From The Archives: Ryan Reason, Photographer
Interview and Photography by Jorge Lara Santiago
VIMMAG: First off, How are you? And how did you spend your New Years?
RYAN REASON: I'm doing great man, thanks for asking. I can't remember the last time I had a bad day, my life is really blessed.
My New Years celebration was a little different than I expected this year. We had a big party here at the Arts Factory for NYE, but the production company who threw the event has a clientele that I usually try to avoid. Our studio was filled with 300+ people who probably have the first season of Jersey Shore on DVD. I stayed in Wes' apartment most of the evening enjoying conversation and cocktails with a few close friends. Memorable evening, but mostly because of how surreal it was.
VIMMAG: Thank you once again for letting me interview you for VIM. One of my biggest inspirations for starting VIM is Andy Warhol. He started Interview Magazine which featured intimate conversations between artists musicians, and creative thinkers in late 60's New York. Is there a photographer or artist who has inspired you?
RYAN REASON: I'm honored you asked me to be a part of VIM, thanks for including me. I would say the artist that I first noticed at a young age and inspired me was the work of Keith Harring. His street sensibility and drive, as well as his very distinct aesthetic and ability to communicate his message in simple characters was something that really resonated with me. Later, the gorilla tactics of Shepard Fairey's OBEY campaign really opened my eyes to how art can used to force people to pay attention, and that you don't need permission from anyone to do it. As far as photographers, the portrait work of Annie Leibovitz is a huge influence in my work and her mastery of light and subject still keeps me in awe. As a kid, I would flip through Rolling Stone issues studying the portraits and I was quickly able to recognize her work instantly.
VIMMAG: Being a native Las Vegas resident, what do you think has changed most about this city? Anything that has caught you particularly by surprise?
RYAN REASON: The fact that we have an Arts District and a thriving, growing, cultural community Downtown is not only the thing that has changed the most about this city, but it's also what still catches me by surprise nearly every day. As a kid growing up here, I believed I would have to move away to another city like San Francisco or LA or Seattle to find the things I was looking for in my life. Fate being what it is, I never moved away, and then began to notice things starting to develop here. I remember coming to the first Gobbledegook event here at the Arts Factory in 98-ish (which was a precursor to the First Friday festivals) and thinking it was amazing that art and music and poetry had taken over a street in Las Vegas. Slowly but constantly, I've watched this cultural movement take hold and grow in a city that still has a reputation as being completely devoid of culture. And in the last three years it has exploded in way I never dreamed of, I'm blessed to be a part of helping the movement along. Now a days I would say I'm surprised to run into people who still don't know or haven't been to First Friday or even to Downtown. I mean, I know I'm surrounded by it constantly, so my perception is biased, but man people, leave your house once in a while! Get out and explore what your city has to offer you. There are so many talented people working so very hard to battle the misconception of what Las Vegas actually is at it's core. I believe out artistic community will have the national attention it deserves long before the masses of our valley actually understand what is happening here. But that's okay, we'll be around to show them all the good stuff they've been missing.
VIMMAG: You discovered photography at age 10, do you still remember the first photograph you took and what was that experience like?
RYAN REASON: I do. It sounds silly now, but my parents gave me a basic Pentax 35mm camera and bunch of black and white film for my birthday. I took it around my house and just clicked things and shapes that I thought were interesting because I wanted to see what it looked like in black and white. When I got the film back, the image from this experiment that really struck me was a birds-eye-view close-up of a sprinkler head that was in the middle of my front yard. You have to remember, this was back in the day when sprinklers were made of metal, and the name brand was in raised letters around the top of the fixture. The way the shadows of those letters fell, and the interweaving blades of grass around it, completely reduced to levels of gray, made this common object seem like art to me. For years after, I would only shoot in black and white film because I believed that you could shoot anything that way and it would be far more meaningful and artistic.
VIMMAG: You created images for the popular Suicide Girls. How was that venture like?
RYAN REASON: When I first started to take my aptitude for photography really seriously, I serendipitously ran into an SG model who was new to town and was looking for a photographer for her next series on the website. I'm a big believer in grasping on to opportunities that fall in your lap, so I took our encounter as a sign I was moving in the right direction. The thing about SG is that you have to provide a series of 40 - 50 images that tell a story along the way. This really forced me to be creative in finding poses and story telling in a single scene to deliver that many images of a quality that is going to be compared to other photographers across the country who are doing the same thing. I was really proud of that first series and considered having my work featured on the SG site to be a huge accomplishment. That first one led to another four models who wanted me to put together series for them as well that year. I learned so much about perspective, lighting, and story telling by doing these series and the experiences really helped shape my aesthetic. Plus, really, what's better than having really beautiful ladies taking off their clothes for you?
VIMMAG: You've been featured in 944, Vegas, and Seven Magazine. What is the question you seem to be asked the most?
RYAN REASON: This might be a little misleading. I actually haven't been featured in any publications yet, but my photography work has. When magazines call, the only thing they ask me is 'are you available to shoot this dude at this place on this date?' The answer is always yes.
