Even in a casual black V-neck T-shirt and a pair of jeans, when fashion photographer and former model Todd Anthony Tyler walks down to the hotel's lounge for an interview, all eyes are on him.
Bangkok is unfamiliar to Tyler, but his recent visit was rather special as he promoted his new journey into showbiz. At the end of this month, Asian audiences will get a weekly treat from the handsome photographer on their television screens, as Tyler is going to appear as a resident snapper and share the judging panel with other fashion gurus in the upcoming Asia's Next Top Model, a version of the US reality programme that was founded by American supermodel and entrepreneur Tyra Banks.
"There was a time I got asked an interesting question about Asia's Next Top Model - 'You're not Asian, so what are you doing on the show?'," says the Canadian-born fashion photographer who has established his studio in one of Asia's leading fashion capitals, Shanghai.
"I have lived in this region throughout my modelling and photography for over 20 years. Even if they pick, let's say, an individual from Singapore, I am sure that the person would have less reference, Asia-wide, than I do."
His life's turning point, he says, happened when he returned to his homeland from a trip to exotic Kenya in Africa. Tyler's first experience abroad so deeply impressed him that when the trip was over, he told himself that he needed to see the rest of the world. And modelling surprisingly came into his life as a gateway of opportunities.
"When I was in school, people used to say to me that I'm tall enough and have 'a look', so maybe I should be a model and make some extra money. At first, I thought, 'How can you really make a living being a model?'. It seemed like a crazy idea for me at that time, when you're in university. The academic field doesn't really support the idea of being this cliche of a 'not-so-intelligent' model," he recalls, adding that he was in his last year in university at the time, studying biology with a minor in anthropology.
Learning that his friends travelled to Paris as models, Tyler was later introduced to a local modelling agency and began his career working throughout Canada until a model scout from Milan discovered him. Tyler later flew to Italy and started working in Europe.
"That was when everything blew up," he says, laughing. "First it was Milan, then Paris, Greece, Germany, Spain and all over Europe. And later, I discovered I could also model in Asia as well."
It was for 10 years that Tyler travelled back and forth between Europe and Asia, walking down the runway, posing in magazines and acting in television commercials.
Age is a crucial factor in the world of modelling, however, back in his day, Tyler says that male models could stay in the business a lot longer than females, whose working age range was usually between 15-20 years old.
"When I was considering what I was going to do next if I quit modelling, initially I was thinking of going back to my biology studies. My sister is a registered nurse and if I became a doctor, then we could open a practice together. My family was pretty excited about that idea," he says.
"But I guess I lead my life a lot from my heart, in some way. As much as it is an honourable, good job, I didn't have the passion to be a doctor or to study for another seven years."
During his transition from a model to his next career, Tyler explored his own passions - from writing about health and fitness, to offering a personal trainer service, for which he earned a professional certification - until he realised the hobby he had always enjoyed was photography.
"When you start switching a career from [being] a model, there is a cliche that models are not so intelligent. So, when I wanted to become a photographer, people didn't really take me seriously. They still see me as a model," Tyler said.
At first, he wanted to go back to his roots travelling the world with his camera, documenting nature and people's lives. But he then realised that his future might lie in a different direction.
"I was asking myself 'Where's your strength?'. Then, I started to get involved in more fashion photography, and discovered different creative aspects to it and I really fell in love with it," he says.
In 2002, he became a self-taught photographer while he resided in Singapore. It took him about two years to gradually transition from modelling to being a full-time photographer. During Tyler's first job was for Catalog Magazine in Singapore, he was given four to six pages for which he was responsible for almost everything from casting and editing to graphic design.
"It wasn't a well-paid job, but definitely a good creative outlet for me," he recalls.
"However, Singapore is very small in terms of the fashion industry, and most people who work there know each other - it was hard for me to break into the business there. So I was thinking about somewhere with a bigger market. Then I was planning to move to Europe, but before I did that, a friend of mine opened one of the first modelling agencies in Shanghai, so I went there to visit him."
As an outsider at that time nine years ago, Tyler discovered business booming in Shanghai, however he wasn't certain whether it was possible to make a living in a communist country.
"But it took me no time at all. After one month of visiting, I got a couple of photo shoots for catalogues, and a fashion shoot for Elle China," he says. Tyler left China for a while after his first visit, and when he returned, the city quickly transformed. People he knew, he says, moved on to something new and exciting.
"When I came back again, things changed so fast. Then, I felt like I really needed to make a stand. I was thinking of maybe moving to New York, but do they really need another photographer in New York?" he recounts.
Today, Tyler admits that he was lucky to have made the smart choice to stay in Shanghai. It has been almost 10 years now since he founded his own studio in China.
After being in front of the lens for a decade, Tyler is now on the other end of the camera, and is admired in the industry as one of the most sought-after fashion photographers. He barely has free time in his hectic schedule as his raw, organic style is now internationally recognised and regularly graces pages of leading magazines from Vogue China and L'Officiel to GQ.
His creativity has been rendered in advertising campaigns for global brands from the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotels, L'Oreal Paris, and adidas, to a photo shoot for the up-and-coming Chinese designer Uma Wang.
His new adventure with Asia's Next Top Model is a reward for the reputation he garnered during his more than 20 years in fashion industry. Sharing a spotlight with Tyler is the host and head judge Nadya Hutagalung, fashion director and judge Daniel Boey, and model mentor Joey Mead King.
"The American version has been well branded for 10 years now. Known internationally, people love or hate the show, but they definitely know about the show," he says.
"One thing I talked to Tyra Banks [about], and she expressed it herself, is that the US version is more fashion entertainment, while in Asia's Next Top Model, we really want to find an Asian girl who we can groom and develop to become a top model."
As a talented and visionary lensman, Tyler is an invisible hand supporting Asia's new faces in the global fashion scene, by capturing the beauty of rising Chinese models, including Liu Wen, Feifei Sun, Xiao Wang and Kiki Kang.
"There are other Top Model versions around the world, but for Asia's Next Top Model, it is the only one that's very encompassing. There are so many nations. The sizes, the scales of it are huge. Tyra is very excited about it and I am sure people will be excited about the show as well," says the judge.
Set to premiere tomorrow (available in Thailand on satellite TV, Channel 8), Asia's Next Top Model's first cycle is comprised of 14 finalists from 13 countries in south, southeast and east asia.
"There are two girls from Thailand, and all I can say now is that they are going to make this show very interesting," says Tyler. Representing Thailand for the first season are 26-year-old Jessica Amornkuldilok and 19-year-old Monica Benjaratjarunun.
"It is a good chance for you to root for your own country, so stay tuned," he adds with a smile.
About the author
- Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer