I don’t even remember how I came across Ryan’s photography. I think one of us had emailed the other and had a mutual admiration for what the other was doing. At the time we first made contact, I was shooting at least a show or two per week and posting the photos on my site (then Jeans And A T-Shirt). Since switching everything over to this site, I have yet to post all of those archives. I’m in the process of putting things in albums. In any event, Ryan recently launched his new portfolio site and I had a chance to have a conversation with him earlier this week. He also gave me a few photos to use that aren’t on his site.
Brad Barrish: So, what are you listening to right this moment? Make something up if you aren’t listening to anything.
Ryan Schierling: i just downloaded some stuff from John Vanderslice’s site, his remixes of cellar door.
RS: Prior to that, it was Sean Nelson’s ‘Nelson Sings Nilsson.’
BB: Is he one of the Nelson brothers? You know, the Ovation acoustic guitar-playing twins from the umm…. was it the 80s? 90s? I have no idea…
BB: I don’t even remember the song…
RS: Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger, formerly of The Long Winters and now of Sean Nelson and His Mortal Enemies.
BB: Harvey Danger… Very underrated…
RS: He’s got HD back together, for the most part, and they’re going to be recording again soon…
BB: That’s awesome to know. I like them. Great pop lyrics
RS: Indeed. One of the many great reasons to be living in seattle right now.
BB: What are the others? Is the sun shining?
RS: Ha! it is… I just finished up with the shots from the Capitol Hill Block Party, and it was in the low 90s for two days straight while i was doing that. Summers here are amazing, but you didn’t hear that from me
BB: Wow. How was that show? You mentioned in an email you got beat up a bit at the show and were nursing some bruises.
RS: i just chose a spot to shoot from that was… not what i expected. I figured front and center for the Blood Brothers set was where I needed to be to get what I wanted. And I got what i wanted. I just paid for it with a few kicks to the back of the head and a pinched nerve in my back. I’ve never wanted out of a crowd after three songs so badly in my life. I’m not 19, anymore, you know. I’d be more upset about it if i hadn’t gotten any decent photographs, but you have to think about shooting a bit differently when you’re smashed up against the stage like that. For a few shots, i thought about putting the flash on for a little fill… but i figured it would end up being snapped off, so i didn’t.
BB: What do you shoot with?
RS: I’m using a Nikon D100 right now for most of my live music shots. I do have a Contax Rangefinder that i love – the lenses are the sharpest of anything i’ve ever used. There’s a Canon demi half-frame camera that i’m neglecting.
BB: do you have formal training?
RS: You mean college of some sort? No. I started shooting in high school and was a pre-photojournalism major at University of Kansas. I was impatient, and ended up leaving after the first year.
BB: Ah, Kanas… Was that our original connection? I can’t even remember.
RS: Possibly… Remind me again?
BB: I went to KU as well. I lived in Lawrence for 5 years 93 – 98, DJed on KJHK and ran a little indie label called Barber’s Itch.
RS: i missed you by a couple of years. i left in 1991. Did you ever frequent Rudy’s Pizza?
BB: Of course, nearly every night before I went to The Bottleneck
RS: There’s one in Bellingham now, owned by a couple that worked at the one in Lawrence. They franchised the name for a single location.
BB: Wow. That’s pretty great. I would eat there all the time. I love Lawrence. I have so many amazing memories there. I wish I was photographing shows at that point. I saw SOOO many. I saw Radiohead play the Bottleneck. Probably one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life.
RS: Wow, I can’t imagine them playing at The Bottleneck. I think the last show I saw there was Paw.
BB: I saw Oasis play the bottleneck. Foo Fighters played there before their first album even came out.
RS: Now see, that was a good time to be in Lawrence.
BB: It really was.
RS: I wasn’t shooting music then, and I probably wasn’t going to too many shows, unfortunately.
BB: I don’t shoot much anymore. I’m going to see Earlimart and dios on Saturday and may shoot that, but I just like watching the music. I can’t enjoy shows when I am shooting
RS: It’s the opposite for me. I can’t enjoy shows unless I’m shooting. There have been a few times where i put my camera down because I was just so awestruck by what was going on musically.
BB: You capture moments very well. Both with your music, political stuff and portraits. It’s all really good. What inspires you? I know it’s a vague question…
RS: Music, of course. Anything that’s visual is inspiring, which is an equally vague answer. I love photography in just about every form, and there are so many talented shooters out there that i draw inspiration from. sometimes it’s frustrating seeing the amazing work other photographers are doing, but it’s ultimately inspiring i suppose. I just enjoy seeing people do what they love.
