Travel Photographer • Documentary Photographer • Photojournalist

I’m a travel photojournalist and documentary photographer with 35+ years of professional photography experience. I was born in Montreal and moved to Milan, Italy in 1987, where I lived and worked for 9-years as a photographer. While in Italy I continued shooting travel and documentary photography working for Italian magazines and other magazines around the world as well as photographing and writing documentary and travel photography projects. Now I am based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

My travel and documentary work are driven by intuitive curiousness and wanderlust with the intention of showing the character and human spirit of the people of the world. I feel photography is a way of contributing to other people’s appreciation and understanding of diverse cultures and their traditions. I love to photograph people in their environment, especially traditional people, and people with lots of character who have interesting personal stories. My passion for photography evolved into being a visual voice of all cultures and contributing to the improvement of humanity.

You can see some of my photography featured in magazines, newspapers, books, websites etc. in the publication credits below and published work in the Tearsheets page. If you would like to have a better understanding of who I am and what I do please read more in this F8 Magazine interview, this Asian Photography Magazine interview, this Shutterbug Magazine interview, this story here and volunteer experience here (I’m very interested to work with projects helping humanity and Earth – please feel free to contact me here). Please see the What’s Up? page for more of my images and latest projects. My career started doing advertising and corporate photography (which I still do) and you can see samples of that work on my commercial photography webpage.

I hope you enjoy seeing my work 🙂

…Imagine you are living with the last surviving descendants of the Mayan Empire. They take you through their rainforest where they run barefoot through winding roots and towering trees…

Lacandon Mayan boy at Cascadas Lacanja, near Lacanja village, Chiapas, Mexico.
Lacandon Maya boy, Selva Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico
 
Story by Troy Germaine Taylor

Imagine you are living with the last surviving descendants of the Mayan Empire. They take you through their rainforest where they run barefoot through winding roots and towering trees. As you step carefully across makeshift log bridges fallen over clear running streams and wade through a jungle lush with leafy palms, mahogany trees wrapped in vines, and the leathery leaves of bromeliads that tiny tree frogs and salamanders drink from, your guides tell you that dangerous men nearby are cutting down trees and that these same men will kill anyone that tries to stop them. About a kilometer from the site of devastation, they leave you alone in the forest to creep among the periphery of the canopy that the threatened jaguars, red macaws, and spider monkeys call home, all in an effort to document the ravaged forest these Mayan ancestors have tried to preserve. Only when you return alive do they fully accept you into their village, their lives, and their traditions.

“It was a great opportunity to serve a greater cause doing my lifework and being a voice…”

Mohawk Warrior on F8 Magazine cover
F8 Magazine – cover, interview and portfolio
 

“They accepted me into their village and let me photograph their leader and rituals that few outsiders had ever seen at that time,” photographer Robert Leon told F8 magazine in a January 2011 interview. “I was the only non-Lacandon person there and had an authentic immersion into their culture. It was a great opportunity to serve a greater cause doing my lifework and being a voice for indigenous people of the Earth.” Some may say they are passionate about photography. Others go out and live it. Robert Leon lives his passion for photography to the utmost, enveloping himself within the cultures he records, embracing each unique way of life with a gentle respect that has a way of opening the landscapes and faces he photographs. Over the past few months in talking with Robert Leon, he has revealed where this passion comes from by email, sharing earlier interviews, and in conversations.

In his lifetime journey with photography, Leon has travelled, not only across the planet but also as a photographer, gradually maturing from his creative life in Milan as a fashion and advertising photographer to a chronicler of stories, people, places, and our planet itself.

“Documentary photography and travel photojournalism is for me about being a mirror of things happening to the people and the Earth…”

Rajasthani camel-driver in the Thar Desert, near Khuri Village, Rajasthan, India is published in Asian Photography Magazine
Asian Photography Magazine (Mumbai, India)
 

Leon told Asian Photography magazine in May 2011, “Documentary photography and travel photojournalism is for me about being a mirror of things happening to the people and the Earth. It’s a track record showing our roots and our probable future direction, a mirror reflecting humanity back at people to contemplate themselves, their existence and evolution so that one day we will live without harming the Earth and each other. It raises our consciousness individually and collectively by revealing our true nature and our relationship with Earth.” Although Leon still does commercial photography, he has learned over the years to keep his commercial work within the bounds of companies that show a conscientious disposition toward the Earth and its people.

