Photography came as a beautiful accident for Raul Tovar. Now 29, Tovar sits in an office on the sixth floor of the WeWork building on 5th Avenue, wearing a black blazer with a dress shirt, dark jeans, and dress shoes. Originally from Monterrey, Mexico, Tovar came to New York to realize his dream of becoming a fashion photographer. Back in Mexico, he completed his bachelor’s in advertising at the University of Nuevo Leon. Five years ago, when he went back home after a trip to New York for the holidays with two friends; he could not get over the city. Almost a year later, he moved to Brooklyn.
Creativity was always his thing. “When I was a kid I was always playing as a TV host, theater, singer, or directing my two little sisters to act for me. My dad always told me he didn’t know exactly what I would end up doing because I liked a lot of creative stuff, but he did know that it would be in the show business,” says Tovar. He was having fun with things that other boys didn’t care about like theater, cinema, stages, and sets.
One day he accompanied his mom in running errands and found a copy of Vogue Italia from July 2007 with an editorial called “Super Models Enter Rehab” by one of his all time inspirations, Steven Meisel, an American fashion photographer. One photograph taken by Meisel illustrated a “bad boy” male model in a leather jacket inside a car with the window rolled down halfway, with a blonde model wearing everything except for pants, where his hand covers the female genitalia. Meisel showed the beauty of women and men by capturing them fully clothed, showing very minimal skin or entirely naked. There was an intriguing black and white photograph with a female brunette model submerged in a white bathtub with water covering everything but her face complexions—the eyes, eyebrows, nose and mouth. After looking at the magazine for about 78 times, the pictures made Tovar realize that he wanted to say things using nothing but pictures, similar to Meisel.
At 18, he decided to become a photographer for the fashion industry, but he did not photograph fashion right away. During his first years as a photographer, Tovar worked at weddings. “There is a big market for that in Mexico,” Tovar says. “I like it. I think I was good at it but it wasn’t my ultimate dream.”
The years he spent leading up to becoming a fashion photographer were very fun, inspiring and frustrating at the same time. Being able to see amazing work from top photographers, learning about lighting and retouching, inspired him to create his first portfolio.
“I was asking my beautiful friends to pose for me while my sister would do the makeup and the hair for them. It’s a big process of learning.”
It was not an easy journey.
“When you start you don’t always have the opportunity to work with the best talents or models or have amazing locations for your shoots, so you have to create them, get them or invent them. There will be people that will say no and you cannot get sad, or frustrated, or take it personal. You can’t let that take you down,” says Tovar.
A big part of his confidence of continuing in pursuing photography was his parents. They allowed him to do whatever he desired. “If I want to be in singing classes they would pay for it. If I needed to be at school at night to rehearse something they would drive me there.”
CHIC MAGAZINE, a Mexican fashion publication, gave him his first opportunity to showcase his work. The magazine needed a story for New Year’s Eve. Tovar photographed 10 situations of what people do when celebrating the holiday. Tovar shares, “I used a professional model and I got clothes from a store where I knew the owner. I remember I was very happy running around to get last minute stuff.” The eight-page spread in the magazine showcased the model, Autumn Stein, with her brown hair in hairstyles ranging from a clean, slicked and pinned back look, to a fuller look where her hair shows more volume. In the photoshoot, she wears a variety of outfits from a glittery and sparkly evening dress, a dress with prints showing bold colors, and a white floral knee-length dress giving a Bohemian feel to her style.
Being persistent is a key factor. Tovar says he never takes no for an answer. “I have this personal rule of never say no to a job, as a freelancer I don’t think you should be doing that.” He has not faced the challenge of turning down any job offers since becoming a photographer.
There is no particular highlight in his career. He says, “that changes often I think, because you always want more and more; at least it is the way I am.” Moving to New York helped a lot with proving himself. He was able to collaborate with some magazines and assisting photographers he admired since discovering fashion photography.” He laughs, “If you ask my friends they would say it’s the pictures I did with Irina Shayk, they can’t get over.”
Tovar is still chasing for his dreams after being featured in publications like Esquire, GQ, Vogue Brasil, Cream, Chaos, and many more online fashion publications around the world. He believes you have to trust yourself. The industry is about always going with your gut feeling. Do not limit yourself. “Take the photos you want to take, even if it is buildings, weddings or naked people, you have to do what you are passionate about, so you can always be happy and proud about it,” he says.
After being on numerous sets, Tovar has seen it all, the good or bad, even after never being star struck from a celebrity. To see how they act on set, how they treat their assistants and the manners they have with you as a team catch his attention. “I remember Irina Shayk being super professional, on time and down to earth which I was not expecting when you are one of the hottest models and the girlfriend of the best soccer player in the world.” A few celebrities here and there would give a hard time on set, but he lets it go and does not talk about them much.
One of the biggest accomplishments in his life is WindowsWear where he is the head of photography in New York. He photographs window displays that showcase clothes, jewelry, handbags and shoes around the SoHo and Flatiron districts, and covering Fifth and Madison Avenue. The company wants to be considered as the “Google Earth” or “Vogue Archives” for fashion window displays. The goal is to photograph every window in every fashion capital around the world. He highlights a huge success for him was being able to belong to a brand new company and helping build it from scratch in 2012, and overcome the challenges of the fashion industry.
The best advice he has for anyone who wants to become a fashion photographer is, “you have to do what you’re passionate about. Nobody is better at something than at the things they like the most, don’t worry about money or what the people will say, is it a risk? Yes, but it’s totally worth it.”