The Surreal World of Ryan Schude

intro by Nick West

Vivid stories told through single photos.

Ryan Schude is a photographer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Primarily focused on staged, narrative imagery, Schude’s work is location and concept driven, with close attention paid to set design, wardrobe, and lighting. If you put the work of David Lynch and Wes Andersen into a blender and made them still images, you'd get something like Ryan's photos. His often surreal and always striking imagery have made the new library crew big fans.

Admittedly, we're not the best at deciphering lyrics or immediately understanding the ending to whatever new Netflix or HBO show just ended, so rather than sitting and staring intently at Mr. Schude's photography, we asked him to share the background stories and concepts behind his gorgeous photo series, Tableaux Vivants.  

Now, step into Ryan's world for a trip into a slightly different reality...

Chapel

Shot at the now demolished and previously haunted Linda Vista Hospital in Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, the story was built around the surroundings. A loose framework for a Chapel remained and using the stained-glass as inspiration, an all red-headed cast became the next focal point. Working alongside the creative direction team at Topsy Design, we emerged with a loosely cult-based narrative allowing the viewer to decode any symbolic allusion they choose to take from the Mike & Ike’s.

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Coney Island

With over 70 cast members and the constraint to capture everything in a single frame, on a cameraphone no less, this proved to be the most ambitious of the series thus far. Commissioned by Motorola, they wanted to show off their phone’s capabilities and since that did not include syncing the camera to strobes as I would normally do, we used a mixture of the ambient dusk light, the theme park’s incidental lighting, and additional continuous lighting where needed to fill in the gaps and give it the cinematic look from the rest of the series. The fire breather became the center of attention since his action was the most crucial to capture at the exact 30th of a second which ended up being the shutter speed. I called action from a 35 foot scaffolding over a P.A. system and prayed that everyone executed their predetermined poses at the right time.

Diner

The original idea for this image was set inside a diner, with a grief stricken couple breaking up their relationship, unfazed by a waitress spilling a tray of food in the background. After finding this location, the idea shifted slightly to include the exterior which allowed for the additional drama of a high school marching band splitting the scene between the good kids waiting at the van while the bad kids carried on around the corner. Another sizable technical challenge as I was determined to get it in one shot (it ended up being many more), but still was attempted by coordinating via cell phone to an assistant director inside the building while I triggered the camera and directed the cast outside simultaneously.

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Farm

Part of a series surrounding the idea of Family, this pond was located on a farm near Sequoia National Park, the foothills of which you see in the background. The boy fishes out an intergalactic star in between a casual summer corn on the cob and everyone getting eaten alive by mosquitos.

At the Inn

Based on a short story by Davy Rothbart where, on a dare, he spends the night in an abandoned motel on the outskirts of Detroit. In the middle of the night, they awake to see what they can never determine was either an apparition, or a real little girl, flitting around the grounds. Actually shot in the desert town of Baker, California, we were lucky enough to procure the 18-wheeler semi truck by coaxing a dozing driver from the gas station down the road. Made in collaboration with Dan Busta.

Jaguar

A car breaks down in Mid-City, Los Angeles, a cross section of adjacent neighborhoods set the parameters of the story around this particular school. The giant tortoise passes the Jaguar, the grandson chases a ball into the street, cliches and stereotypes abound.

Photo Camp, Pool

Narratively you have the simple story of a high school pool party taking place when the parents go out of town. The back story is potentially more interesting. Made in collaboration with Lauren Randolph, this is also a group portrait of 30 photographers gathering together for a weekend of creative collaboration. We stayed at this house, helped each other with projects and generally had a good time. Founded by Laura Brunow Miner, Phoot Camp has enjoyed retreats in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Marfa, upstate New York, and Joshua Tree.

Plaskett Ridge

Continuation of the Family series, this story arises simultaneously from the location itself and the particular family we see here. Over the course of one week, I road tripped with my sister and her 3 children, creating photos along the way. Working with non actors and my own family presents a unique set of pluses and minuses. At times it can feel real comfortable due to sheer familiarity, other times you become acutely aware that their lack exposure to this type of environment does not allow for a ton of flexibility in terms of taking direction.

“O Russet Witch!”

“O Russet Witch!” - Based on a short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this image blends a few of his scenes together into one. Shot at The Last Bookstore, downtown Los Angeles, I wanted to find a unique way to demonstrate my process live, in a pseudo-workshop approach. The camera was tethered to a projector so that the general public and those who came specifically for the shoot, could watch from the beginning light tests, through the modifications of the set and directing the actors in different scenarios. A Q&A followed to help encourage people intimidated by this process to see how to overcome the technical as well as the associated creative challenges.

Photo Camp, Pool

Narratively you have the simple story of a high school pool party taking place when the parents go out of town. The back story is potentially more interesting. Made in collaboration with Lauren Randolph, this is also a group portrait of 30 photographers gathering together for a weekend of creative collaboration. We stayed at this house, helped each other with projects and generally had a good time. Founded by Laura Brunow Miner, Photo Camp has enjoyed retreats in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Marfa, upstate New York, and Joshua Tree.

The Saturn

According to Leonard & Dale Pitt, “A dingba is a type of formulaic apartment building that flourished in the Sun Belt region of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, a vernacular variation of shoebox style "stucco boxes". Dingbats are boxy, two- or three-story apartment houses with overhangs sheltering street-front parking.” My original vision for this age old story of the guy getting kicked out of his apartment by an irate wife was closer to a vertical, brownstone facade. This is not a very common look in Los Angeles and so again, this a good example of how the location subtly molds the story.

Red House

Each of these images has a unique origin usually starting with a location or a concept, followed by the different ways they inform each other from pre through post production. This one came out of the mind of Justin Bettman who approached me with the idea of children’s reactionary isolation due to parental strife. The specifics were loose until we started scouting in search of the perfect house that could serve as a backdrop for this narrative. With those parameters set, casting began and the size of the family was determined by the house, along with the visual cues in terms of props, lighting, and wardrobe.

Theater, Part II

 Starting again with the concept, Tamar Levine had a rough outline for a story where a group of theater goers get trapped indefinitely inside, leaving them to horror levels of psychosis, paranoia, indifference, and fear. Once we found the right theater, the characters were cast accordingly and the rest of the pieces fell into place. Except the bunny rabbit, that was an unexpected in house addition compliments the Velaslavasay Panorama in University Park, Los Angeles.
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Check out more of Ryan's photos on his website, and be sure to follow him on instagram.

And if you dig Mr. Schude's work, we think you'll also like Samuel Hick's gorgeous, glowing American road trip, On The Way.

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Ryan Schude

Ryan lives and works in LA.  His solo exhibitions include Paris (2008), Santa Monica (2014), and Istanbul (2014), as well as current and past participation in over 40 group exhibitions. His debut monograph, SCHUDE, was published by Roads in 2015.