“I’m sending joy and happiness up to the Universe so it falls back to Earth as a rain of joy and happiness onto people.”

~ Sadhu Yogi Baba Ramaeshuranand at Pushkar Lake, Rajasthan, India

Leon’s shift in his mind-set toward photography is beautifully depicted in a story he conveys of a trip to Rajasthan, India. While there, Leon ran into a Sadhu or holy man, who proceeded to invite Leon into his personal temple, a small room about 10 square feet. Leon shared the story like this: “In the temple, the Sadhu raised his arms and looked at the sky and started laughing with joy. At that moment a beam of sunlight came through a doorway and lit-up his hand. I asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘I’m sending joy and happiness up to the Universe so it falls back to Earth as a rain of joy and happiness onto people.'” According to Leon, he thought about the Sadhu’s words and quickly understood that they had captured precisely where Leon was in his life with photography. Leon stated, “I want to show people around the world in a positive way by sending images into the World – or as the Sadhu did—up to the universe—and hopefully it will have a positive effect as a rain of joy and happiness onto people, something that will create positive change.”

Leon’s passion for photography is rooted in his family’s photographic heritage. While Leon holds a degree in photographic arts from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Canada, his love for the art form grew out of his childhood time watching his father develop his own photographs. Leon explained in Asian Photography magazine, “It’s my organic roots in photography—using film with a camera you manually focus and expose. There’s a very real, organic, tactile beauty in that process for me, and it has helped me translate that organic quality into digital photography.” Though Leon now uses primarily digital photography, he still has a soft spot for film and will use it accordingly depending on what he is photographing.

“My way of being has evolved by learning many things in many places about people and myself. My curiosity about the Earth and people has progressed into a mission as a responsible observer showing truth and beauty around us.”

Greek lady laughing on Therassia Island, Santorini, Greece
Greek woman laughing, Santorini, Greece
 

With photography as his own roots and by using it to help others record theirs, Leon himself has transformed over the years. He told F8 magazine, “My way of being has evolved by learning many things in many places about people and myself. My curiosity about the Earth and people has progressed into a mission as a responsible observer showing truth and beauty around us.” Leon’s passion extends to “spreading around compassion, love, and understanding of all cultures,” Leon said. “I’m not a war photographer,” he explained. “I’m a love photographer.” What Leon means by love is his passion. “My passion for photography has evolved into being a visual voice for all cultures and making a contribution to society while evolving myself as a person with the experiences I have and expanding out to others, sharing and learning from their experiences as well,” Leon explained.

Inspired by his parents National Geographic and Life magazines when he was a child, Leon’s photography is now focused on depicting the beauty on Earth and within her people. “The curiosity to go and see places evolved into enthusiasm to do something good, which gives me the energy to continue doing what I do.”

Cuban Culture in F8 Magazine
Cuban Culture (F8 Magazine profile)
 

Inspired by his parents National Geographic and Life magazines when he was a child, Leon’s photography is now focused on depicting the beauty on Earth and within her people. “The curiosity to go and see places evolved into enthusiasm to do something good, which gives me the energy to continue doing what I do,” Leon told F8 magazine. “I consider us all indigenous people of Earth, so we are all responsible for the Earth. My photography of indigenous cultures has no boundaries and includes everyone.” It is this same loving respect for all people and this planet that took Leon to the Mayan’s jungle and makes Leon’s passion for photography unique, filling it with an uncommon beauty that is every bit as distinct as the photographer himself.

 
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Publication Credits

(1980 → present)

Volunteer Experience (Seva)

  • Art for AIDS Orphans | Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation
    I participated in two exhibitions (Elliott Louis Gallery, Vancouver, B.C. 2006 and Drake Hotel, Toronto 2008) donating photography prints to Art For Aids Orphans auctions to raise money for AIDS orphans through the Nelson Mandela Children’s Foundation. Among the artist’s work exhibited were Annie Liebovitz, Nick Brandt, Robert Bateman, Herb Ritts and David Goldblatt.

