California Dreamy

California Dreamy

Interview with photographer Ryan Fields

Surfer and ocean-advocate Ryan Fields discusses his photography and how his relationship with the water impacts his creative work

What was your first introduction to photography and videography?

Ryan Fields: My high school had a less-than-ideal art program, but the photography department was different. I took photo and video classes and was lucky enough to have great teachers. My photography teacher was incredibly patient and often challenged us to think of the 'why' behind every photo as well as teaching us the technical aspects. Since I started taking photos in her class, I have stuck with it and knew I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.

Your photos create a sense of dreamy summer nostalgia. How would you describe your style and what you're trying to communicate through your work?

Ryan Fields: That's the mood I've always wanted to capture. It's just what I'm attracted to visually. So I lean heavily into that and photograph it. I really enjoy shooting in beautiful remote locations, so I think that that ties into it a bit.

So much of your storytelling takes place in and near the water. What inspires you about the ocean?

Ryan Fields: Even before I began surfing, I've always been drawn to the ocean. I can't exactly put my finger on why it is, but there's something so hypnotizing and refreshing about being near a wild body of water like that. It makes me feel like I can go out there and stare at the water, and it can completely reset my mental state and refresh my creativity—something about that constant flow of new water.

How do you feel your proximity to the ocean affected how you see the world?

Ryan Fields: It's definitely impacted my work. I always notice that when I'm shooting projects inland away from the ocean, I'm nowhere near as creatively inspired. It could be a beautiful location in the desert or the mountains, and I'm just not as creatively fulfilled and inspired. Something about the ocean fills me up.

Ryan Fields wearing the Seapine Surf Stripe Nautilus Boardshort

Photograph of Seapine Surf Stripe Boardshort

Your latest project, HAND SHAPED, focuses on artisans in San Diego who craft surfboards by hand. Your photos create a tactile sense of craftsmanship. What was the inspiration behind this series, and what can you tell us about the people you featured?

Ryan Fields: I've always been drawn to artisans or people working with their hands. Beautiful craftsmanship has always captivated me, perhaps because I'm pretty bad with my hands, so I can appreciate when others have honed such tactile skills. 

The idea for HAND SHAPED started when my roommate and good buddy, Trevor Blount, started getting into shaping surfboards. He began making surfboards out of our garage, and it was an excellent way to see it firsthand. I had surfed boards he'd made for me, but I had no idea what the process entailed.

Being able to photograph his process and have that intimate moment in this studio that he built in our garage as I watched him create this incredibly intricate surfboard out of a block of lumpy foam was incredible. From then on, I just had to know and see more, and I started studying other shapers down the Southern California coast. I was fascinated by how the process differed from shaper to shaper.

A lot of the well-known guys who are making boards with their hands are interconnected, and it's such a tightly-knit community. The people I photographed ranged from 17-year-old high school kids to Steve Pendarvis, who's in his late seventies. There's a pretty big age gap in there, which made it so fun to see how the OG guys are doing it compared to the guys just starting out doing it out of their parent's garage.

How have your travels up and down the coast of California influenced your creative vision?

Ryan Fields: I think, on a surface level, they provide this excellent reset period for me. I'm often camping or van camping when driving up or down the coast, and it's so nice to escape work, lose cell service and just unplug completely. Also, as I've traveled further South, I've gained a massive amount of respect for and admiration of all the different architectural styles, and the art has especially influenced me in Mexico and all over Latin America—everything from the textiles to the terrain. The landscape gets more and more spectacular.

Sustainability is such an integral part of our mindset at Fair Harbor. What mindful ways do you integrate sustainability into your everyday life?

Ryan Fields:  I am always trying to think of ways to incorporate more sustainable decision-making into my everyday life – the two main things I've focused on are being a more conscious consumer and beach cleanups. There's a big dump out where a lot of the trash washes up near one of my favorite surf spots. That, along with the popularity of fishing in Point Loma, has resulted in so much waste and fishing debris in the water. I try to grab as much as I can every time I go down there. There have been times when I've grabbed a full large trash bag– and it's sad to say– but filled it full to the brim with plastic waste, fish nets, lobster traps, boat pieces, you name it. We've found literally everything down there.

Have you noticed more trash in the water since you started surfing 8 or 10 years ago?

Ryan Fields: I think for sure there is more trash in the water, but more importantly, I've just become much more aware of it. I used to surf in the Orange County and LA areas while I was in school, and that is a whole other scene. So much oil and trash end up down the storm drains, especially after big rains, which we've had a lot of recently. It's brutal for wildlife and water pollution. 

Has your passion for environmental issues such as climate change and ocean preservation influenced your work?

Ryan Fields: Absolutely. My passion for environmental issues has changed how I photograph in that I am always looking to work with sustainable brands like Fair Harbor. 

I strive to highlight the natural beauty in my work and photograph portraits in untouched landscapes. In college, I had a project in which I photographed a beautiful shot of a surfer in Huntington Beach; I layered the trash I picked up on my way in from the water onto the image. I wanted to show the full scope of how we are treating our beaches and help the viewer understand the permanency of the plastic we are producing. It will be here for a very long time unless we all begin to make changes in our everyday lives.