Lou Lesko is an American photographer and writer and the founder of BlinkBid. He started shooting pictures in the fashion industry when he was nineteen years old, later expanding his métier to include photojournalism so he could travel to splendid places on someone else's dime. His work has been published worldwide and has been recognized as "pretty gosh darn good" by a few award bestowing associations. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California's writing program, a Lowell Thomas Award winner for photojournalism, and a former editor-at-large for National Geographic Assignment.
The Full Story
I discovered fashion in San Francisco during my gap year. It was fascinating to see how a person could experiment with what they wore to convey a different story of themselves. This led to an infatuation for fashion photographs. Each week I’d go downtown to an outdoor newsstand and pick up the American, French, British, and Italian issues of Vogue, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, anything I could get my hands on, and obsess over the images. It didn't take long to develop a desire to try it myself. I picked up a camera and blew through a ton of film, shooting by trial and error.
Youthful ambition and naiveté got me a chance-encounter with fashion agent Michael DeMartini. He glanced at my tragically amateurish portfolio, took me under his wing, and had me photograph the models from his agency over and over and over again, trial and error. By my twentieth birthday I was working regularly as a photographer, inching my way up the ranks of the industry.
A year later, I was accepted to the University of Southern California. I really didn’t want to go, but my clever father told me I’d have the rest of my life to be a photographer, but only a brief opportunity to go to college. Michael, forever my advocate, got me into modeling agencies in Los Angeles so I could keep shooting while I attended school.
As I toiled through the writing program at USC it was widely expected I'd go back to the fashion industry after college. The plan became subverted my senior year when I discovered of a passion for photojournalism. I graduated USC with an idealized notion of pursuing the genre as way to save the world. Or at least visually tell the story about how the world needed saving.
That summer, 1989, while sitting hungover in a San Francisco cafe the morning after an all-night party, I happened upon a news article about a group of Stanford and Pepperdine students who were starting a magazine. It was the first periodical in history to be published in both America and Russia. Mildly quixotic, I talked my way onto the project and departed for the Soviet Union as one of the first American photojournalists to work behind the Iron Curtain. I had no idea what I was doing.
I was saved by the legendary Russian photojournalist Vladimir Vyatkin, the head of the photography department at Novosti Press International in Moscow. Vyatkin saw me floundering as I attempted to photograph journalism like it was an editorial fashion shoot. I mean, one doesn't walk up to a stout, dour looking, elderly Russian woman and ask her to pout sexily toward the camera while she's standing in a sprawling queue for a food shop.
Vladimir took me out into the field and gave me extraordinarily sage guidance, guidance I utterly relied upon over the next two years shooting other journalism assignments around the globe. These were the fabulous learning experiences of a lifetime that laid the foundation for my future visual style. They were also the experiences that didn't pay so well.
Well traveled and broke I returned to San Francisco, marched into the office of the agent who discovered me, and asked for work. After laughing at me for awhile, Michael DeMartini helped me rebuild my portfolio. With that, I relaunched my fashion photography career and moved back to Los Angeles where I continued to shoot for two more decades.
During that time I won a few awards for my photography, including a Lowell Thomas Gold for photojournalism. I also started directing commercials and writing articles for national magazines. The articles led to a deal for two books about the photo industry. The first book was well received and became required reading at all the photography schools across the country. It also got the attention of folks at National Geographic who invited me to be an editor-at-large for three years.
All I can say about the second book is that it got published and continues to haunt the electronic halls of Amazon after receiving one of the most vitriolic reviews in history. But you know what they say, you’re nothing until you have a good flop story. Right? They say that?
Back in 1990, before there were web browsers, a friend showed me how to access something called "the internet." I was enthralled and started an enthusiastic hobbyist's pursuit of all things tech. Or, better put, I was a wannabe white-hat hacker. In 2009, while I was still shooting and writing for a living, I figured out an opportunity to dip my toe in the technology waters.
Inspired by how TV commercial producers worked, I sought to bring the same methodology to the photography world. So I came up with a workflow, had a software created, and watched sixteen people buy BlinkBid the first year it was out.
My accountant urged me to take a write-off and bail out. Delusionally optimistic I had the software totally rebuilt. The second version got some traction and BlinkBid grew to what it is today: cloud-based, sophisticated, and used by thousands of people and companies in twelve countries. No, I did not see this coming.
These days I'm living in Northern California, running the software company, occasionally speaking publicly, and continuing to write with obsessive alacrity.