VIMMAG: In 2011, you completed three different art shows, any plans yet for 2012?
RYAN REASON: Those three art shows that I did last year with my 'sister' and fellow photographer Jenn Maupin-Burkart were really the highlights of my year, especially our first one 'Pinfluence'. That was really the fruition of a life long dream: to have an art show, with a great opening party, of work that I created simply because it made me happy to create it in the first place.
At the moment, I'm putting the finishing touches on my heart for the St. Jude's Children Research Hospital. This is the second year they have delivered a blank four foot by five foot ceramic heart to local artists for them to create on. Once the hearts are completed, they are put on display around the valley as public art to raise awareness and money for St. Jude's. I am completely honored that they asked me to be a part of the event this year, and I've enjoy the very puzzling task of figuring how to apply what I do on this giant, and awkwardly shaped, canvas. The unveiling event will take place at The Smith Center's Symphony Park on March 30.
Other than that, James Henninger and I have been playing with the idea of doing a collaboration project together this year, which I think will really be incredible. I am a huge fan of his work and can't wait to see how he can take my portraits as inspiration for his unbelievable painting style. Keep an eye out for this show later this summer.
VIMMAG: The poetry scene this past year in Vegas has seen a tremendous growth. There is almost a poetry venue for each day of the week. I would have to say one of my favorites is Painters and Poets at The Arts Factory. As the Creative Director at the Art Factory, what has been your reaction to seeing all these poets performing at the patio at Bar + Bistro?
RYAN REASON: Again, like all of the artistic and creative elements that have really take off in the last three years around Las Vegas, the poetry scene here is exploding. I love personal, creative expression in all of it's forms and nothing is more personal than poetry. The people who are leading this specific movement, yourself included, are some of the most determined individuals I have met in the Las Vegas culture scene. I love the Painters and Poets Jam, as well as the monthly Talky Trees events we hold here at the Arts Factory and believe they are quintessential in what the Arts Factory contributes to the Las Vegas public. Every time I attend one of these events, I witness a magical moment take place on that stage. Be it a performance that moved me personally, or seeing someone in the audience who would never think of reciting a poem or painting suddenly get up and become a part of the evening's entertainment. Where I'm from, that's magical.
VIMMAG: What are you currently listening to?
RYAN REASON: I love music, it's been a passion I've had for as long as I can remember and I'm constantly looking for something new I've never heard before. My newest obsession is a group called 'Listener', which I would highly recommend, to poets especially. Their music has been described as Talk Music and the unique quality is the spastic and twitchy lead vocalist who stumbles his poetry over a bed of music that some how fits and collides all at the same time. They have been out for a while, but I just discovered them in the past few months, and I can't get enough of their work. Really next level stuff.
VIMMAG: You are married to Kathryn Bruce-Reason, owner of The Enchanted Florist floral boutique. How did the two of you meet?
RYAN REASON: We met just after high school. which I can assure you was quite a long time ago now. I literally saw her across a room and made my way over to introduce myself, to which she quickly told me to fuck off. I found out later it wasn't me, but she was having a really bad day and if not for my timing, she would never have been so rude. Luckily, we had a few friends in common, so we kept running into each other over that summer, and by October I had charmed her enough to get her to agree to a date. We've been together ever since.
She is an truly amazing woman. Her tireless hustle and determination in her life and business is a constant fountain of inspiration for me. And honestly, everything I do is just to avoid looking like some lazy dude she was unlucky enough to marry. I've spent more than half my life with her at this point, and would be completely lost without her.
How's that for a sappy hopeless romantic answer?
VIMMAG: I use to love reading Rolling Stone as a kid, the magazine has changed a lot since then, including its current smaller size. Any other magazines that you have enjoyed? I use to love this 90's magazine called Ray Gun. It morphed print with photography in a way that no other magazine had before, making the layouts themselves an art form.
RYAN REASON: I remember Ray Gun as well, great stuff. Rolling Stone was big for me as a kid, and I would say I flipped through a lot of National Geographic and Thrasher Magazine at that time as well. Now, I've been hooked on Juxtapoz and Hi-Fructose for a few years, which are really great publications featuring this-minute contemporary art and artists. I guess my taste in magazines is really all about the pictures, now that I think about it.
VIMMAG: Having volunteered recently for First Friday and in the past having helped with the 18B Music Festival, I've seen the behind the scenes work it takes to organize and bring to fruition such events. It takes a lot of passion to do what has to be done. What would you like to see in the years to come at the Arts Factory? Where do you see it in the next 10, 15 years?
RYAN REASON: It's a lot of work to put on the events we have here at the Arts Factory. A lot. I'm not sure if most people realize it's usually just Wes and myself who run around getting everything ready for these things. We both do it because we love it. I know I do it out of a feeling that I am helping to make Las Vegas a better place by hosting events that you can't really find anyplace else in our valley.
VIMMAG: What does the future hold for the Arts Factory?
