Cult of Venus

james de leon

James de Leon is a self-taught photographer who grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley. He received his B.A. in American History from the University of San Francisco, and currently works as a paralegal in New York City.


How did the idea for the series come about?


When I started shooting in hourly-themed ‘love’ motels several years ago, I understood the inherent problem in convincing complete strangers to drive with me to some questionably hygienic, smoke-stained room off the interstate. So it goes, years into this, I’ve found that the motel environment to be a de facto studio. The rooms end up having their own personality. Victoria is a talented musician with mutual friends and I’d been following her work on IG for two years. This series is a visual extension of the siren song of these stinky, marginalized, taboo spaces with fellow collaborators.


Can we photograph the female body in a more powerful way?


In an age where sharing photography has never been more democratic, I find that the most powerful photographs of the female body are taken by the artists themselves. Self-portraiture by Francesca Woodman in the past and work by Shelbie Dimond and Brittany Markert I find incredibly moving.


How would you define beauty?


Beauty is Hot Cheetos. I kid. You ready? Beauty is a wonderful arrangement of broken clockwork. It’s arbitrary. It’s both the details and the whole; it encompasses and imagines itself forward. I highly suggest Richard Prum’s book The Evolution of Beauty, a controversial take on Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Here’s my nerdy voice book report: Prum refocuses on the arbitrary nature of feminine choice as an evolutionary driver behind male behavior and the biological unfolding of beauty. Fun fact: I dropped Biology in college.


What inspires you and what makes you happy?


The frenetic energy of NYC (for now), long drives and podcasts, the feeling when I return a rental car back on time, the work of talented NYC friends Hana Haley, Bao Ngo, and basketball. Everything basketball.


Film or digital?


Definitely a film guy.


Lastly, what’s next for you?


Trips to more motels in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Upstate New York. I’d love to visit the spiritualist town Lily Dale, as well as road trip through the Rust Belt. There’s a Victorian house in the woods of Connecticut I plan on shooting in 2018 as well.

photography: james de leon

model: victoria