b. 1948 Detroit, MI
d. 2015 Palo Alto, CA
Leo Antony Gleaton was born in Detroit on Aug. 4, 1948. His father, Leo, was a police officer; his mother, the former Geraldine Woodson, taught school. In the late 1950s the family moved to Los Angeles, where Tony graduated from high school. He enlisted in the Marines and served in Vietnam; when he returned, in the early 1970s, he enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, where his interest in photography was sparked. He also attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and the University of California, Berkeley, though he never earned a bachelor’s degree. He spent three years in New York, working as a photographer’s assistant in the fashion industry and taking pictures for Details and other magazines before deciding that there was more meaningful work elsewhere. He was in his early 30s, and he began hitchhiking, ending up in Nevada, where he took pictures of Native American ranch hands and black rodeo riders. Plumbing the culture of nonwhite cowboys, he traveled to Texas, Colorado, Idaho and Kansas; his show “Cowboys: Reconstructing an American Myth” appeared in galleries in Oklahoma, Nevada and California. His years of traveling and photographing in Mexico began with an interest in Mexican rodeo.
“One of the interesting things about Tony was that he could do more with less,” Bruce Talamon, the executor of the Tony Gleaton Photographic Trust, said in an email. “By that I mean as we live in a time of celebrity photographers with big budgets, and untold numbers of assistants and stylists, Tony would have a small bag with one medium-format camera, one lens, $5 in his pocket, and a few rolls of Tri-X film. “He always shot in available light. He could find beautiful light everywhere he went.”
For his trips to Mexico and Latin America, Mr. Talamon said, Mr. Gleaton “would buy a one-way ticket on a Greyhound bus.” “These were self-financed trips. And because he was on a budget, he had figured out that there was always a spare bed at the village church, and that was good for at least five days. He would offer to work for meals and then, based on the priest’s introductions, he would start to photograph, staying for a few weeks, and then he would return home with magic.”