," or "For me the the car would work without wheels as well," or "For me the the camera would work without lenses as well."

Marvin Hagemeister's picture

Please reread my first comment. He has a few series with fully clothed models and I love them as much as his other work, because of his unique composition and light. Same arguments as put forward in the article itself.

couldn't/can't find those few in the sea of boobies.

it's safer to read this with my boss at work watching than reading it with the boss at home watching :)

Pages