Q&A with Ryan Russell

Ryan Russell has been a huge name in the live music photography scene for years, and has worked with many bands such as Paramore, My Chemical Romance, Green Day and Blink 182. Today, however, he decided to switch things up a bit and released his first non-music photo book entitled Continental Obscura, documenting his move from Birmingham, Alabama to Bellingham, Washinton (which you can pick up now in the No Sleep Records store.) We had the chance to ask him a few questions about the book, his journey, and the challenges he’s faced as a photographer. Check out the interview below!

What was the inspiration for Continental Obscura? Did you have a favorite place or thing you photographed on your journey?

When I made the decision to move to Bellingham, Washington I knew that I would be documenting the trip for myself through photos, and for a while I’ve been wanting to do something non-music related. With such a big life change happening, plus driving through such beautiful places across the country, it seemed like a perfect time to do a non-music photo book. There were a ton of great spots along the way that I had always wanted to go to, like the Bonneville Salt Flats, which was definitely a stand-out spot for me. I had never heard of Cape Flattery until moving to Washington, but after making a day trip to it after arriving, it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.

 Live music photography obviously is very different from landscape photography. Were there any challenges that you faced making this book that you normally wouldn’t have to deal with while photographing bands or doing portraits?

Timing was the biggest issue in some situations. There are a lot of places that I went to that I would have loved to have visited at a different time of day than I actually went, but with having to be in Bellingham by a certain date, it didn’t leave much room to stay at places that I wanted to along the way. Outside of timing, some of the spots I visited are huge mountain peaks, and it’s not always easy to get the shot you want from a different angle without hiking ten miles to the next peak. Being a BBQ-lover from the South, I don’t think I’m in the best shape to be handling treks like that. Hahaha.

What’s been the biggest challenge and what’s been the most rewarding thing with your work over the years?

The biggest challenge has been weighing the two options of 1) wanting to stick with shooting the bands you know and love, or 2) having to shoot photos of bands to pay the bills. I’m not really one to seek out bands to shoot photos of that I’m not personally a fan of, but if someone in a band, that may not be a particular style that I like, approaches me to talk about doing photos for them, I don’t want to turn them away just because their music may not be my thing. The most rewarding part is being a part of these album artwork projects that will live on way past the band still putting out music or me shooting photos. It’s very fulfilling that 20 years from now someone can buy an album that I shot the cover for and can discover my work that way.

Do you have a favorite band to shoot or work with? Favorite venue you’ve ever shot at?

Working with Paramore has always been the most fulfilling. They’ve never performed a bad show that I’ve ever seen or heard of, and I always have such a great time whenever I am around them. The Tabernacle in Atlanta is probably my favorite venue to shoot at. I’ve been shooting shows there for almost ten years and some of my favorite shots were taken in that venue. 

In the coming years, how would you like your work to grow or change? Do you have anything new you’d like to try?

I’m not really sure how I want it to change, I tend to just let it naturally happen. If you told me 5 years ago that I would be putting out a photo book of nothing but landscape photography, I would have told you that you were crazy. I do know that in future volumes of Continental Obscura, I would like it to be less about my stories and more about other people.

Be sure to pick up Ryan’s book, Continental Obscura now at No Sleep Records!