What does the world look like through Ryan’s lens? Big, free, full of loud rock and roll and roaring engines. A photographer based in Grand Rapids, but beholden to nowhere.
His studio entrance is lined with charred guitars, disco balls and American flags. Based out of the back of a motorcycle shop, Ryan looks out at me over the railing of his lofted office, gazing over his studio like a bird of prey scouts its next meal. His intensity is immediately detectable, but his warmth is what invites you in, making you feel as though you’ve been friends since day one. One of my favorite photographers, not to mention go-to guys to get me stoked on damn near everything, Ryan Pavlovich is on the prowl.
“So, what’s this thing you’re doing?” he asks.
“The clientless world?” I answered.
I tell him. And his eyes light up.
“Yeah man. I dig that. It’s a funny mix. Like, you know in the back of your head you’ve got to have clients. Because that’s what gives you the money to do the personal stuff. To get into that world of, like, it doesn’t matter what I do. I don’t think you can get fully immersed into that world, like ‘I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna explore this thing,’ until you feel mental comfortable with where you’re at in Client-Land.”
What is Client-Land for the studio right now?
Client-Land for me is the area of work where you’re being guided. Not in a bad way always, but maybe not in a way you would typically go. Client-Land right now is a mix of commercial clients I’ve been working with for years. Luckily, there is a great trust and relationship with most that allow me to experiment in my work to keep it exciting.
What work is getting you stoked?
The work I’m the most stoked on right now is really lifestyle based. I’m loving shooting with natural light, less equipment, and production and just going out and creating beautiful images.
What is Keep Living in five words?
Adventure, Life, Friends, Moments, and Seeing.
Talent or Hard Work?
Both – I don’t think talent comes without hard work and I believe that you’ll get places with a good mix of both but only having one just means you need luck. Or you sucked the dick of the right dude. Haha, don’t print that.
When you’re not inspired you…?
When I’m not inspired, I typically will get on the bike or get in a car and drive. No destination, no reason for anything other than it clears my head. When I’m driving, I can see things more clearly, and probably because I’m only getting quick glimpses of what’s around me, it allows me to add my own vision to what I’m seeing so it gets my head thinking in new ways.
Are you hungry?
I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been. Seriously man, I’m a skinny dude; I need a sandwich or something. Seriously though, I’ve never been more focused on where I’m going with my work and I’m super excited about it!
How do you balance your work and your life?
I try to balance work and life by having as much fun with both as I can. I did the “I hate work” game for a while and it sucked. I vowed not to do it again because it made me a miserable person. Every time I see myself getting there, I step away for a bit and try to come back refreshed.
Advice to young photographers, creatives, hooligans?
Advice to young photographers, creatives, and hooligans: Keep pushing, creating, and causing a ruckus. Once you’ve reached that goal, find a new one and go after that harder than you did the last!
Describe your process in 5 words.
Raw, Creative, Full, Life.
What’s on the stereo?
Oh man… Lately the stereo has been on Black Rebel Motorcycle’s new record – different but really sweet! The Blakes, Interpol, and Bombay Bicycle Club.
What puts sugar in your gas tank?
Sugar in my gas tank… Positive people, excited people, and untamed adventure.
What gets you salty?
Salty… People without motivation, and bad drivers…
Who are you collaborating with right now?
I’m currently working with Brandon Satterlee… aka you… of The Forest, and just started working with an amazing video guy Brent French, who plays in a band called The Bangups.
Things seem like they’re about to break for you. How do you feel about that? What’s kept you going to this point? And why do you think people are just now getting into what you’re doing?
Things about to break: This is hard to say and honestly I feel like there’s something big around the corner, but I have no idea what that might be. I’m trying not to focus on it too much, as I’d rather it just come naturally. If something big happens, I hope I’m ready for it, but I know I’ll figure it out or fuck it up either way!
What keeps me going? To this point, the learning process of it all has kept me going. I love that with photography there’s always something new to learn. The second I feel like I know it all I turn my head and go, “well shit now I have to figure that out.” I love the challenges this job brings, as well as the freedoms.
I’m not really sure why people are starting to get into my work more and more lately. The only thing I can think of is that they are seeing that I haven’t given up on my style and that I’ve continued to develop and push my work. It’s a hard thing to do as creatives, and I think anyone that proves themselves over and over will eventually get some small dose of recognition. I think it’s great that people are liking my work, but I’ll be doing what I do either way.
