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News & Insight

No Grit, No Pearl | How Alexi Lubomirski Got His Start With An Icon: Mario Testino

By Kishore Sawh on March 20th 2016

It’s difficult to have a conversation with many people about certain types of photography without the discourse becoming rather trite. Throw the idea up in the air that ‘photographer’ is a viable career and you’ll be met with opinions the size of Hoover Dam, though typically with the foundation of a suburban bungalow. “Wedding photography is the only way to ensure you make a living in the industry these days, which is why everyone does it,” is usually vomited-up rather quickly, even by some wedding photographers who somehow fail to see how much is wrong with that statement.

For one, there are people who actually love what they do and seek that avenue, and then, of course, it’s dangerously presumptuous to use the word ‘ensure,’ as if it’s so simple to sustain a wedding photography business.


Things become a bit more interesting, however, if only as predictable, once you begin to speak about other genres of photography; from sports to commercial to fashion, the phrase you’ll run into is scraped right off the top of the platitude pile, “It’s who you know.”

Well, s*&#, or insert whatever vehement expletive you like, because that doesn’t spell well for most. But it’s those who say this who are assuming so much, and are putting their chances in someone else’s hands, or at least out of theirs. Because with this mentality, clearly, it doesn’t matter what you do.

The problem is, of course, is they’re partially right…

If you want to break into any field of photography, odds are, you’ll have to know certain people in certain positions or gatekeepers of some sort; A model, an agent, a stylist, an agent’s favorite barista or concubine, or a photographer a bit higher up in the food chain. These people are who you learn from, and who you help in one way or another. The problem with the ‘who you know’ mentality really, is it assumes you are limited to those you currently know. This is not the case.


All those people you need to know, or would benefit from knowing, can be met, and mutually beneficial connections with them made – you just have to do the legwork. That legwork, like leg day, is hard, and that’s a factor in why few succeed. It requires taking rejection, and it requires time and effort, and patience, but it can be done. A fantastic example of this is Alexi Lubomirski, now a famed photographer of glossy-paged fashion magazines the likes of GQ, Vogue, Harpers, and so on.

I first came to know of Alexi reading the Author/Contributor pages of those very magazines, seeing his face and beginning to associate it with particular work, but Mario Testino has always been someone I idolize, and I came to learn Alexi assisted for him for years. I always thought, who does one sleep with to get this? Whose back needs the right scratching? How does one do that?


But there’s not much left to ponder because Alexi clearly has a penchant for education and has released a video speaking about how he came to such a fortuitous apprenticeship, and how it affected his career. He is eloquent in delivery, and an overall effective and charming communicator who manages to get through to the viewer, concisely, that he had to fight to know the right people, and that his apprenticeship came from one thing really – grit.

I encourage you all to watch this, let it wash over you like a summer breeze, and take heed of the advice. When you do, you may be propelled to go out and do the legwork. It may even be enough to help you muster the grit we all could do so well with. And remember, no grit, no pearl.


Find out more about the ‘Polish Prince’ here on his site, and find Alexi’s work, well, on a newsstand near you…

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Max Bridge

    Agree, agree, agree. Great find Kish.

    One thing I will say, Alexi was very very lucky. After one week of pushing his portoflio he was assisting Mario Testino! That’s pretty fortunate. That WILL NOT happen for most people. However, if you keep pushing and pushing then eventually it can. Be under no illusion that a) it will be easy to get to that level, or b) it won’t take a bucket load of work to stay there. God, I sound so pessimistic now!

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  2. Kellan McCall

    Love stuff like this. Gives a pragmatic view of the life of a photography, “superstar.” Grounds them, humbles them, and makes you realize that, yes, you can achieve the same levels if that’s what you want, but you’ll need to grind for it big time.

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