A few months back, I stumbled upon Jamey Pyles 500px page, and was immediately in love with his work. Images that moving are rare for me these days. Despite my affinity for his images, however, I struggled to put together this interview.
Jamey’s work is striking.
His pictures make me want to take a walk through a wild mountain and appreciate the unbroken beauty of an untamed landscape.
But how do I put that into words? What exactly is it about Jamey’s work and philosophy that draws me in as a viewer and a fan?
I think it is the sense of adventure I feel when I look at his images. On his website he says, “I capture photographs with the intent to share the beauty I see out there with the world and to remind people of the natural world that modern society has all but left behind. These motives stand behind my ambition to create art that is personally meaningful to my lifelong journey.” There is a true freedom in that notion.
The idea of using art as a way of bringing awareness, as a potential tool for preservation…it’s a sexy, romantic notion. Photography used as both a creative outlet, and a tool for the greater good. That’s how one starts a legacy.
But…that isn’t the whole story. It isn’t just Jamey’s idealism that I’m drawn to. It’s his images. It’s his locations. It’s the quality of his light.
One of the side effects of the world being so accessible is that it is difficult to find something new, to create something that stands out in the crowd, captures my attention and holds it. I won’t deny, there are a lot of incredible images of Antelope Canyon, of the turquoise lakes in Banff, of the Eiffel Tower and of the Great Wall…but they’re so frequently photographed, that I couldn’t pick one particular artist’s version out in a crowd.
Jamey’s work appeals to me because it’s new, it’s fresh, and much of it is so well edited and composed, I can’t help but pause when I’m flipping through his portfolio.
But hey…this interview isn’t about how I feel about Jamey’s work. It’s about how Jamey’s work came to be. So let’s get down to the questions, shall we?
First, and most obvious question…
How did you get into photography?
I was introduced to nature by my parents through backpacking in the very impressionable years preceding elementary school. At our go-to location in the Three Sisters Wilderness, I glimpsed into another realm of the world that eventually would come to mean one of the only realities in my life. There I confronted the rational and irrational fears and undertook adventures throughout those early years — we went on the trip for 4 days each summer. These first encounters with the woods sparked a continually growing interest in the natural world. The first subject that really drew me into photography was waterfalls. I was enamored by the long exposure and how it painted water so beautifully. There didn’t seem to be much purpose in those days, but that was perfectly fine. I was a young guy super engaged in my hobby of making images that captured these waterfalls. It was always more than just photography, though, because I routinely would go to places completely off the beaten path or with very difficult access even if there were no known ‘comps’ of the place done by other photographers. Gradually the horizons grew. Its been about 6 years since I first started using a camera.
There is a definite evolution among your images as you developed a style that works for you. For the benefit of all of our new photographers out there, can you talk a little bit about the journey to find your own style?
Some of it was learning the tools better. But most of finding my style was not a conscious choice, but rather, allowing my ambitions to seek, and letting my art follow. My themes and subjects have changed over time, but consistently my journey has taken me to places that have one key ingredient: I seek out landscapes that are uncorrupted by man, and that alone has become the passion. Making art that can point the focus back to the landscape is my response and it is my ultimate challenge. It comes second to the experience, hands down. Now, I’ve photographed so many things that I have a backlog at least a year and a half long. There are many experiences I have captured that I know will never make it to my public portfolio because I feel that it is important that the experience remains mine and mine solely. I don’t feel obligated to share, but when I do, I like to post in a meaningful order, generally not chronologically. Right now on my desk I have a scrap envelope that has scribbles of ideas relating to what I should edit and post online next. I’m just now coming out of a hard and very busy time and I am trying to focus more on my art and less on this BS we call ‘real life’.
What led up to the Kickstarter idea, and eventual book and calendar you published?
That spurred from my first experience in the Oregon desert with a wise old friend of mine. I was just blown away at the diversity of the landscapes and the fact that nobody knew that there was beauty to be found in such a place. So that progressed into a project that became sort of an expose’ on the beauty of the natural landscapes of eastern Oregon. Originally the end result was going to be the portfolio of images I would make. On top of that, I would make a book to go with it, that was mostly pictures, and a few essays/stories. But as I started to get my thoughts on the page, I couldnt stop writing, and all of a sudden I had 30,000+ words to deal with along with all of the photos, and the book became the biggest focus. The book’s themes became self discovery, and the meaningfulness of nature, with a side of adventure. If one was to read it solely for the adventure aspect, one would likely be disappointed. The finished work is 90 pages with full color images throughout.
The whole experience of brainstorming, fundraising, and fulfilling a project was very enlightening. I also went way over budget, saw so many amazing things, and most importantly, was left with the uncanny and disturbing knowledge that I had only scratched the surface. I learned that saying “I want to capture it ALL” was very foolish. Were I to do it again, I would focus more deeply on a smaller area or single subject.
