Ryan Struck Photographs Adventure with Kodak Aerochrome Film

All images by Ryan Struck. Used with permission.

One of the things I really enjoy doing is follow up interviews with photographers to share how they’ve grown and made themselves into success stories. In the case of photographer Ryan Struck you’re going to have a giant smile on your face. We interviewed Ryan years ago about the lifestyle surfing work he does on the East Coast. The last time I saw him, he packed up and left New York and moved about. He’s back now, and Ryan is showcasing a special project that he did called World & Color. This project showcases his travels to various places and is shot with the elusive Kodak Aerochrome film.

For even more from Ryan, be sure to follow his Instagram.

Phoblographer: The last time we interviewed you, you were here in NYC. But you’ve moved on since then, as we can clearly tell from this series. What have you been up to?

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Ryan: I have been on the road a lot, I’m actually just back from an agency shoot in LA. I still live in New York City, but I’ve been bouncing around a bit here. This is my 3rd year in town and 3rd Borough! Currently I live in Rockaway about a ½ block from the beach. It’s nice to be closer to the ocean and still a short subway ride to the city when I need to be in the thick of it. Mostly I’m on location though. Just this fall I spent 2 weeks in British Columbia directing a documentary about the women’s community in Tofino. From there it was straight to Europe for 3 weeks to shoot stills and video for a pair of wine importers who journeyed through Spain and France sourcing the very best wines in the region. I like to stay in motion, it keeps me fresh and inspired.

Phoblographer: Now, World & Color is a series where you photograph the world in some Kodak Aerochrome film that’s been left over. What made you want to do this project?

Ryan: I first saw this film used in the Congo by a photographer named Richard Mosse. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from photojournalism, and I remember his work there really striking a chord with me. I wasn’t shooting such important work as him, but I was also just a few years into my photo journey at 26 years old. I will admit, I wanted to mimic the effect. The world turns pink! It was beautiful. My good friend Kyo gave me a Bronica medium format camera for the project which truly enabled me to even try shooting Aerochrome. Eventually as I invested in more film to shoot as well as save in the freezer, this project allowed me to see the world differently. It pushed me to think more about what I wanted to say, and made me question what I was doing with my art.

Phoblographer: How do you feel shooting with the film changes your interpretation of the scene as a creative? Some of these images seem very documentary based while others seem like travel images. Did you at any point feel like working with the film was enlightening or a different mindset/thought process?

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Ryan: Oh yeah, it was absolutely enlightening. The more I shot this film, the more questions I had about myself and the world around me. At first it was fun pointing the camera and pressing the shutter at anything green. It changed the landscape, it made colors wildly different… it was exciting! Eventually, I would stare and watch the landscapes I wanted to photograph and ask myself “Is this scene really speaking to me? It is really worth pressing the shutter?” And so many times, I decided that it wasn’t. So many times, I would pull the dark slide, frame up the scene, focus and then not press the shutter. That spoke to me.

“I first saw this film used in the Congo by a photographer named Richard Mosse. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from photojournalism, and I remember his work there really striking a chord with me. I wasn’t shooting such important work as him, but I was also just a few years into my photo journey at 26 years old.”

This film no longer exists, I have a bunch of rolls on ice, but once it’s gone it’s gone forever. Kodak already discontinued it years ago. I’ve stockpiled it in my freezer, much to the dismay of my bank account. From the sheer standpoint of scarcity and value, this film has taught me to be more conservative.

And from the creative aspect it taught me to photograph what is important. To connect with my subject rather than just fire off a ton of images and hope one comes out well. Aerochrome must be technically used correctly. And artistically, I mean, you’ve got to be aiming to tell a story. I’ve casually shot the film at pretty scenes and seriously shot the film with close friends and people I’ve trusted. It’s made it a special way of documenting my lifestyle as well as allowing me to practice the genres of photography via portraiture, documentary, landscape, lifestyle, and travel.

Phoblographer: What cameras and lenses were you using to shoot Kodak Aerochrome? How did they help you in your creative vision?

