35mm Fun: Ryan Madison

Grolsch Canvas

We first came across Ryan Madison’s amazing photography on his Instagram, where his blend of exciting street photography and clean visuals completely blew us away. We quickly asked Ryan to send us more of his work, and the photos he sent over highlight a unique talent for finding and beautifully capturing the fascinating characters and landscapes that surround him. We spoke to Ryan about creating stories with his photography and keeping hungry for more.

Hi Ryan. Where are you from, where are you based and what do you do outside of photography?

Hello! The name’s Ryan Madison and I am currently based in Baltimore, Maryland. When I’m not making photographs I’m matting and framing my work for clients and private collectors who contact me, shooting an occasional wedding or two, playing pick up soccer/football, and working on the side to fund my artistic endeavours.

When did you begin shooting, what made you start and what has driven you to continue?

I took a black and white film photography class in high school because my soccer coach was the teacher and I thought it would be an easy A. What I didn’t know was that I was going to fall in the love with photography. Originally I bought a camera after I graduated high school to start documenting my life and experiences, but then it became a path and I’m interested to see where it takes me.

What do you shoot on?

The kind of camera never really mattered to me, but rather the person operating it. Nothing more insulting than a person telling you that your camera “takes” great photographs. So I usually say, “film and digital” when people ask me what I shoot with because I hate the question. Even low quality cameras have their place if the situation calls for it.

Finding a good street photography camera however, is definitely is more of a challenge especially if you don’t want to be noticed. Though as the world of digital photography starts to shift more and more into a mirrorless realm, less threatening cameras with professional quality have begun to infiltrate my arsenal. Right now the three main cameras I’ve been using for street are, my most recently acquired Fuji X-100T (digital), Nikon F3 (film) with a eye level and top-down viewfinder, and a Ricoh GR21, which was a gift from a customer at an Italian restaurant I currently work.

And as for my favourite camera, I would undoubtedly say that title belongs to the Mamiya RZ67. It was the kind of camera you couldn’t wait to pick up and make images with - plus the sound and feel of the shutter exposing was more gratifying than I can put into words; it made me a better photographer.

Over what span of time were these photos taken? What makes them stand out from your other shots?

All of these photos were made within the past year, and future me looking back a year later will probably hate them all, which I almost in a way feel is a good thing. It keeps me hungry for more as I’m never completely content with the images I make. Though I do think these images, particularly the street shots, have something real and raw to them that allow the viewer to feel like you’re really there. Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” and I try to think about that every time I shoot street. 

We really like your photos of people on the street. Are they strangers or people you know? How important do you think it is to capture characters that you might otherwise ignore?

Most people I photograph on the streets are strangers. I don’t talk to everyone and generally like to go unnoticed for the most part, even though sometimes it’s impossible. And other than documenting the human condition, which I think is important in a historical standpoint, there’s something extremely addictive about creating a scene/story out of seemingly nothing - almost like a game in real life and real time and to be honest I do it for me - it makes me feel alive. You never know who you’re going to meet or what’s going to happen out there.

How do you think your work is affected by sharing it online?

The internet is a great tool for promotion and the more people who view my work the better. It’s also nice to read comments from people all over the world, even though it may not be the in-depth praise or criticism I look for, particularly on Instagram, but the fact that my image invoked a reaction, good or bad, and prompted a response is very complimentary. I do think it is important to note that viewing images in person is much more rewarding than on a screen.

What, if any, would you consider to be the perfect shot?

Oh I don’t know, that’s tough. I don’t think there’s such thing as a perfect shot, or anything perfect for that matter.

Is there anyone you’d like to shout out?

Yeah definitely. My parents for sure, they’ve always supported me. My friend Amir out in Arizona: one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, my mentor David Taylor and my two of my senior year teachers: Serge Levy (graduate) and Rebecca Najdowski (visiting artist) at the University of Arizona as they pushed me to be a better photographer.

See more from Ryan:

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