Jonathan Schoonover and Lela Maloney

By Quyn Duong, February 2015

With a shared aesthetic and talent for effortless simplicity, photographer Jonathan Schoonover and fashion stylist Lela Maloney share with us their insight on artist collaborations and inspirations. 

Tell me about the general concept behind Second Skin. How did you two come together?
Lela Maloney: We seem to be inspired by very similar things when it comes to photography and fashion, and I've been wanting to style a shoot along these lines for a while now, so I naturally approached Jonathan to see if he'd be interested in teaming up. Luckily he was, and it was great having him on board because he helped turn it into a solid idea.
Jonathan Schoonover: We were interested in the clothing more as the subject matter and less of a story based editorial. We discussed using Sky Gallery because it's like a blank space that is meant to hold pieces of art all the time, so we figured that creating these outfits and putting them in the space was appropriate.

Where do you source the clothing?
LM: It’s all different brands. When I style I try to get a variety of price ranges and styles, so there’s pieces from brands like Uniqlo, Zara, Topshop, mixed in with some amazing Brooklyn based designers like Suzanne Rae, Carleen, Aza Ziegler, Carolinerose Kaufman and more.

How have you guys worked together in the past?
JS: We’ve done smaller shoots together before. Nothing really hugely story based, usually one location based on the clothing. We did this editorial for Yen magazine where we shot in a studio. Today we took that dynamic into a space where we’re actually using natural light. It was an interesting variation of our first shoot together. The first time Lela and I worked together, I was shooting with my brother Chris. We were both shooting together collaboratively and she was styling for us. This is our first time working just the two of us.

And how was it? How do you think your dynamic came through on this particular shoot?
JS: I think it came through really well, and I think it’ll show more once we have the final edits. We tend to work well together. There’s no clash.
LM: We’re both respectful of each other’s fields and also willing to help each other. What I like about working with Jonathan is that there’s no ego. We can comfortably ask each other, “Do you think this works?” and if it doesn't, it doesn't. There’s no being precious about things. It's all very open between us.
JS: It allows Lela’s styling to come through even more than just the set up of the clothing, because I’m not pushing other people’s ideas out of the way. I like working collaboratively, I’ve done it a lot, so I think it works well when I can collaborate with a stylist.

Photography in general can be a very lonely art. How would you encourage photographers to collaborate with other creative artists?
JS: It’s interesting to take photography being this lonely art and sort of giving it up to somebody and letting someone else have a say in it. Even just the experience of that - of letting go of your own art and having it become something that it may not have become with just you doing it. I think that’s interesting. Like Lela thinks of things I wouldn’t have thought of and then makes the shoot better. Or like shooting with another photographer, they’ll shoot something a certain way that you weren’t in the mindset to shoot. You wouldn’t have shot it that way in the same moment. I think if anything, the draw of collaboration is realizing that there’s so much more that could be done that any one person could think of. It’s an interesting thing to open yourself up to.

What about each other’s work inspires you?
LM: Where do I start? I love so much about Jonathan's work. My personal aesthetic and what I’m mostly drawn to is 90's minimal fashion photography, and I feel like Jonathan kind of does this modern take on that. His work is minimal but interesting in a new way. The photos are so rich and there’s a depth to them. He has this wrestler’s project that he’s working on with his brother, and even though it's so far from a fashion story there’s a beautiful simplicity to his work that transcends any subject matter, which I find really inspiring.
JS: Since we’ve met Lela, I’ve wanted to do an actual full shoot with just her and myself. The stuff I’m into right now is very 90's.
LM: Yeah! 90's everything! (Laughs)
JS: The awkwardness that comes with that is really nice.

Awkwardness of the 90's?
JS: Yeah, certainly the way they styled things. You can see it in fashion, there’s definitely stuff coming back through that’s recycling from the 90's, whether it’s a type of shoe or stuff that we’re wearing again that no one ever expected us to. I think she uses a lot of stuff that I’m very interested in that works with my style. I have a certain way I shoot and I feel like the way she styles is a really good fit.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you face in creating the artwork that you do?
LM: For me there's a couple of things. One is something that I think most people in a creative field can relate to: the difference between the idea, and the actual result - it can be so different in reality. Recognizing this and being more realistic about what I want to do, what's actually possible is something that I'm trying to get better at. And the second thing relates particularly to the type of styling that I like to do. And it's making things look deliberate yet effortless at the same time. This can be more challenging than it sounds. This is something that I can slowly feel myself getting better at. I try to keep the 10,000 hour rule in the back of my head. I keep trying, I practice, and I learn so much from every shoot.
JS: The hardest thing about making stuff is getting past myself and my preconceived notions of what something is going to be. It’s a weird thing because even if you might come up with something great, it may not be what you originally pictured, and then you have to cope with that fact. You have to be like, “Okay, it’s good but is it what I wanted? Do I want to show this?” I think you know your own tastes, and you think “It’d be really good if I could do this thing” and then you shoot it, and it’s not that, but it looks great anyways. And occasionally you get exactly what you were wanting. Getting past yourself and the way you think about the work you’re going to make versus what actually comes out is a beautiful tension.