DIY punk rock photographer merges music, pictures



Local photographer Ryan Lowry enjoys taking pictures of anything that inspires him, which shows in his first-ever photography book, “Two Years,” released Oct. 17. Lowry’s art combines his love for music and photography.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Ryan Lowry, a Chicago-based photographer and musician, released his first photography book, “Two Years,” on Oct. 17.

Although he originally delved into photography using only film cameras to shoot, Lowry said he now uses both film and digital cameras and does not favor one method more than another.

“I think my digital looks like film, and whenever I shoot film, I’m just annoyed that I shot film,” Lowry said. “Everyone is always asking me, ‘Film or digital?’ To me it doesn’t matter. It’s still a photograph.”

In addition to photography, Lowry has also been involved in the do-it-yourself punk scene in Chicago. Because he grew up attending hardcore and punk shows throughout the city, Lowry said his interest in music influences a lot of his photographic work.

“The intensity of punk and hardcore music finds its way into my work,” Lowry said. “There’s confrontational moments in [my work. Music] was a big part of my life for a long time, so I somehow figured out a way to show that through a different creative outlet.”

Lowry became interested in photography at age 12 when he asked for a 35-millimeter camera for Christmas. He said his parents told him he had to take a photography class if he got the camera, so he took classes at a local community center for the next six years.

Through the punk scene, Lowry was introduced to Leor Galil, a music journalist at the Chicago Reader. Galil said he helped Lowry gain exposure in the editorial community when he started considering editorial work with his photography.

“I passed his [photos] on to the art department at the Reader and pushed to have him do photos for one of my stories,” Galil said. “I really like his style. It’s super easy working with him.”

Galil said Lowry’s photography is very active and even when his subjects are posing, he is able to make them look organic and spontaneous. For the 2013 People issue of the Chicago Reader, Lowry photographed Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, a drummer, to accompany Galil’s article. Galil said Lowry made the drummer feel at ease.

“Lowry has a great way of capturing people in their element as they are living,” Galil said. “He does a great job of showing people in a different light—very human and very exciting at the same time.”

Lowry said “Two Years” was a project that started out very loosely organized. He said he always had an interest in photography books and decided to put one together that captured a two-year period of his life.

“I wanted to go through the process of just making an object available and public,” Lowry said. “It’s kind of personal, but the book isn’t about it being personal for me. It’s about how it can be relatable for other people and how they can be related to photography.”

The process of creating the book began in June 2014 and continued on until September. There was a lot of editing and adding new photos until the book was ready for the first proof to be made, Lowry said.

“I would make black-and-white mock-ups and then seeing a proof made up made me see the layout differently,” Lowry said. “I got four or five different proofs because I kept changing things. The printer definitely thought I was insane. I was also asking my peers to look at it without telling them what they should think and just trying to see how other people felt about it.”

Morgan Brill, who designed the cover for Two Years, said she thinks the book is important and beautiful. The book was carefully considered and the reader is pulled into a world that no longer exists for Lowry or anyone else in the book, Brill said.

Lowry said he titled the book “Two Years” because it documents his “crazy experiences” and how his life has changed in that period of time. The title also gives a sense of rhythm to the book, but it is loose enough that anyone can apply their own narrative to it, Lowry said.

There is no specific message that Lowry wants readers to take away from “Two Years,” he said. Instead, it is meant to be an adventure from which readers can take away whatever they want.

“It’s hard to tell someone to look at photography and tell them what they should take away from it,” Lowry said. “Whenever you look at anything, you’re automatically applying your own personal narrative to it. It’s silly to [tell people], ‘Oh, you’re looking at this and you’re experiencing this.’ It makes it harder for people when they think they’re supposed to get something out

of it.”