Why Grand Rapids?
Really because I landed here… I’ve grown to really like parts of this city though. There are great people here that are excited about life and willing to try anything. Aside from that, we have just about anything you need around town.
What yoga position would best describe your go-to shooting position.
Yoga… yeah I did a shoot in a hot yoga studio once that was about as close as I’ve come to that world…
I hear you don’t only shoot photos, but guns. You’re a dangerous man.
This is true, I do shoot photos and I do shoot guns. Watch yourself…
A day in the life of Ryan Pavlovich, GO!
AHHHHHH Ok my day… Wake up 6:00am, shower, get dressed, wake my daughter up, get her dressed… always fun… do the quick breakfast thing, and out the door by 7:30 to get her to daycare. From there, I’m either off to a shoot, the studio, or a local coffee shop to do some emailing and editing. Coffee, editing then some calling, linking up with clients or hunting new ones, a bit more editing or researching, then it’s into the shop for a minute of motorcycle work. Head home to do dinner with the family, bedtime routines, then either back to the studio for more work, off to band practice, working on the motorcycles, shooting a local show, or editing and researching from home. Pass out on the couch and repeat…
What bikes are you working on right now?
I’m currently work on a 1972 Honda CL350 brat bike, and a 1973 Yamaha XS650 hardtailed bobber.
What’s the motive for Keep Living?
Keep Living started as a project to keep me motivated creatively. I started it for no other reason than to get off my ass and take images and have new experiences. Since then it has turned into a much more meaningful project that has really shaped the work I’m doing.
My daughter was about to be born. I stepped back and looked around, and realized I was just about to get into that rut that leads to a creative wasteland. You can feel it coming.
I thought, “I can’t do this.” You know? I decided to just carry a camera with me for the next week. Shoot every day. Anything. If I though something looked even remotely cool. Snapshot. I didn’t have any agenda. Any goal with doing anything with these photos. I didn’t even look at them. I just shot. It was just to use the camera. That’s it.
A couple weeks go by, and I’m still doing it. I sat down with Drew Melton. I think I was, like, importing a couple photos. Drew was like, “Woah. What is that?” You know? I brushed it off as just a snapshot or whatever. Drew said, “Go back; that’s a cool shot.” I kept going through them and he asked me what I was doing with this. I’m like, “nothing.”
He really inspired me to just put it on the internet. Not name it anything. Not to announce it. Just to do it for my own sake of archiving it. And I let that happen for probably three or four months. Just shooting constantly, every day. Hundreds and hundreds of shots a day. Not really looking at it. Eventually it turned into this thing, like this strange documentation of my life through random objects. A shot of my shoelace. A cup of coffee. Random stuff. I started to see patterns coming in my work. You start to see a pattern with that much information. That much data. So I started to see patterns in my work. And what I liked to shoot. Shapes, form, texture, certain light, times of day.
Then it started taking on meaning. I’m still experiencing a lot. I’m still out doing a lot of different things, even though I’m about to have a kid. I didn’t want to let that part of my life go. And I didn’t have to. Then I came across the words somewhere, a tag, keep something. I don’t remember. And it clicked. It was just like, “yeah, KEEP LIVING. That’s what I’ve gotta do, keep living, my way, how I see it.” And from there the project turned into this thing thats like, keep living in a way that keeps you excited, creative, anything. It motivates me to not get stuck, in one thing, feeling or place. It has morphed into this sort of mantra to get your ass up. Turn off the computer. Go experience life. It keeps changing. That’s kind of the point, I think. I like that.
How does it impact your commercial work, and visa versa?
Keep Living has really started pushing my commercial work in a much more energetic and free direction. I’m having more fun shooting commercial projects, and getting more creative, which is a direct connection to the Keep Living work.
On the flip side of that, I’ve seen the Keep Living work become a bit more commercial, but it is still holding the original spirit it began with.
Ryan came to me with his project and said he wanted to make a quick and dirty book. Something different. “I have an idea,” I said. So we embarked on our adventure together, united behind the idea that a personal project can keep you moving forward, keep you motivated, inspire you and, most importantly, surprise you.
Keep Living has turned into something neither of us expected. The book recently won an Encore Crystal Award. We went on our first Keep Living Expedition sponsored by Herschel Supply, Rowsters New American Coffee, and John Ruvin Eyewear.
Ryan and I are putting on a show to officially release the book along with a few other surprises.