I still remember the first time I heard of Ryan Scott a couple of years ago when he sent his first print submissions to RideBMX. He had two different photos of the same trick, a no-hander on a prefab quarterpipe. Off the top of my head, the ramp might have been four-feet tall and it was that weird tell-tale look of prefab—the rubbery looking black surface with galvanized steel edges—definitely not the factors for a good Focus section photo. But he managed to make not one, but two Focus section worthy photos from that “stock” setup (one ran in the Seasons article, August 2012 issue). And from that point forward, the man with two first names had my attention.
Location: Reading, PA
Years riding: 17
Years shooting: 14
How did you get your start shooting photos?
I took a black and white photography class in high school that initially got me interested in photography. I got my own Minolta film camera because that’s what we shot in my class and it was the only thing I was familiar with. I shot a bunch of nonsense for a while and it eventually led to shooting my friends riding their BMX bikes.
Was there a specific time when photography went from a hobby to a profession for you? Or did it just happen kind of gradual?
It was pretty specific for me. I used to ride a lot more, and would often bring my camera bag along only to leave it in my car because I was having too much fun riding. Then in 2008 I was riding the late night Friday session at the park in Hackettstown, New Jersey, and I compound fractured my right leg. A big concern with compound fractures is the potential for the open wound where the bone broke through the skin to become infected during the healing process. It was a very bad break on it’s own, but then I developed a pretty severe infection in my leg over the next ten days that had me in and out of the hospital daily having tests done to determine if it was under control. It was the scariest thing I’d ever gone through. Once I was in the clear, the doctor admitted to me that I had “dodged a bullet” and he had given me a 50% chance of having my leg amputated below my knee to prevent the infection from spreading. That conversation hit me pretty hard and after that the ratio reversed and I began shooting photos much more than riding.
What’s the BMX scene like where you grew up?
I grew up riding in a small town north of Philadelphia. We had a pretty solid revolving group of people that rode and we built and rode a set of modest trails in the woods near my parents’ house. We started building bigger trails, a few backyard ramps came and went and we started traveling an hour to trails in Allentown and Bethlehem to have our minds blown by what we saw there. I remember we were just floored that people built those trails by hand. Going to places like Catty Woods still makes me feel the same way. Street riding started becoming more popular and my friends and I started going to Philadelphia to ride every weekend and taking trips around the country to ride our bikes at the spots we’d seen in the Road Fools videos.
Living in the outskirts of Philadelphia, how do think your location affects your work? It seems like when the weather is in your favor, you have the burgeoning street scene of Philly, but also some of the best trails in the world nearby, as well…
The winter is always really tough because it brings a lot of my photography and what I like to do with my life outdoors to a stand still. This will likely be my last PA winter for a bit because it’s really not sustainable. When the weather is nice, I couldn’t love it more. There’s a thriving street scene in Philadelphia with a lot of really talented and good people. There are still plenty of guys in the Philly area that I haven’t had a chance to shoot with. Riding trails in PA is the only time that my camera bag gets heavily neglected because I’m having too much fun to stop. Trail builders really are masters of their craft and I’m thankful to have gotten to shoot any photos of people riding the work they’ve created. It would be awesome if everyone reading this could please go to PAwoods.com to donate and help the guys at Catty and Posh cover their insurance costs.
How do you split up your time between riding and shooting?
Unless Dan Conway talks me into something, I’m usually focused on shooting if I’m out with the street guys. It goes back and forth, but I get just as much satisfaction nailing a photo I had in mind as I do pulling something on my bike.
Who are some riders you enjoy shooting with?
I like shooting with anyone who appreciates the photographer/rider relationship and is easy to work with. Dan Conway, Justin Care, BF and Derek Brower come to mind because they’re all humble guys that usually trust me when I tell them something will make a good photo. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but their willingness to collaborate with an idea makes things so much easier.
And who are some riders you’d like to shoot with?
Rich Forne, Corey Martinez, Clint Reynolds, Gary Young, Geoff Slattery.
Where you draw inspiration from? I know you’re a fan of photography books…
I love photographing people, so I’m drawn to reading about it. To me, the greatest sunset photo or landscape ever taken could always be made better with some kind of human element. I’m always inspired by portrait photographers and love reading anything they have to say about their craft. Dan Winters, Gregory Heisler, and Irving Penn are some of my favorites. I don’t care to read much about Fstops and film speeds; I’d much rather hear about how someone interacting with a subject or chose to make an image a certain way.
It seems like you shoot a good deal more than BMX, like your series of on-the-fly portraits of people on the street shot with your Fuji X100S. Tell us a little more about that project.
I started shooting street portraits of strangers a few years ago mostly as an exercise to help myself get better at interacting with subjects. I try to approach people that I think look interesting to me for one reason or another. Shooting photos from across the street with a long lens is an entirely different skill set than engaging with someone and asking them to take their photo. Reactions vary widely. Some people are apprehensive but can be convinced, some just say, “No, thank you.” Some are flattered and a few are offended. It’s surprising how the meanest looking people can be the most willing subjects and vise-versa. Like a lot of other things, I just started doing it because I enjoyed it and then later I looked back and realized I had been shooting a project without knowing it. For a while I had been trying to find an ideal camera to keep with me all the time, and the Fuji X100S ended up being the perfect fit for me. I can keep a camera with me all the time without having to lug around something larger or heavier in a bag, and that contributed heavily to me shooting more street portraits.
What other non-BMX work do you do?
I’ve shot a bit of road bike, mountain bike and running photos for distance races and want to do more. It pays well and is fun to shoot. I’ve shot a lot of other stuff from body builders to weddings to pay the bills, but I’m trying to focus on editorial work and getting more commercial jobs with people on bikes and sneakers right now.
As for video, off the top of my head, you did a section with Justin Care for the Hunt and you also did a feature on our very own Ryan Fudger. How often do you venture into the video world? And is that something you’re trying to do more with?
I did a bunch of smaller BMX edits and then Justin’s Hunt part was the first time really trying to do a full part. Ryan’s piece for thelastpeople.com (RIP) was sort of the guinea pig to start dabbling with that short web documentary genre, and I still really enjoy that. Over the last year, I started working on video project making 10-15 minute documentary pieces on good people that we find interesting under the title The Few and Far. Right now it’s just a project to engage with people and create something for the sake of creating. We’re in the middle of filming a few different ones, but you can check out the first finished piece we did on a tattoo artist named DJ Rose here.
Do you think your photo work outside of BMX can influence and/or help progress your BMX photography as well?
Yes, but I’d say shooting BMX has influenced my other work more. Once you’ve gone through the stress of timing a big barspin photo everything else seems like slow motion in comparison.
Give us a quick breakdown of your gear…
Stills: Nikon D700/D300S with a fisheye, 24-70mm, 50mm, 85mm and 70-200, Fuji X100S, Nikon and Einstein strobes, Pocket Wizards and a variety of soft boxes and modifiers. Video: Canon XA10 and T3i, Sennheiser and Rode mics.
What is one piece of gear on your wish list?
It’s almost time for a new DSLR body, so I’ll probably get a D800 or D3s eventually to replace the D700 as my workhorse. Maybe one day I’ll stop talking about it and finally get a Hasselblad setup.
Do you have any goals or other projects in the works?
BMX and most outdoor activities are limited in the frigid northeast, so I just redid my website and am now working on reaching out to photo editors to try to get more clients outside of BMX. I’ve got some portrait projects scheduled and I’m also filming and editing other video content for The Few and Far.