DiStill Life

It’s so hard to work when you’ve got traveling on the mind. Trust me, I know. As I type these words I’m anticipating my trip to Tulum, Mexico. So since (margaritas, white sand occupying the brain) I’m worthless, let’s hear from Tahoe City–based photographer Ryan Salm, who’s got this whole work/travel thing down pat — so much in fact that he’s made a living of doing just that.

When I caught up with him in late January, Salm had some work showing at North Tahoe Arts’ ‘Winter in the Sierra’ exhibit (check it out through Feb. 28), Fat Cat Café, and Dragonfly (starting mid March), and had just achieved a lifetime goal of getting published by Patagonia; see page 43 of the current Heart of Winter catalog for his image of Kings Beach climber Kit Wolverton.

Moonshine Ink: What came first for you, the photography or the world travel? Ryan Salm: Probably travel. My family used to go on month-long road trips, so that was the initial pull. I was always a bit of a dreamer growing up. My urge to travel really came from watching ‘Indiana Jones’ and reading National Geographic. I’m shaped by images and video clips.

MI: What was your first ‘real’ camera? RS: A Minolta Maxxum. My dad gave it to me to take to New Zealand, where I was studying abroad. When I brought the pictures home from that trip, that’s when people said, ‘You should do this.’ So I did.
MI: For those who don’t know you, can you describe your work cycle? RS: I’ve been in a year-and-a-half cycle of late, where I travel (typically anywhere from three to six months), then return and do a few slideshows around the country documenting my journey, then gather more stock and fine art photos at home, then travel again.

MI: Fine art photography is a big aspect of your portfolio. How do you approach a shot with a fine art eye? RS: I look for compositions and subject matter that are both unique and beautiful. A fine art shot has to have all elements perfectly lined up: subject, color, feeling, and lines. This needs to be a shot of inspiration, something that is timeless.

MI: How many countries have you traveled to? RS: It’s in the lower 40s now.
MI: For many, travel is an escape. What does the act of traveling mean to you? RS: It’s getting out of my element — and accepting it. For me, that’s living. My philosophy on it is that you should spend at least three to four months anywhere. It takes three weeks to get rid of any longings for home, functioning toilets, etc, and sometimes two to get over the diarrhea, typhoid fever, or whatever. After three or so weeks in, that’s when I hit the euphoric high of traveling. I’m in my zone, most out of my element, and as a result, take the best photos.

MI: Why is documenting all this through photography so important to you? RS: A good photo to me is as good a time as anything; that’s what I’m jonesing for. But I try to play first and work second. If they overlap that’s great, but truly living, being true to one’s self, is what brings on great photo opportunities.
MI: Do you have a favorite travel destination, photography wise? RS: I think for every photographer, it’s India. Any direction you look is a photo. The beauty, the color, the history, while at the same time there’s the dirt and grime and awfulness of it. But there are many other countries I like to photograph just as much; India is just a mix of it all.

Sometimes it’s nice to photograph in a place that is not so over-stimulating. Mongolia is a favorite.

MI: Do you have any photography tips for those traveling? RS: Pack light. Bring more photo gear than anything else. And smile. I often go in with a good vibe, and typically get the shot. … I’ve been punched and had rocks thrown at me, too.

MI: I hear you’re off to South Africa soon. Do you have a grand photography plan? RS: Well, I always pick a destination with photography in mind, and it’s usually on a whim, inspired by something small I’ve seen that strikes me. Like when I was in Myanmar in 2005, I happened upon a book on Nagaland tribes, in northeast India. I planned a five-month trip based on getting there. Rarely do I go straight to a destination.
With South Africa, it’s based on photographing the World Cup, but I’ll be traveling to Ethiopia, and who knows where else, first. All I know is my return ticket is on July 13.

For more information, visit ryansalmphotography.com. Salm also shoots weddings, kids’ portraits, home interiors, sports, and more.

~ Keep up with Lis and her coverage of the arts at blanksmith.com.