    From The Georgia Straight | Arts: Photo Realism
    “Toronto’s World AIDS Conference has brought the devastation of HIV to the forefront of everyone’s minds this week. Now, an art event will give them a chance to actually do something about the problem. Next Thursday (August 24) at the Elliott Louis Gallery, Art for AIDS Orphans auctions off photographic works to benefit the Canadian arm of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund—a group that aims to help the millions of kids left parentless by the epidemic. Highlights include work by Nick Brandt, best-known for his haunting photos of Africa (shown here); Jillian Edelstein, a U.K. photographer who’s shot for the likes of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker; and Nadav Kander, whose conceptual photography has featured the faces of celebrities like Benicio Del Toro and Richard Ashcroft. Many of the artists are showing in Canada for the first time. Admission is free, and includes African music, food by Elixir, and wine.”

  • Spud Patrol: People Feeding People
    Cause: Poverty Alleviation
    Volunteer to purchase and bake potatoes, then serve them on the street to people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

    The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is a neighbourhood in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The area, one of the city’s oldest, is the site of a complex set of social issues including extremely high levels of drug use, homelessness, poverty, crime, mental illness, and prostitution. It is also known for its strong community resilience and history of social activism.” ~Wikipedia

  • Lookout Emergency Aid Society | Art of Living Foundation
    Cause: Social Services
    Volunteer cooking in kitchen and serving food at The LivingRoom Drop In Center in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, BC, Canada. Help with Art Of Living Foundation and Lookout Emergency Aid Society by cooking in the kitchen to provide meals and serving food on weekends at The Living Room Drop In center in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

  • The Art of Living Foundation
    Volunteered with The Art of Living Foundation when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (founder) visited Vancouver on three occasions. Provided volunteer photography and video services covering Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s visits.

    “About The Art of Living Foundation: Founded in 1981 by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, The Art of Living is an educational and humanitarian movement engaged in stress management and service initiatives. The organization operates globally in 155 countries and has touched the lives of millions of people.

    Over the past three and a half decades, The Art of Living has spread peace across communities through diverse humanitarian projects, including conflict resolution, disaster relief, sustainable rural development, empowerment of women, prisoner rehabilitation, education for all and environmental sustainability.

    About the Founder, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is a humanitarian leader, spiritual teacher and ambassador of peace. His vision of a stress-free, violence-free society has united millions of people worldwide through service projects and Art of Living wellness programs. On a spiritual level, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has built on the ancient traditions of yoga and meditation and offered them in a form that is relevant to the 21st century, creating new techniques for personal and social transformation. These include the Sudarshan Kriya which has helped millions to find relief from stress and discover inner reserves of energy and peace in daily life.”

  • Shree Mahalakshmi Temple (Vancouver)
    Volunteer (Seva) photographer at the Shree Mahalakshmi Temple photographing the temple’s events (Holi Celebration, Pujas, etc…) and documenting the temple activities.
    http://www.shreemahalakshmitemple.ca/

What have you done to help the World?

 Recently I was pondering this question about what I do to help humanity and the planet. I do “Seva” (Sanskrit word for “selfless service”). Besides the photography and Volunteer Experience above, I occasionally meet people in situations where they need essential items such as school supplies, food or medical supplies (like in Guatemala, India and Cuba etc.) so I will purchase something for the village or individual to help them out.

An example of this was in Nimb Ki Dhani Village (a remote village of about 100 semi-nomadic people in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan India) I bought the village school pencils and notebooks since they were writing with worn-out pencils. This was first cleared by the village elders, the teacher and a Brahmin priest (my guide). This situation seems to occur often because children want to learn to write and like to draw; but mant times there are no pencils – let alone pens. One time a schoolteacher in Guatemala told me the government gets money from organizations, but the schools never receive it. I’ve been asked for pencils and notebooks …and food… in India, Guatemala, Chiapas Mexico, and Cuba.

Sometimes people ask for food or money and – if the situation is integrous – I will go to the market or store with them and buy them food. I do the best I can to read the situation and not create a tendency of people begging for things. I feel it’s best for me to donate directly in person. I think you get the idea; I humbly want to do good in the world and always in “Ahimsa”, the Sanskrit word for “without harm” or “nonviolence”. ॐ