Candid photos of Hollywood’s rising stars
Photographer Lauren Leekley captures intimate moments with all your favourites, from Devon Lee Carlson to Dua Lipa.
Photography Lauren Leekley
For a long time, Lauren Leekley didn’t take photos. Well she took them, but she didn’t take them, you know? It just so happened that her candid documentation of friends at parties, backstage and behind-the-scenes, resembled a fashion editorial. This might be because Lauren lives in Los Angeles, where the subjects are easy to come by — one might find someone with that indefinable ‘it’ factor at every traffic light.
As such, Lauren has captured much of young Hollywood’s creative scene, her pictures propelling the already fast-rising stars of her own cohort. For years, fans of her muses — friend and model-entrepreneur Devon Lee Carlson, or boyfriend, Mikey Margott, bassist of hit rock-pop band, The Neighbourhood — greedily gobbled up the Warholian intimacy of Lauren’s images. Yet, through it all, Lauren Leekley was definitively not a photographer.
“I wanted it to seem like my hobby,” the 26-year-old remembers. “I think it was a confidence issue. My brothers didn’t even really know I was taking photos. I would compare myself to people I was surrounded by, and I was nervous. I liked my images, but they never felt enough.”
Lauren’s unwillingness to acknowledge photography as anything more than a casual hobby is likely because it began as one. Uncovering an old 35mm Minolta at 12-years-old, she shot landscapes to share with her nature-loving grandfather, who lived across the country. When he was diagnosed with cancer while she was in high school, a “heartbroken” Lauren put down the camera indefinitely. Still, the teen continued to revel in beautiful imagery, obsessing over fashion blogs while studying psychology at Pepperdine University.
In 2016, Alexandra Spencer, of the blog 4th and Bleeker, recruited Devon as the face of her burgeoning Insta-brand Réalisation Par. Spencer was in search of a “right-hand” and Devon recommended the ever-creative Lauren.
“4th and Bleeker was the holy mecca for me,” Lauren laughs. “I was super transparent with [Alexandra], like, ‘I’m a huge fan.’ She was like, ‘If you’re in, I’m in — you can do video or grab the polaroid… whatever you want.’ I just fell in love with it. I love making things with people.”
Still, Lauren was plagued by insecurity. Regularly on set for Réalisation Par, she feared she might be losing herself in the image of Alexandra Spence. Upon taking a step back from the brand in early 2019 (returning a year later), Lauren inadvertently became young Hollywood’s trusted photographer — her candid pictures proliferating the pages of rising talents from Cailin Russo to Indira Scott. When sharing her photographs with loved ones, Lauren was consistently complimented, and, gradually, she found the courage to reveal more of her work on social media.
“I knew myself, and I wanted to dive back into it,” Lauren says. “It kind of clicked for me. People didn’t even know I was a photographer. But it took realising my art is special, and different from others.”
Still, Lauren hadn’t forgotten her roots or the relationships wherein she found footing as a photographer. Traveling to Paris Fashion Week at the top of 2020, she photographed Devon for British Vogue, and captured her at-home style for Vogue US just last month. Then she shot artwork to accompany The Neighbourhood’s upcoming releases. It was the perfect symbiosis: Lauren supplied the content that fed fans, and those fans found — and followed — Lauren.
“Being on Devon’s blogs and the fact that my boyfriend’s in a band gave people a reason to be invested in me as a photographer,” she says. “I’m lucky — I think it gives a photo more meaning when you know who’s taking it. I hope I’ve built that up to the point that people are interested in me and hopefully they’re interested in my photography, too.”
From the sidelines, Lauren witnessed her loved ones navigate their online presences in the face of steadily-growing popularity. As a result, she says she learned how to “handle herself” on social media — deciding she wanted to give a little less of herself to followers. Once an occasional model, Lauren is now pretty determined to remain behind the camera.
“I had a couple of experiences modelling where I wasn’t made to feel confident, and it really sculpted who I am on set as a photographer,” Lauren says. “I want people to feel like we’re all on the same level and important. I really like to be able to switch that dynamic because I struggled to feel good on set.”
While working on various shoots over quarantine, the photographer also made a point of prioritising personal projects — casting potential subjects over Instagram and scouting locations that intrigue her.
“I fall in love with people when I’m shooting them,” she says. “I don’t think there’s anyone who isn’t good enough to be in front of my camera. It makes me excited to meet people who bring that light into my life and then we can build together.”
Following in the footsteps of her mentor, Lauren also hopes to start her own brand with her partner, Mikey, but until then, she’ll be preoccupied with her creative pursuits. There’ll be campaigns and collaborations in the near future, Lauren divulges, but she’s still reeling from a recent BTS shoot with Dua Lipa for her latest video, “Levitating”. Dua “made it easy” for Lauren to shake off her imposter syndrome.
“It was honestly one of the best days of my life,” she says. “It’s walking into a space and knowing people asked you for a reason, so all you can do is be the best version of yourself.”
The photographer reveals she’s “content” in what she’s achieved, but more than content, Lauren is confident that she can effectively, and empathetically, capture the human spirit. And it shows in her images.
“I haven’t reached my peak, but even if I stayed at this level I would be happy,” Lauren says. “I feel like I have more space to grow, and I’m excited. Taking photos brings me so much joy that I don’t need to tick anything off: capturing a person in a moment as themselves, in whatever they’re feeling.”