Whether he’s embarking on cross-country road trips, or photographing portraits that reveal as much about place as they do personality, American photographer Ryan Shorosky has an intimate feel for his home country. Blessed with an understanding of individual cultures and ways of life, he’s set out to communicate them.
It’s a knack which has opened our eyes to hitherto unknown parts of the US many times over. With the backing of editorial commissions from revered publications, Ryan is continuing to do just that. The first is a story for Time magazine, documenting the Navajo Nation’s right to protect Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. The monument, established by Barack Obama in 2016, was initially a sprawling landscape that covered 1,351,849 acres. A year on, Donald Trump had reduced it massively, and controversially, by 85%.
For the piece Ryan was mainly in Monument Valley, in the north of the Navajo Nation and “the experiences from that story in particular were very special as I navigated the process of earning the trust of the Navajo, as a white outsider,” he tells It’s Nice That.
To gain trust and respect, and in turn produce a respectful, truthful story, Ryan’s process was to listen, “really connecting with every individual I met with, which I think has a lot do with the emphasis I put on image making and how important making those connections really is,” he continues. Each image, as a result, is composed and evidently thoughtful. The actual landscape, the object that inspired the story, is made a little ambiguous, often photographed at night and forming just silhouettes. Instead, it’s the people directly affected by Trump’s decision that come into light, possibly a reflection of Ryan’s feeling that “the pictures are secondary at this point to the experiences.”
Another recent commission tells a different story entirely. This time for the Financial Times, Ryan travelled to document the prison crisis in Louisiana last fall, photographing “a handful of individuals who are formerly incarcerated and are now free and learning to integrate back into a society,” he explains. Out of all the stories Ryan’s photographed, this was one that “had the most impact on me,” so much so that it’s led the photographer to expand his practice to include film.
Feeling that the story only said so much through singular images, the subject is now “the centre of my first short film that I’m starting work on in the coming months,” says the photographer. “There’s a grit there, in the environment and individuals, a darkness, that I feel very drawn to explore. And, through intimate connections and a gentle hand with those who have first-hand experience within somewhere like the Louisiana prison system, I think there’s real magic.”
While out on commissioning trips, experiences such as these two have taught Ryan about his own practice, rather than just the job at hand. “It’s that sense of wanting to encapsulate a more intimate connection with story-telling that has driven me beyond just image-making and now into filmmaking and even acting,” he says. “I think there’s immense potential in exploring what exists between reality and fiction. I’m striving to find where exactly all three mediums intersect for myself.”
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