BB: Are you as politically active or motivated as some of your photos suggest?
RS: I don’t have an agenda. I’m politically aware, but when i’m shooting I’m just recording events, moments in time that are important to the participants. How people react to the images isn’t really my concern. It’s important that i’m just there to record a piece of history.
BB: that’s what i was trying to get at… your motivation… but it really just comes down to watching passionate people, no matter what they are passionate about. Or so it seems…
RS: Things that happen to people, moments that they will never forget, moments that might seem small, or large, or whatever. they all make a difference in our lives. I can’t be everywhere I’d like to be, so i just try to capture what I can, when I can. it’s all important in some manner, whether it’s politics or music or a first date or a death in the family.
BB: do you ever get overwhelmed that you can’t be everywhere or shoot everything you see?
RS: I used to.
RS: Now, I just do what I can. I’d always get overwhelmed and it ended up hampering my ability to see the situation for what it was, to document it in a manner that i felt appropriate or respectful, i guess.
BB: Did you figure that out on your own?
RS: Yes. Thanks to working at the paper. i don’t listen to the police-band scanner anymore… Ha ha.
BB: I think that’s an important lesson for anyone doing something creative. Of course photography, film and writing comes immediately to mind.
RS: Creative types… It’s hard to focus sometimes to see projects to fruition. There are so many distractions. You really have to narrow your scope to complete things. But you know, i don’t feel like a creative type. i’m just as easily amused as i am distracted. Thank god for cameras.
BB: I’ve never fancied myself a “creative type.” I mean, I’m creatively inclined, I love art of all kinds, but I think it’s just being human, or at least a conscious human.
RS: THAT’S what makes human beings fun and interesting. creative impulses and how they deal with them.
BB: I’m much more likely to pull out a camera to photograph people that aren’t playing instruments on stage… Just doing their day-to-day…
RS: It’s fun to look at those photos really closely, because you can tell what people are thinking by their body language.
BB: Some of your portraiture is like that. Do you ever feel uncomfortable about getting that close to someone you don’t know?
RS: I don’t ever go into a portrait with guns blazing, so to speak. Most of the images come from talking to someone for a bit, as much time as i can, before i even take the camera out of the bag. Now, there are shots where the subject had no idea I was photographing them, and that’s different. that’s more of a grab shot.
BB: Wow, so you engage these people in dialogue before they even know you want to pull a camera out? Are you ever just satisfied with the dialogue?
RS: No. Ha. If someone’s that interesting, I’m definitely going to have to photograph them. There have been people that have declined though, and I respect that.
BB: Maybe you don’t even think about it, but is your camera an excuse or a tool to talk to people you wouldn’t normally talk to?
RS: Definitely. I’ll see people now that have no idea who I am unless they see my camera. It’s kind of odd.
BB: Surely you must enjoy that on some level though, even if it is just ego…
RS: Maybe. I do enjoy talking to people that I really wouldn’t have any other reason to talk to. It’s kind of weird to walk up to strangers on the street and strike up a conversation. They think you’re psychotic. But if you’ve got a camera, there’s more of a purpose there.
BB: I think the world would be a much better place if people just went up and started talking to people…
RS: Maybe we’d understand where we’re all coming from a bit better.
BB: I think so…
BB: Who has been your favorite subject?
RS: It’s always the next one… I have enjoyed photographing local bands, and getting to know them better.
BB: Is there anyone in particular that you’d just want to follow around for a week or two and just document that time?
RS: Ha. I’d love to do that with just about everyone. Hmm. In particular, I’d like to shadow Ben Gibbard. John Roderick. Ben Lashes. There are tons more, I’m sure.
BB: Who are you shooting next?
RS: Next. Tomorrow night is something, I don’t know who… four bands. Friday night is the Hives.
BB: Oh man… they are so fantastic. The whole band is pretty animated and so much fun to shoot. I was just looking at some photos I shot of them over the weekend.
RS: That’s what’s fun about this… shooting four bands you’ve never heard of and then going to shoot a band that everyone’s dying to see. I can’t wait.
BB: I can’t wait to see the photos.
RS: It’s great – I’ll probably have just as much fun tomorrow night as I will at the Hives show. I just love shooting bands, really, no matter who they are.
BB: It’s cool to hear that you get so excited about shooting. Are you as happy as you sound?
RS: Very much so.
BB: Well, that’s a lot more than most people can say.
RS: Talk to me in a few months when i’m out panhandling for rent.