Growing up, Ryan witnessed his parents’ love of taking photos. They would take sometimes 30, 40, 60 photos a week just of family. People would make fun of his mother all the time for taking two rolls of film just because it was somebody’s birthday. But from early on, this instilled Ryan with a sense of social documentation. In college he pursued fields of writing and editing, which put him in a good place to fall into photography.
During one of his early photography jobs at a university, an important thing happened: He was forced to learn the discipline of shooting photos every day in very boring situations like lectures and luncheons, where nothing inherently beautiful was happening. This taught him to observe the intricacies of human expression. “All you have is learning to anticipate when they might make a good expression,” he said. “What can make a good photo in a bad situation.”
Another important thing happened during that time. To push his love of storytelling as a writer into this new-found passion of photography, Ryan enrolled in a photo documentary class. For his final class project, he chose to follow an up-and-coming underground comedian in New York. At the end of the project, she announced that she was getting married. The wedding took place at a punk rock club, and he covered it like a photojournalist.
What he didn’t know was that this pivotal event would spark his love for storytelling and his need to run from boredom, and plunge him headlong into a career where he would embrace the chaos of the ultimate story: the wedding day. “After shooting every day at a university where the hint of a smile is the most emotion you get, then to come into a wedding where people are crying and hugging and laughing and dancing—immediately I was like, these are the stories I want to tell.”
Around that time he discovered the Wedding Photojournalist Association and became interested in the idea that you could take this storytelling aspect and apply it to wedding photography. He also drew from his own personal experience growing up loving weddings, due in part to having a huge Irish family that loved to party.
But he didn’t love weddings the way that the wedding industry wants to tell you to love them. He loved them because he loved to dance and he loved to hang out with his family. “It was the way for a whole room of people to say, we all love each other and want to celebrate this thing,” he said. “It’s a bigger, broader story.”