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Interview with Shane Reynolds

Riley Gunderson
Production / Direction

Hello! Can you please start by introducing yourself and the work that you do?

I am Shane Reynolds, I am a photographer based in New York City. I have a background working in fashion and I also do documentary-style. I am from a small town in upstate New York and went to Ithaca College for photo and cinema. I have been here in New York for probably about a year, doing the struggling artist life.

How was that process of moving into the city and pursuing photography full-time?

It was a struggle if I am being honest. I graduated early, saved up a lot of money working in my hometown for a bit, and then I came here and I bartended in the village, which was actually pretty fun, and did freelance photography. It was hard to balance the bartending schedule with shoots also. Then the pandemic happened and since the summer I have been doing this full-time. It feels pretty good. If you put in the work, the recognition will come in eventually. It is a struggle but it has been paying off lately. It is picking up. During the pandemic, I think a lot of people were in a weird limbo state but things have really been turning around for the better. It’s been enjoyable to see the fruits of my labor. People like to underpay artists so you have to let them know that you aren’t playing around.

Have you always been interested in photography?

I started out painting when I was young. In high school, I would do commissioned paintings for people, like Lana Del Rey portraits and that kind of stuff. Big Tumblr flower crown era. When I was 17 I took a photo class. From there on out, I realized I could create the same visions I was trying to do on canvas but through a different medium. Ever since then, that has been my forte.

Can you talk about why you shoot primarily on film?

Yeah, that was actually a recent decision. Probably in the last year and a half I decided that I wanted to be strict about just shooting on film. When you have a limited amount of exposures you think out every shot a lot more carefully. It is physical too. With digital, it is just a copy on a card but with film, it is actually there on the negatives. There is something special about that. I just love the effect of it too, even if there are imperfections, I think it adds more to the cinematic effect that I try to incorporate in my work. Financially, not too fun to always shoot on film but it is worth it to me.

Do you develop your own photos?

I do not. I probably could with black-and-white film because I learned how to do that in school. There is a little mom-and-pop shop nearby where I live, I think it has been there since the eighties. They are pretty cheap so I always bring it there.

What drew you to fashion and editorial photography?

I have always had an interest in fashion and fashion photography from a young age when I was painting. I was creating those types of scenes in painting, I just didn’t know that I could switch over and use photography. I love fashion throughout the decades, the sixties is one of my favorite decades to play with in my work, and the eighties. I like to bring elements of fashion during those times into the present day. I worked for a men’s fashion magazine when I was in school, I did an internship there. I also worked at Moschino. All of those led me more and more to have a big interest in editorials.

How do you think that your photographic style, either conceptually or aesthetically, has changed over time?

I think I go through stages a bit with what I want to focus on, year to year. I always try to bring in an element of the past. Not in a way that says the fifties were an amazing time to live, cause obviously, it would not be, especially for me. But I love music and fashion and the effects of film and photos from back then. I try to bring that into the present day and sometimes reclaim that time period with elements of homoeroticism and androgyny. When I was in school, I spent a lot of time focusing on religion and fashion and the mix of those two, again with homoeroticism. That was what all my projects were then, I think my professor was like “okay enough.” I have left that stage now but I think there is a continuous theme of challenging societal norms through a retro lens.

It seems like queerness plays a pretty big role in your work, do you want to talk more about that?

Yeah, definitely. I came from a pretty strict Roman-Catholic community in a small town so as a gay man I wasn’t always very accepted. My work has been an outlet to embrace and express those feelings that were shut down and that I was made to feel shameful about. Being in New York, it is a great place to work with other queer creatives and let your freak flag fly.

Did you find the process of making that work very personal? Do you think others gain something by viewing you process those feelings and experiences through photography?

I hope that people gain something from the work, I feel like there are a lot of artists out there with their mission to take photos of half-naked guys. I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade, but I feel like a lot of the time there is no agenda behind the photos they are doing. With mine, I like to raise questions and get people talking. I hope people see that, but also doing that work has been therapeutic for me.

You mentioned that you were inspired by different decades like the sixties and eighties, what are your other sources of inspiration?

I was a cinema major so I spent a lot of time watching all sorts of classic films from the turn of the century to now. I take a lot of inspiration from obscure and classic films. I’ll write down or even take a picture on my phone of a certain setting that catches my eye. I’ll take an element from that but put a twist on it for a photo. A lot of cinema has a really big influence on what I try to do in my work. Also, music. I listen to a lot of music from the sixties and eighties. Sometimes I close my eyes, sit out on the fire escape, and just let it come to me. It isn’t always that artistic and dreamy though.

Do you think having that background in film has led you to focus on storytelling in your photography?

I have always wanted to tell stories. I would work with people in school on their films but I never quite knew how to make a film make sense. I am not good at writing scripts but I could always make films really pretty. I would have to work with people if I ever wanted to start doing films.

Do you think working with film is something that you might experiment with or pursue in the future?

I would like to, I have been trying to get my hands on a Super 8 film camera so that I could do some behind-the-scenes little fashiony fun videos in addition to the shoots I do. Hopefully, that is on the horizon.

What does your creative process look like? How do you go into a shoot?

It is really a mix of shooting both models and friends. I have friends that I have been shooting since I was a teenager that have been muses for me, they always understand what I am going for. If there is something I need for a certain idea, I know who to call up since we have been doing it for years. I also find a lot of people through Instagram, they reach out to me or I reach out to them. Sometimes agencies or magazines will send me a message with an idea they think I would be interested in, so you never know, it is all over the place.

Do you think social media plays a big role in your work, or Instagram specifically?

Definitely, as much as it pains me to admit it. Instagram is a double-edged sword. I love it because it is an outlet for me to instantly share my work with a wide range of people but also the effects of social media on people’s mental health is not always the best. I try to find a balance with that and use it as an outlet to share my work rather than letting it determine my worth, which I feel like a lot of people in this generation fall victim to.

What are you working on now?

I have this idea for a series that is inspired by sixties James Bond films but with a queer twist. I have been sketching down those ideas and talking with some people that I think would want to be a part of it, so that is exciting. I have also been doing some shoots for music artists. I have started to work with them on album artwork which is pretty new, I haven’t really done that before.

Do you usually sketch out projects before going into them?

I normally will make an album of mood and inspiration pictures on my phone. Sometimes, if I can’t find something online in accordance with what I am imagining I will draw it out in my little notebook and send it to the people I am looking to work with. That way everyone knows the mood we are going for.  

Do you think that comes from your painting background?

I would say so, definitely. It is a similar process for me to take the visions I would paint and work instead in a faster process now with photography.

Is there anything you want to pursue in the future or any dreams you have within photography or another creative outlet?

I would like to move into film within the next few years and continue incorporating retro aspects but putting a twist on it. I would like to expand that, hopefully working with people that I really admire. I would like to just keep climbing the ladder the next few years and keep everything going. I am pretty bad with planning, honestly, I just kind of take things as they come. I have no idea what is going to be in store but hopefully, it keeps going up. Fingers crossed! I live day to day so you never know what is going to come next which can be exciting.

Shane Reynolds: Instagram | Website

Interview by Riley Gunderson