Photographer Ryan Turner
Growing up in a blue-collar paper mill town in central Wisconsin means one thing later in life: you don’t worry about the length or the cold of winter. This skill proved important for Midwest transplant Ryan Turner, who moved to the last best place in the mid-90s with his partner Angi, to eventually photograph landscapes, wildlife, and backcountry skiing.
Turning back the pages, Ryan described a childhood growing up in blue collar America—paper mill country. There were mills every 20 miles. “The paper company was huge. One paper machine is over a half mile long. It’s [now] just sitting there. My Dad worked there his whole life until he retired. My Grandpa did as well,” Turner described. These days, with the mill shut down, it’s a dying town, a town that is trying to figure itself out again, Ryan explained.
Despite the humble beginnings in a rural place, the town always came together around the quality of education. The high school, for example, boasted complex art classes much like a small college program. This bought Ryan two years of image making before college, for creation, for time making mistakes in a dark room. It was during these years that he discovered film. The photography classes, offered by his high school, introduced him to the world beyond the walls of his small town.
Coming from the hewn roots of manual labor and long hours in a mill, Ryan however never got the impression he could make photography a career. He decided to sign onto journalism at the University of Wisconsin to focus on editorial (magazines and newspapers) and commercial (business) content. Ryan eventually figured journalism was not for him; he switched to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography.
Now, as a professional photographer with over 20 years' experience, taking pictures has led Turner all over the world, from France to Alaska. On one assignment he received a tour on skis from the mayor of a small town in the French Alps. On this same trip, Turner skied 8,000 ft couloirs (about the height of Mount St. Helens) and repelled off cliff faces to access seldom skied terrain. “Winter is easy for me. I had to live in snow and cold my whole life and never had vertical,” laughed Turner.
Asked to describe where he is currently in his extensive photography career, Turner saw himself on a high plateau. “I’ve climbed many peaks, with still many peaks to climb, but the sky’s the limit because now my experience and visions are only more vivid. The quality of my work is getting better and better. It’s all about quality and not quantity,” Turner said.
“As an artist I am not really looking at being technically perfect at everything. It’s not always about being technically perfect. I’ve always seen myself more as an artist than a photographer. Now that I am not seeking editorial or commercial work, I am able to be free with creating a vision that is captivating. Has some thought or meaning behind it,” Turner said.