Art photographer Ryan Long tears himself apart 

click to enlarge Birdwatching - RYAN LONG
  • Ryan Long
  • Birdwatching
As many college students do, Ryan Long struggled with depression while seeking his BA in studio arts at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, where he’s spent most of his life.

“I realized that I had a hard time looking in the mirror and being comfortable with myself,” says the 28-year-old, who moved to the Springs two years ago. In art, he found a means of coping. He turned his camera, his chosen tool, on himself. He would set it up on a tripod, set the aperture to open for a full second and move across the frame, leaving a ghostly afterimage.

“I could almost use the camera as a mirror to look at myself and reach a little deeper,” he says.

From there, he started experimenting with photo manipulation software. He would add crisp, clear photos of eyes onto motion-blurred photos of his face. Consistently, he would abstract or obliterate his own features. He’s an object in these photos, not the subject, and by removing his features, he sought to make the work more relatable. Soon, he moved to abstracting his own anatomy yet further, constructing new and strange things by linking hands, arms and legs.

“I personally like the images of arms and legs that are hooked together,” he says. “The things I do with faces are pretty grotesque, I would say, so I’ve mostly moved on from that...”
Editing each piece, he says, isn’t necessarily an all-day thing. His motion-blur effects, for instance, happen entirely in the camera. For those, he’d set the framing using his camera’s LCD screen and set the camera up to take photos at regular intervals, giving him many options to choose from.

“All I have to do is take the picture and then adjust contrast, sharpness, and black-and-white gradients,” he says. For those images, he spends perhaps half an hour on the computer.

click to enlarge Butthead - RYAN LONG
  • Ryan Long
  • Butthead
But some of his most unsettling pieces are composites of two or more photos. Those take longer, usually one or more hours. As an example, he says that “‘Butthead’ took a few hours because I had decide the best way to frame the image and then blend the skin tones of my butt and my neck together.” The resulting image shows his head and neck smoothly extending from his waist.

Even on more edit-heavy pieces like “Butthead” or his limb constructions, he does things in-camera that help. To give him more flexibility, his camera is set to shoot RAW images, an uncompressed file type that keeps more data than compressed JPEG files. More detailed image files give him more flexibility when he’s editing.

“The more I was experimenting with ‘how does an arm connect to a leg’ and all this weird stuff, it helped me feel more comfortable in front of the camera and with myself. Exploring that [helped me] to be more comfortable in my own skin.”


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