Leo Antony "Tony" Gleaton is an African American photographer, scholar, and artist who is best known for his photographic images capturing and documenting the African influence in the American West and Central and South America. Gleaton, the youngest son of an elementary school teacher and police officer, was born into a black middle-class family on August 4, 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. In 1959 his mother left his father and moved the family to California. Gleaton played football in high school and briefly at East Los Angeles Junior College before joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967. While on his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he became fascinated with the camera.
After serving in the Marine Corps until 1970, Gleaton returned to California and enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). While there, he took a photography class that revealed his talent of shooting photos. He left UCLA and studied for a semester at the Arts Center School of Design in Los Angeles before venturing to New York to pursue his aspirations of becoming a fashion photographer. Gleaton worked as a photographic assistant and performed other various jobs through the 1970s.
Dissatisfied with the fashion world, Gleaton left New York in 1980 and hitchhiked throughout the American West, photographing cowboys first in northeastern Nevada and then in Texas. He captured the lives of Native American ranch hands and black rodeo riders. His photographic ventures in Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Idaho, and Kansas formed the essence of his project titled Cowboys: Reconstructing an American Myth. This collection featured a series of portraits of African, Native, Mexican, and Euro-American cowboys.
Gleaton’s interest in the multicultural Southwest influenced his travels to Mexico. By 1981 he had begun traveling to and from Mexico, shooting photographs. In 1982 he moved to Mexico City, and from 1986 to 1992, he resided with the Tarahumara Indians in northern Mexico and then moved to Guerrero and Oaxaca. Here, Gleaton began what is now his