By Robin Sayers | September 1, 2009 | Style & Beauty
Imagine: You’re a high school junior, living in rural Elkins, West Virginia. Your closest neighbor is 12 miles away. Your school bus stop requires a two-mile trek—each way. You’ve never been to a city, even though the nation’s capitol is but a four-hour drive east. Your idea of a pet is the motherless baby deer you bottle-feed.
In the cosmic blink of an eye, you’re photographing covers for Italian Vogue, shooting the Neiman Marcus catalog, and your photos are sought out by art collectors including the Rubells.
Yes, there’s quite a story in the middle.
“When I was 16, I wrote an essay and was chosen to be West Virginia’s delegate to the model United Nations,” says Greg Lotus. “I got to go to New York City for a week. It was an eye opener and really moving.”
But a funny thing happened on the way to the UN. While in Manhattan, “I strangely got scouted to be a model by someone from the Ford agency.”
After returning home briefly, Lotus shipped out to Barcelona and a dream life of striking poses. Or not.
“I stayed there for a few months, but I didn't really like it, so I came back.”
Now, you know you’re true model material when you're discovered not once, but twice.
“I was 18 and I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I moved to DC and was waiting tables. That’s when I got scouted again.”
After working both domestically and internationally for a few years, Lotus landed in Seattle, himself retired from the business but still living among models.
“I picked up a camera and started taking pictures of my roommates just so they could have more shots for their portfolios. I’d never even played with a camera before that.”
An image from Italian Vogue Beauty, May 2009
Using a secondhand Pentax 35mm given to him by a friend, with just their home as a makeshift studio, Lotus’ shots started getting him notice.
“Their agents called me and said they had other models that needed photos for their portfolio. I said, ‘I’m not really a photographer.’ They said, ‘But we’ll pay you,’ and I’m like, ‘OK!’”
Three short months later, someone from Bruce Weber’s office called about a possible photo-assistant gig. Lotus flew to Florida and met with the legendary lensman at his seaside Golden Beach estate; Weber praised his work and offered words of encouragement. While that position fell through, Lotus decided that Miami was the next logical step. It was here, over the course of three years, that Lotus honed his skills and developed his portfolio to the point that the insane thing that happened next could happen at all.
“I knew I wasn’t ready to go to New York because of the competition, so I decided to try Paris,” he says. “I got off the plane and went to meet my friend Phillipa who ran Madison Models. She greeted me very kindly, looked at my portfolio, picked up the phone and called the magazine Citizen K. Later that same day, I met with the magazine’s editor and left his office 10 minutes later with a cover and a 40-page story—and I hadn't even been in Paris for four hours. Two days later, I’m in Paris, shooting. It was amazing.”
Soon, “I got an agent there, who is still my agent today. She called me about a month later and said, ‘I have an appointment for you with Franca Sozzani,’” the famous editor of Italian Vogue. “I remember that meeting very clearly, because I was so intimidated by her that I couldn't look her in the eye. She reviewed my book, then slid it back to me. I thought she was going to say, ‘Thanks but no thanks,’ but she said, ‘OK, give me a story. I want 10 pages.’”
So what has people beating down the door to work with the boy from Elkins? “Greg possesses an unerring visual aesthetic,” says Amy Adams, creative director of Neiman Marcus, who has assigned him to shoot “everything from Armani to Zegna” since 2004. “He's on of those perfectionists that can find joy in spontaneity and communicate broad messages via subtle details.” When asked to describe Lotus’ style in three words, she responds: “Compelling, memorable, sexy—actually, I'd use those same words to describe Greg himself!”
Today, Lotus boasts a roster of both editorial and commercial clients, as well as the artistic freedom that comes with success. He recently shot a story for Vogue in Cass, West Virginia. “It’s literally just a three-street town about 30 minutes from where I grew up. What’s so unique about it is that every single piece of housing or school or church or fence is painted white. It totally looks like the set of an Alfred Hitchcock movie—it’s incredible.”
While he has homes in Manhattan and Paris, Miami is still a big part of Lotus’ life. “I have a house here now. I'm here a lot in the winters of course, and we can shoot with the sun. I'm fortunate.”
He can say that again.