All of the calendars I have made and published have been separate to the project. I’ve been making them every year since 2009. Last year I made the calendar for 2014 focussed on the Great Basin which is partly in eastern Oregon. You can find that and more info on my book on my website (www.jameypyles.com)
How has that experience of traveling to and capturing some of the lesser known sites of the Northwest affected your outlook on life?
This is a hefty question, because it has defined my existence in a way. It wasn’t “That Experience” from the Eastern Oregon project but rather the whole pathway to get there, and then the continuance of the journey forward from there. I’ll attribute its relative meaningfulness to my age at the time, in the transformational teen years, and also the amount of energy I was able to focus into it. Experiencing nature like that so young has directed my focus away from other things that most teenagers are into. I was never interested in engaging in high school life beyond classes. I spent my senior year of high school writing my book instead of pursuing scholarships, honors classes, parties, girls, whatever. In essence, my experience with nature correlates in some way with everything that I count as meaningful in my life currently.
Nature has quieted my spirit, it has allowed me to see the relative vanity of human existence and has challenged me to look deeper – look for purpose; search for answers even if the answers may always be beyond reach. I think the project specifically helped me develop my voice, in photography and in my writing. I have continued writing, but it is more focussed on prose and expository than narrative. Other than journaling, I feel that narrative has become very shallow for me considering that there is no story proposition like there was when I went forth to write that book. Now I’m just a simple guy that really digs nature.
From a marketing perspective, what are your thoughts of selling shots of unknown locations versus known locations? Have you had much success?
I’ve learned that if you want to sell images, you’ll likely want to look in other places than the wilderness. Not that you can’t do it, but that it is beside the point. It is far easier to sell photos of places that people know. In my case I have pretty much stopped trying to sell prints, due to my focussing on other things; projects, personal life, etc. I guess I have had some success in the last several years, but the result was never more than a few hundred bucks here and there. In the foreseeable future, I wont be able to make enough money on selling images. I hope to make a living related in some way to photography/outdoors, but right now I am trying to gain some traction, working as a landscaper. I hate marketing. It puts me in the wrong headspace… But it is a necessary evil.
Any advice for new photographers trying to make a place for themselves in the world?
Don’t try to make a place for yourself in the world, rather find the place you already are in and let your art be a venue for self discovery rather than self promotion. You can not effectually influence others unless you are grounded in yourself. I have found the most meaningful place in the world for me is the most irrelevant place as well… A high place where I can look out on an expanse and see no evidence of human existence, where to all perspectives but my very own, I am nothing.
That is me. Find out who you are, and make your art for the sake of you, and it very well could stand above the crowd.
Any other notable accomplishments or projects you want to talk about?
The most current is that I just married my other half just a few weeks back. Hanna and I are so happy together and I am looking forward to a lifetime of adventures with her. The wedding consumed all of my free time so I hope to be able to get back into the swing of things now that we are getting settled in.
Back in September of 2013 (it hurts to think this was already a year ago), I packed all of my needed belongings into my jeep and moved to Reno, Nevada to work with a wilderness advocacy group called Friends of Nevada Wilderness. My job was wilderness inventory; I would set out for a week at a time with a partner and look for Wilderness characteristics in some pristine Nevada landscapes. We tracked all routes around and into these wild areas, documenting characteristics according to BLM national standards for Lands with Wilderness Characteristics. The intent of the organization and my outings were to permanently set aside these wild areas as Wilderness (with a capital W), meaning that the landscape can not be used for material gain (logging, mining, building, etc) and that it will remain publicly accessible as it is currently, into the future. There is a lot more to it than I have time or space to write about, but I will gladly answer questions anyone has.
I did this work from September into November, when it started snowing and the days became too short for my work. I learned some incredibly valuable lessons while discovering the potential of Nevada. I felt incredibly blessed to work and be paid doing something that I loved to do, essentially camping with a purpose. I saw so many incredible things – deep canyons, incredible rock formations, endless high mountains, blazing fall colors, desert sands and rhythmic patterns, and so much more. Thanks to this job and many other outings in 2013, I spent just about 100 nights in the outdoors. When I returned to Oregon’s winter I felt pretty empty, and although I still have yet to land another job along this career path, I’ve again and again found solace alone in the desert and in the high mountains of my home state.
I’m searching constantly for another opportunity like this one, but it is likely I will follow some more of my own projects first. I’ve got a few major ones in the works but these are at the beginning stages.
Best way to contact you?
My email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.jameypyles.com, where you can find my gallery and a bit more about me. You can find my page on facebook, Jamey Pyles Photography, and also on 500PX.