Chasing details, composing images through colors, and the very unique shades of Italian cities
With summer quietly coming to an end, those lazy afternoons lying on a sofa al fresco after a blissful lunch full of pomodori, olio d'oliva e pasta al limone are slowly getting stored in what we call memories. Conveniently enough, we'll get back to those moments that make summer such a special time - even more so if spent on the shores of the Mediterranean - with today's Style talk guest.
Obsessed with Italy, once resident of one of its most beautiful cities, Roma, his aesthetics tells the story of a smooth, time suspended life focused on enjoying the most simple things through photographic compositions articulated on bold colors, golden light and an eye for the tiniest details. No wonder he's part of the always larger galaxy of creative people gravitating around Yolanda Edwards' relentlessly active curation and the long list of Yolo Journal's contributors.
We obviously could go further on all this, and tell you that he has shot some of the most inspiring photos of Mezzatorre and La Posta Vecchia, but we think his work speaks for itself, and we'd rather let the man tell his side of the story.
You got it. Ryan Neeven is in the Journal.
Hi Ryan, we're very happy having you with us today. Thanks a lot for this. Ciao Sylvain, thank you so much for having me here! Pretty honored to be featured here with the likes of some very inspiring people.
It's our pleasure Ryan. Let's start from the beginning. You're from Pittsburgh, right? How was growing up there? I was actually born in Boston but moved to Pittsburgh when I was pretty young and spent most of my life there so far. Pittsburgh is a great little city that people tend to overlook, it has some of the best restaurants and coffee shops I've been to all packaged up in a downtown area that you can walk around in less than a half hour.
How did it shape your eye as an image maker? I lived outside of Pittsburgh about 25 minutes in more of a rural area so I spent most of my time outside which I think developed my urge to go out and explore. The occasional trips into the city itself also grew my appreciation for architecture and seeing the beauty in it because Pittsburgh has some amazing skyscrapers that are all very different from each other in design. I also lived on Italy Road which at that point I had no idea that most of my life would revolve around that very place, Italy, kind of a strange coincidence.
Do you remember when was your first click with photography? Certainly do. I was on a press trip to the Dominican Republic for A&H Magazine and I was sent there to write and share my experience on the island so there I was with a camera I purchased just days before leaving. Didn’t really know much about cameras at that point but I remember coming back from that trip realizing that this is something that I loved doing and that’s where my passion for photography really started.
You're just back from a few years in Rome; could you tell us more about this whole Italian experience? Sadly my time in Rome was cut a bit short due to COVID-19 but I spent the last 3 years living in Rome working for a university. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life because I really got to immerse myself in the Italian culture and see so much of the country. I had the opportunity to travel all the time so I took full advantage of this and almost every weekend would be exploring a new area of Italy or a new country.
Did it change the way you shoot? It really did, I became a much more confident photographer after living here. Before I was always afraid of taking people's photos on the street because I didn’t know how that person in the frame would react if they realized I was taking their photo but I really outgrew that fear while being there. It also helped me grow and develop my own style in shooting.
You shot a lot of inspiring places in Italy - Roma, Firenze, Puglia, Ischia, Santa Marinella or Capri just to name a few. Where did you enjoy the most, and why? That’s a very tough question because it’s hard to pick just one place that I enjoyed the most. If I had to choose just one, I think Ischia would be at the top of the list. It’s sort of a hidden gem in Southern Italy because most tourists flock to the glamorous island of Capri and skip over Ischia which is great. When I was there it was peak season in late June and you really didn’t have to fight the crowds of tourists anywhere, it was mostly locals or Italians who vacation there which made it feel much more authentic. And of course it has one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever seen, the Mezzatorre.
Is there a place in your Italian shortlist you haven't been able to shoot yet? The Amalfi Coast and Ponza. I have only been to one of the towns on the Amalfi Coast but never to Positano so at some point I would love to go explore that whole area. Ponza was somewhere that I just never made it to but it always intrigued me.
