“Film is not dead” because it really isn’t. Nowadays in this digital world just about anyone with the money can buy a fancy camera, a nice lens and start taking pictures. “Click, Click, Click” and out of however many pictures they took, chose one to post up. But film is different; you can’t just taking tons of pictures and choose one. You need to be more precise on what you want to take because you only have one shot. That is why I love film and have been fortunate enough to interview Ryan Tatar who is also an advocate of film. Working at Apple, yes the iPhone Apple, before and now a photographer whom has worked with many different brands like Uniqlo, H&M, and also Mollusk Surf Shop, Ryan gives us a little insight about his life and his philosophies.
Who are you and where are you currently right now?
My name is Ryan Tatar and I’m sitting on the couch drinking a chemex of Sightglass coffee in my apartment in San Francisco. I just put my 6 month old son down for a nap while my wife sleeps in and takes a well deserved morning off.
When did you start surfing?
I grew up in a land locked area of the US, in the state of Michigan. I had body surfed and tried surfing on vacation, but didn’t get my first board until I lived in North Carolina in about 2005 maybe.
How did you start getting interested in surf photography?
I was doing a lot of traveling and I think it’s natural that one picks up a camera to document and remember those moments. Surfing to people I knew back home was a ‘sport’ and I thought there was this other lifestyle side to it that I wanted to share. I wanted to document these moments that were changing my life and inspiring me.
Why do you choose film over digital? What are the benefits about using film?
I shot digital only until I exhibited some work at the Greenroom Festival in Japan in 2009. My friend, artist Yusuke Hanai, was walking around with this retro Canon FTb… a fully manual consumer grade camera. When I got home from the festival he sent me some of the images. I noticed the incredible depth of his images that brought me right back to those moments in Japan. They had this very intangible quality to them that just looked so perfect to me. My digital images seemed flat. They looked clear and nice… but lacked the soul of his images. Digital photography has come a long way since 2009, and I think the depth of field is just as good as film now. However, digital cameras capture a moment by approximation and translating that to 1’s and 0’s. Shooting film is burning a specific moment in time onto light sensitive paper in a chemical process. Both are great mediums to me for different things. I think film captures more soul and I like the look of it for my work. Prior to film I had been using a lot of filters and such in my work. These were the days before Instagram and VSCO and the millions of “filter” apps and software that exists today because of the iPhone. I had developed my own filters to mimic different slide films of the past…. inspired by the images of Ron Stoner and Thomas Campbell. It just made sense to start shooting film again and stop spending time editing on a computer.
Can you explain more about ‘Cross-Processing’?
Cross processing is when you take slide films (like Velvia, Provia, Ektachrome) and you process them in C-41 chemicals instead of E-6. You’re basically processing these films in the wrong chemical on purpose. The results can be unpredictable… but generally speaking you get increased saturation, grain, and contrast. And color shifts. There are a lot of other subtle tricks too, like overexposure, light leaks, and other processing differences to achieve slightly different looks.
I’ve seen you have also done work using Polaroids. Under what circumstance would you choose to use Polariods?
I have a love affair with polaroid film. The soft colors and look are nearly unattainable by other cameras and mediums. It’s VERY expensive to shoot Polaroids, so I buy this kind of film occasionally and try and shoot it when I’m doing something special.
What are some of your equipment that you are currently using?
A Hasselblad, Nikon, Yashica, and several Polaroid cameras mostly.
Where do you usually find most of the your camera and gear?
A mixed bag. A friend of mine gave me the Hasselblad. A different friend gave me a polaroid… another one I bought online along with the others. Usually eBay or KEH.
Which past surf photographers are you interested in and why?
Ron Stoner and Leeroy Grannis I think are legend. They captured some really inspiring moments in surfing when it was not a commercialized endeavor like it is today. I’m also inspired by the creative vision of Thomas Campbell who gave me some good advice down the road.
What are some projects that you have worked on in the past?
I’ve done a lot of magazine spreads and collaborated with a lot of brands on imagery for either clothes or content. From big companies like H&M and Uniqlo to smaller brands like the Critical Slide Society and Mollusk Surf Shop. I’ve done many art shows and the such too.
Out of all the places in the world you have been to, which place stands out most and why?
That’s a hard one. I love so many different places. Traveling is when I feel most alive and free. Especially when I’m with my wife and we’re going to a surf destination. There is something about Bali though… I think that place is magic.
Who are some of the surfers that you have worked with in the past?
Cyrus Sutton is a good friend and frequent collaborator. I have shot with underground surfers in California and North Carolina a lot… guys that are super on it and kind of mysto. More “known” surfers… is less frequent for me. I shot Alex Knost awhile back for a British magazine. I saw and shot Thomas Bexon in Bali. Been working lately with some of the Mollusk Surf Shop guys who all shred hard and switching creative direction a bit.
Other than surf photography what else do you do?
I recently took a job working on hardware at a very mature startup called Square. I was at Apple before that and surfing / shooting whenever time allows.
Do you have any advice for someone who is starting out in surf photography?
Try and figure out what you’re trying to achieve in your body of work… don’t just randomly shoot pictures and post mediocre ones into your portfolio. I think it’s key to work with folks that are surfing in a way that is inspiring you. Do that, and it will lead to other things.
What are your current boards in your quiver and which board have you been riding recently?
I have a Putnam / Hilbers very bladey Son of Sam and a Gary Hanel log I’ve been riding alot. I just ordered a 9’9” Salinas from Tyler Warren. He recently made me a hull and it’s mind blowing.
What can we expect to see more from you in the future?
I’m traveling to Barcelona and the Basque country in July. I’ll be doing an art show and t-shirt collaboration with Two Thirds out there… then vacationing and hopefully getting some surf in Biarritz and San Sebastian.
Ryan Tatar Web Site：www.ryantatar.com
Ryan Tatar Instagram : Instagram.com@ryantatar