The Power of Suggestion

By age 31, few can boast professional achievement as a skateboarder, adult film director and accomplished photographer—Stephen “Van Styles” Vanasco can. Born in New York and raised in Los Angeles, the bicoastal Renaissance man can thank his skateboarding roots for the growing success of his most recent visual arts venture. While running a skate camp 10 years ago, Van couldn’t have imagined that the father of one of his students would offer him a chance to produce a skateboarding-themed pornographic film, Skate Trixxx. He now finds himself taking the erotic theme and balancing it with his skateboarding roots to pioneer a new brand of erotic imagery. We caught up with the modern media pioneer to discuss the photographic aesthetic that has earned him the opportunity to shoot advertising campaigns for LRG, launching this month in XXI and featuring Cool Kids and in The Fader Magazine featuring The Workaholics. - Megan Rupp

How would you define your photographic style?

I like playing with contrast. It’s all about getting to know the models as people and taking them outside of their element based on their individual personalities. At first, I only worked with porn stars, so that contrast was pretty clear. In their element, the hair and makeup is clean, perfect and overdone because you’re creating this exaggerated fantasy, which gets really routine. I basically just wanted to do the same thing from a new perspective. I wanted to show what they might be wearing at home, when they’re not so done up.

What inspired this new perspective?

The whole thing started because the girls I would shoot in a porn setting were just cool people that I got along with. So one day, I was just like: “Let’s go do pictures that we want to do outside of all of this. Let’s just explore, mess around and have fun with it.”

Did you know in advance what exactly you wanted to explore?

I wanted to get them out of the stripper shoes, the heavy makeup and big hair and basically de-glamorize them. Obviously, the main contrast is the clothes—instead of wearing a school girl skirt that barely even counts as a skirt, I put them in plaid shirts or hoodies. But, the hair is different too. I dig messy hair, almost bed head-y, like she might have just gotten up from having a good time under the covers with someone. I put them in L.A. street style clothes because, as a skateboarder, that’s what I’m into.

So, you essentially created images that speak directly to what your fantasy might be, but in a less “hardcore” pornography sense?

I mean every guy loves a girl who can wear his clothes and look sexy doing it…in your head you’re like, “Man, I want to marry that woman.” A football player might like to see a girl wearing his jersey. I’m attracted to a girl who can look super hot in a flannel with shorts and high socks or a basic tank top with sweatpants. If a woman can be sexy in baggy, men’s clothes, you know she can look that much better when she does get all dressed up.

Other than the clothing, what makes this style of photography so different?

In everyday life, most people think there’s a natural sultriness to things like hair covering a woman’s face, but in photography, that’s seen as an imperfection. Sometimes, I’ll ask a model to run her hands through her hair and pull it up to sky, then I capture it as it falls around her face. It’s those shots that might look imperfect at first glance, but when you take a closer look, are interesting and different and that’s what I love about them. It makes them more visually stimulating. You see a really hot girl who looks like she could be a cool person in a regular setting, with just enough showing so there’s room for your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Your vision started as showing the natural side of glamorous adult industry celebrities, but you’ve recently branched out beyond that. Where has your “genre” of juxtaposition journey recently taken you?

I’ve branched out by shooting regular models in ways that contrast who they are as women. I recently worked with Brittany Nichole Lucas in L.A., a fashion model who has worked on bikini shoots in the past and was recently featured in Italian Vogue. This sexier vibe was still very different for her. Right now, I’m in Miami working on a variety of projects, one of which includes Jamie Conrad. She’s typically captured in a high glamour, heavy makeup type of thing, so I’m shooting her really natural and dressed down, with simple hair.
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