A heavily tattooed man with a moustache stands in front of me with a cup of tea in his hand. Behind him are framed photographs that fill the room from wall to ceiling.

While you can tell that he is an artist, what will surprise you is that he is the go-to guy for icons like Charlize Theron and David Beckham. Despite being surrounded by actors and actresses, he was once a struggling actor. His name is Randall Slavin.

Slavin and I chat on Skype about what goes on behind an image, how he got into the business, and the allure of natural beauty.

I read somewhere that you started out as an actor, then you switched to photography. What made you want to pursue it?

I was an actor, but I was struggling. I wasn't working much - just here and there, little things. To make ends meet, I was working at a gas station, pumping gas in Hollywood. Right across from the gas station, there was this photography studio where they did actress' head shots. At the gas station, we used to have binoculars under the counter 'cause there were all these beautiful girls coming in and out of the photography place. We would watch those old photoshoots and pass them back and forth.

I went over there, met with the owner and we got along really well. After we did our photoshoot, he asked, "Do you want to be a photographer?" I was like, "No." He was like, "Do you think you could be good at that?" I was like, "I'm a pretty artistic guy. I can draw and things like that." He hired me on the spot and said, "I need to train someone to sort of do what I do." I worked for him for a few months, and he fired me. So, I'll just take my own pictures and buy my own camera. Instead of using his stuff, I'll do it myself.

I called my acting agent and said, "I don't want to do it anymore." That was 15 years ago.

I can't believe it's been 15 years! You've surrounded yourself with creatives like Michael Stipe, Charlize Theron, and it was good that you've found your calling. I'm fascinated that you did all this without going to photography school. What's it like for you to pick up the tips and tricks along the way?

I wish I had gone to photography school. I wish that I sort of knew a little more technical things. The technical side of photography is a small part of the business. The stuff that I do is the stuff you can teach. I have a crew and assistants that are very good at the technical stuff. It's important to hire great people and surround yourself with great people. It just raises your game if I surround myself with really smart or talented people. I like to surround myself with people smarter than me.

No wonder it always turns out so great! You've worked with people at different career levels like Emily Ratajkowski and Meredith Mickelson, an up-and-coming model who's popular on Instagram. What's it like for you to surround yourself with people like that?

I understand that I'm fortunate in who I get to work with. But I also love shooting people when they're coming up in their career. I get a definite sense and parental pride when I see them doing really well. I get the sense like, "That's my girl!"

I was one of the first people to shoot Lily Aldridge when she was 15. She was so beautiful. We shot her when she was 17, then she was 18, and I ran into her a few weeks ago. For Lindsey Wixson, I shot her when she was very young for her first jobs, ever. People like Emily Ratajkowski and Jasmine Tookes, who is incredible. For someone like Meredith Mickelson, I like shooting them when they're new, young and fresh. Meredith is gonna be a star.

I absolutely feel that!

Yeah! She's a smart girl.

Speaking of the model and actor relationship on the camera, how do you manage to get people to feel comfortable being photographed?

What I try to do is to get the subject whether they're an actor or a model to forget being photographed. I ask questions and get them to relate as a real person as opposed to a photographer. I catch moments when they're not self-conscious about being photographed. I don't care about the answers so much - it's more about them getting out of their head.

That's what I like about you as a photographer - you're willing to approach people as people, not as a celebrities.

There are a few shots that I look back in my life that I think aren't my finest works. By far, I sort of got too caught up in who that person was, and I got a little overwhelmed by the moment and didn't' really separate myself from it. I don't think I did well. I will regret it because the pictures are really weak.

>strong>What's your definition of a weak picture?

A picture that has no grip. A lot of times, we're lucky because we get to shoot fascinating, beautiful people. There's gotta be more to it than just that. People will be seeing them and go, "Those are great". The picture itself is mediocre. My definition of a picture that didn't work is the one that I failed to get something interesting.

Who do you look up to?

My favorite photographers are fashion photographers. I love Glen Luchford and my all-time favorite is Peter Lindbergh.

He's fantastic!

I met him and told him that I've been ripping him off for years. He was very sweet about it. I love Annie Leibovitz; she's done some iconic images. I love her stuff. I love this fashion guy named Javier Vallonrat, who is a Spanish photographer. It's just really beautiful stuff. Richard Avedon is the king. Peter Lindbergh is my king, and I love him so much.

I also have to admit that you have this Chuck Close quality to your portraits. The difference between you and Close is that you have this emphasis on natural beauty. I remember you posted on Instagram where you're like, "Should I do a book about models wearing no makeup?"

That's what I want to do this year is to put together this book because models are so much more interesting without the hair and makeup - when they're really stripped down and raw. That's really going to be a focus.

What inspires you to be so drawn to natural beauty?

It first started years ago with a photoshoot with a model. I saw her first thing in the morning. She had olive skin, dark circles on her eyes and she was so musky, interesting and sexy. She went into the hair and makeup and came out a couple hours later. She looked beautiful, but all the interesting things about her got washed away. I like the feel of skin and think that there's a truth to it that gets washed away when you put the business of beauty on top of it. It's also a great intimacy between the model or actor when there's no makeup or hair person. It's a pure connection between yourself and the subject. I really like that - that's what I'm sort of drawn to, the simplicity of it. There's gotta be a lot of trust when you're shooting something so raw.

You were born and raised in Hollywood, where so many people come to this business from different countries and cities. I remember that Meryl Streep was willing to talk about how Hollywood can't be Hollywood without the diversity. What's it like for you to work with people from different cultures?

The great thing about photography in my business, I think, is that the camera is the key that unlocks so many doors that wouldn't be available to me if I didn't have this thing. That's what I really cherish. When you're talking about cultures, I've travelled to places and seen things only because I have this camera. Not because I earned or belonged in these places. But, I had this thing that gives my presence value. So, I've been able to set time with people, travel to incredible locations and have these incredible experiences. Photography's an incredible key to a box that unlocks so many doors, and that's my favourite thing about it.

I totally agree about that!

I got to experience so many different things that I would not have access to without a camera.

I like how pictures don't always have to be verbal.

I also feel that photography isn't truth. I don't believe that photography can capture so much soul. I believe that I can make you think it does. Photography can make you think you're seeing someone's soul, but you're not really seeing it. You're maybe seeing what I want you to see. I don't think there's any truth to this; it's an illusion that I'm creating, you know.