RYAN REASON: I imagine ten years from now the building will be a recognized institution in Las Vegas, not only for locals, but for tourists looking for something different out of their vacation. To get there, we will need a bigger staff capable of handling the marketing, promotional and planning needs
required of a unique facility like this one. Wes and I do our best, but to live up to it's full potential, it simply will take more man hours to make it possible. I'm a big fan of Burgmont Station in Santa Monica, and I see the Arts Factory and the other business in our neighborhood becoming an attraction of the same scale and interest.
VIMMAG: Shooting in black and white does give things an avant-garde look. Sort of reminiscent of Anton Corbin and the early videos he did for Depeche Mode. Is there anyone that you have been wanting to photograph? If you had a wishlist, who would be the top five?
RYAN REASON: You know, I'm not much into pop culture, so I don't know if my wishlist would really be recognizable to most people. All my heroes are local cultural icons, underground hip hop artists and professional wrestlers. Although, that being said, Scarlett Johansson is pretty damn hot. I could make some serious pretty with that.
VIMMAG: I do appreciate photos that seem to tell a story. Each photo being a representation or another chapter in the life of an individual. The possibilities are endless in what you can dream and produce. If you had to shoot Las Vegas from that perspective, where would you start?
RYAN REASON: It's funny you should mention shooting Las Vegas, because that's exactly what I did for my St. Jude's Children Research Hospital. My title of the piece is "You Can't Spell Love Without L.V.", and my objective was to highlight the unique characteristics of this beautiful city, both the well known symbols and little know gems. I'm proud of the way it turned out, and the wide variety of icons and structures I captured that make up who we are as a community.
VIMMAG: So when people actually meet you and then realize what you photograph, they put one and one together, at least that is what I did, having never realized that it was you taking those photographs for the magazines, I was like wow, he's the one who took that. It kind of adds a different layer to a photograph knowing who is behind the lens, but in a way it also takes away from the mystery of it all.
RYAN REASON: You're right, most people who know me probably only think of me as that guy at the Arts Factory', but I'm sure most of them don't realize that my work around here is more of a labor of love than a job. My real profession is a commercial photographer, which is how I actually pay my bills, and is a real blessing in my life.
But I like those moments when you see someone's name that you know in print. I always have to read the full article when I see a name I recognize as the subject, or writer or photo credit. I think it's like cheering on the accomplishments of your friends and neighbors, that's fun. I disagree with Morrissey, I like when my friends becomes successful. And I would hope my friends like the same for me.
VIMMAG: I am looking forward to your collaboration with James Henninger. He is always a delight to see at Painters and Poets, where you can usually find him live painting and creating his next work of art. It is amazing to see that process live. What other Las Vegas painters are you fond of?
RYAN REASON: For me, I really like Jerry Misko's work. I think both his persona and his art really embody everything that Las Vegas is in a very literal way. He and his art are Mr. Vegas through and through; friendly and outgoing, as well as arrogant and flashy in some slightly off-putting way. I also am a big fan of Joseph Watson, well before I knew he was a Vegas based artist, let alone a tenant of the Arts Factory. His crowd scenes are so rich and detailed, and his portrayal of urban landscapes perfectly represents an original voice in art to me. Justin Favela and his ability to work in cardboard and paper mache really inspires me. Jennifer Henry and her cellophane dresses is really impressive in it's uniqueness and it's ability to creatively turn art into commerce. KD Matheson is always so visually stunning in both his canvas and sculpture creations. JW Caldwell, Gina Quaranto, Juan Muniz, 3 Baaad Sheep, Luis Varela-Rico; I could really do this all day, there are so many very talented creative people with really original voices working in our art scene now. It's an amazing time in the history of Las Vegas.
VIMMAG: The Arts Factory houses one of Las Vegas' hidden gems I think in Hillary Salon. I remember visiting them at their previous location and Michael and Hillary have always been an enthusiastic couple who have always loved to express themselves through their location and work. What has their addition meant to the Arts Factory? And what do you think of the other art galleries inside of the Arts Factory?
RYAN REASON: You're right, Michael and Hillary are a great addition to the building. They are truly interested in Las Vegas and making Downtown a better place through promotion and involvement in the events that happen here.
The variety of people and galleries that make up the Arts Factory is what makes this building so great. Whether you are talking about those who have been around longer than I have, like Trifecta Gallery, Blue Sky Yoga, the CAC, or new places like Hellpop! Comics and Happy Panda Toys, this building really does have something to offer everyone. I'm really proud to just be a part of it.
VIMMAG: This past year was a great year for performance slam poetry and in the past I have served as a judge, grading the performance of the poets on a scale from 1 to 10. My dream has always been to invite local art enthusiasts and visionaries like yourself to come and be a guest judge at one of the local slams. There would be five judges, each one representing a different part of the local art scene. Who would be your dream judge panel?
RYAN REASON: Well, I would have to include myself on this panel, because that's the kind of egoist I am. So after that, if I'm creating a list of representatives from our local culture, I would choose Erik Amblad from the theater the community, RJ Reynolds for poetry, Alex Huerta from the painter world, and Kid Meets Cougar to represent our music scene.
RYAN REASON is General Manager / Creative Director of The Arts Factory and Photographer/Studio Manager of Studio West Photography