Ryan: My good friend Kyo Morishima let me borrow his Bronica ETR Si to start shooting this film in 120mm format. About a year later I made sure it was ok I still had the camera, and he said of course it was and told me I could keep it. I nearly cried. I used the 100mm a bit and mostly the 50mm as it gives me a nice wide field of view for landscapes and still keeps things interesting when stepping in closer to my subjects. I find that I love staying wide so the 50mm allowed me the freedom to show the scene as close to our own vision as possible.

Phoblographer: When you went about shooting, you were firstly shooting with film. But then you add on top of that the fact that you’re shooting with a very, very expensive and rare film. When it came to the creative process in your head, what really made you push the shutter so as to not waste it?

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Ryan: The very first roll I loaded up was in Tahiti back in 2012. I went for two months to document a few surfers from the East Coast. We hiked, camped and surfed. I made a few images while I was there and technically missed the mark on that roll. I’m still happy with a few of those images, but I also know a few tricks now that I didn’t know then. I come from a self-taught photography background and I approached this film the same way: trial and error.

Eventually, I would stare and watch the landscapes I wanted to photograph and ask myself “Is this scene really speaking to me? It is really worth pressing the shutter?” And so many times, I decided that it wasn’t. So many times, I would pull the dark slide, frame up the scene, focus and then not press the shutter. That spoke to me.

As I shot more rolls of Aerochrome, I came to really know how to expose the film so it behaved the way I had come to love. It changed skin tone, produced unbelievable colors, and ultimately it altered the way I viewed my surroundings. Once I got past the technical difficulties, I was free to lose myself into the creative flow. I challenged myself with questions such as “Why do I want to make a picture of this scene?” and “What am I aiming to say?” Not only were the stakes high in not wasting the film, money or my time, but the process of shooting medium format film slowed me down so much that any impulsivity in image making was so much more punitive. If I quickly framed up a subject and snapped a picture so as to not miss the moment (or so I thought), focus would be soft or exposure would be way off. Lessons I would learn only after I processed and scanned the film. Heart wrenching, but my favorite way to learn. So I became accustomed to slowing down, and really observing the scene, enjoying the process and ultimately meditating with my work.

Phoblographer: What locations do you feel you shot the film in and absolute, pure magic came out more so than other places? I mean, those images of what looks like LA seem jaw dropping!

Ryan: I found that the more rugged the landscape, the more excited I was to load up my camera with film. Infrared or not, Alaska and British Columbia were some of the more unreal places I have ever visited. The deep green old growth forests are otherworldly, and I felt like I was walking through the pages of National Geographic. I feel speechless trying to describe the natural beauty that Mother Earth proves us insignificant humans.

“I challenged myself with questions such as “Why do I want to make a picture of this scene?” and “What am I aiming to say?” Not only were the stakes high in not wasting the film, money or my time, but the process of shooting medium format film slowed me down so much that any impulsivity in image making was so much more punitive.”

Phoblographer: Do you feel like the completion of this project is a milestone in your career? How so, and what’s next?

Ryan: For what has felt like the longest time, I always thought statements that started with “If only I could just…” and ended with “get that job” or “shoot that photo” I would be happy or feel accomplished. What I’ve come to learn as I pushed forward in my career is that my work is never done. If you told me 5 years ago I’d shoot for Rolling Stone, Land Rover, Patagonia, and Clif Bar in the same year, I wouldn’t believe it. These are all dream clients, and I hope I’ve proved to them I’m worth keeping around. I am forever grateful that such important companies would deem me trusted enough to document their brands, but I’ve never landed a job and thought to myself “I’ve made it!” I have learned nothing in my career will stop me from moving forward or trying something new.

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I definitely feel accomplished with this project World & Color. I’m proud of myself, and I feel fortunate I made something that resonates with people. The untold, unseen stories of my travels are worthy to be published? That’s awesome!

As to what’s next… I never really know with photography and filmmaking. Something beautiful could be around the the next corner or switchback waiting for me to see.

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