Your photography is very graphic, structured around bold colors, and a very cinematic vibe. How do you compose your images? Usually, it’s just what captures my eye. Living in Rome and when traveling I would walk all day just exploring new areas and something like a door, Fiat Cinquecento, or person would catch my eye so then I try and capture that moment. I like to capture as much as possible in that shot, for example like someone walking down the street in Rome, I like to capture the building behind them to kind of set the scene a bit better than just focusing on the person themselves.
How do you use color in your work? Color is important for me when trying to capture a moment. Cities have their own unique color palette that I love to bring out in photos. Italy is a great example for this because you have Rome which has this amazing burnt orange that can be found on buildings and is even more beautiful during sunset, Florence has a golden yellow, and Bologna a brick red.
We found out about your work through Yolanda Edwards' Yolo Journal, which is an endless source of inspiration really. How was working with her? Being associated in any way with Yolanda and Yolo Journal truly is an honor. She is someone who is an endless source of inspiration on curation, photography, and writing.
Besides photography, are there other mediums you would like to explore? I would love to get into creating short films or documentaries but I have to perfect photography before taking on that challenge.
Would you tell us more about your work as a brand content strategist and how do you handle commissioned work as opposed to your own? Over the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to turn my photography into more than just a hobby and get to work with some amazing companies shooting marketing campaigns and social media content. My background of working in corporate brand marketing helps me not only shoot these campaigns but work with the brands on strategy for delivering this content through their social channels. For me, being in Italy helped this tremendously because I had such an amazing backdrop to use for creative work so I liked to incorporate the normal everyday street scenes I usually shoot into campaigns with a brand. Also, in Rome I worked with some of my favorite coffee shops that I visited every day so shooting this content was just natural because it was something I was used to doing every day.
Getting back to your own personal style; how would you describe it? My own personal style is kind of casually tailored. A perfectly cuffed pair of selvage denim or a pleated chino pant and an oxford shirt are usually what I am wearing because they can be mixed and matched with different colors very easily and always look good. Shoes are where I usually tend to go a bit crazy with color and styles, but my go to is loafers. I have two favorite pairs of loafers that I wear a lot which are Mark McNairy loafers that are a sand suede with a bright yellow sole and a pair of Band of Outsiders x Sperry light brown and dark brown tassel loafer.
What's your relation to color in the way you dress? I tend to keep my wardrobe pretty simple in the color realm, usually navy, military green, and white. Those 3 colors you can mix and match and it always works. Most of the time I am wearing shades of blue in some way though, a pair of jeans with an indigo or navy oxford and loafers is my go-to.
How do you feel about scarves? Especially during the winter months, I always wear a scarf to use as a pop of color in my outfit. They are just that perfect accessory to add to any outfit to give it an extra bit of flair and in my case usually breaking up an all navy outfit with some color.
How would you describe LBH in 3 words? Chic. Artistic. Sartorial.
Who are your all-time style icons? JFK is definitely number one because his style is just effortlessly cool and having spent many summers on Cape Cod where my grandparents lived, his style just really resonated with me. Gabriele Corvino, a tailor based in Rome, is also an endless source of inspiration. As a good friend of mine and someone I look up to, Gabriele is always dressed perfectly, even when it comes to just going to a bar to get a drink he will be in a full bespoke suit but wears it so well. Noburu Kakuta is low key one of the best-dressed people I have ever seen. Usually, head to toe in shades of blue, his ability to pull off tailoring with a pair of cuffed jeans and a casual polo is so simple but yet looks so perfect.
Who are the photographers that inspired you the most? Slim Aarons, Peter Beard, Luigi Ghirri, and Charles Straub are all photographers that have in some way shaped who I am as a photographer and are my biggest sources of inspiration. Some other photographers that I am constantly inspired by when their work shows up in my Instagram feed is Lucy Laucht (@lucylaucht), Davide Annibale (@dubyo), Riley Harper (@life_of_riley), James Harvey-Kelly (@jamesharveykelley), Scott Schuman (@thestartorialist), and Andre Wagner (@photodre).
Who would you like to read next in our Style talk series? Ted Gushue would be a great read in your series.
Thanks a lot for your time Ryan! Thank you, it’s been a pleasure getting to speak with you.