I met Ryan through the photography community here in Bend. We both shoot pictures for Bend Magazine and we ended up at the same party a few months ago. Somebody connected us there and we chatted for a bit. Both Ryan and his work partner, Adam, are super nice guys who didn’t try to engage in the typical surface-level conversations that often happen when photographers collide. I was really encouraged by that. And then I read a post that Ryan put out to the world that kind of solidified my opinion of his being a good dude, so I asked him to participate here. He agreed and admirably showed up to our interview after a restless night of being a new dad. I really appreciate his honesty and vulnerability and want to put it out there that the world needs more guys like him.
(We interviewed on the porch at Crows Feet Commons, so please excuse the ambient noise behind our conversation. It is distracting, but the worst of it only lasts about four minutes. I've yet to learn much about audio editing, so bare with me.)
Who are you?
That's kind of a broad question (laughs). Well, I'm Ryan Cleary. I'm a photographer/retoucher for a living. I'm a father, a husband. (Laughs) Where else do you want me to go with that? In general, I just like to think of myself as a creative person. I think it's been my entire life.
Where do you come from and what brought you here to Bend?
So I was born and raised in a town called Camarillo - it's in Ventura Country, California. I grew up there. It's actually probably a similar sized town to Bend. Maybe a similar vibe, just not the outdoorsy vibe, but kind of a similar pace of life, I guess. My uncle lives in Portland - he's lived there for 45 years. So we'd visit Oregon somewhat regularly as a family. He eventually got a place in Sunriver, as well. So we would visit this Central Oregon area. My parents moved up here about 11 years ago. And about three years ago, maybe three and half, my wife and I had kind of had it with - well, at that time we were living in Los Angeles - and it was not a good fit for me. It was kind of a place that made me miserable constantly. Way too fast moving of a pace of life for me. And I think my wife was somewhat happy there because she had two sisters really close by, but at the same time I think that she very much was on the same page as I was in terms of we definitely didn't want to raise a family there.
So we were definitely looking to move to a place that we felt better about building a family. But we still wanted to be by family, hence Bend and my parents and you know kind of the perfect size town for us. We definitely liked being able to access outdoor activities easier than when we were living in LA. I mean it took us 25 minutes just to get from our house to the freeway and then from the freeway, however far you're going to get outdoors. It was just always a process that was so heavy like we just didn't even want to... you know half the time it was just so discouraging (laughs) to even motivate yourself to get out and do anything. At this point in my life the whole bar-coffee-social scene thing in LA was... I was just not interested in it at all. So I would just sit at home a lot, like working a lot more than I should have. Yeah, Bend was kind of just this great way to get a place that was, you know, made us happy and be close to my parents in a place that we felt like we could have a family and feel good about it. That's the long story.
What motivates you?
I think people do. I kind of have this... I don't know what to call it. I'm not always motivated to get out and do... I'm not always dedicated enough to really go after the things that I want in life, you know, but I'm fascinated by other people's stories about doing just that. What some people might call fear of missing out or maybe even a competitive element to it, definitely does strike a chord with me. It definitely does motivate me. When my friends are all getting after it, I definitely feel lazy if I don't try and join in. So I definitely have a tendency to be lazy, right? But every time I push through that - whether I'm miserable or not - I definitely feel better in the end. I have a tendency to be lazy. I have a history of anxiety. And the things that solve that problem are continuously pushing through... (laughs) I'm trying to communicate this in a way that I'm feeling in my head, but it's not coming out right. Maybe it was just a long night. And a long with that, too, my daughter is a huge motivation to me. Because I'm terrified of being a bad example for her. I'm terrified of that. I really want her to grow up... setting an example of not being afraid of failure, of not being afraid of hard work, definitely not avoiding situations just because they seem uncomfortable or because they seem difficult or challenging. I want her to see her parents really going after things. And I want her to see us fail and see how we handle it. And see how we deal with it. That's a huge motivation. Like I said, I think it's very easy for me to fall into a pattern of Well, I don't have time for that or I don't think I'm capable of that, you know, and not even try. I definitely don't want to set that example. And I'm sure there's all kinds of flaws in there, you know. I'm sure there's all kinds of therapists or people that would say that's not necessarily the reason you should be motivating yourself - just for your daughter or for someone else. I'm sure there's all kinds of hidden meanings in that state of mind.
What does community mean to you?
Yeah, that's an interesting question for me. I've always been somewhat of an introverted person, especially growing up when I was younger. I was never really keen on getting out there and actively becoming part of the community. I can't exactly tell you why that is. It was just maybe a comfort level for me. So I tended to sort of have tight-knit friend groups - not really go too much outside of that. When I think of community, the first thing that pops into my head is the community center, like in the town that I grew up. Where they would have bingo or (laughs) small bands that like 10 old people would go to. Like things that I never wanted to do or that I always thought was not cool or whatever. That's sadly the first thing that comes to mind. I'm sure there are a million cliché answers about people coming together to make the world a better place, right? I never really think about the word community or the exact meaning. Off the top of my head I feel like there's kind of two ways to look at it: there's people coming together to make a positive change and then also people deciding We all have to live together - let's figure out how to not murder each other. (Laughs) You know? And I think both are valid. I guess that's sort of my thoughts on community.
What do you think one's role should be as communities grow?
I don't know how to answer that. Honestly. I think that everyone has a responsibility to care for our place that we're living in. You know, to treat people with respect. I think that question can go a lot of different ways. You know, you can get into a very political discussion about things like taxes and sort of forced community, you know. As an introverted person, that's a difficult place. I've definitely outgrown some of that to a certain extend, but I still have those tendencies. It's still somewhat of a struggle to be in those big social situations or take on a active role in the community, so to speak. Like I said earlier, at my core, I'm a creative person. I think that the reason that I've sort of developed that creativity is because of the fact that I have been so introverted. Growing up, I spent a lot of time - I'm an only child - so I spent a lot of time kind of by myself. The things that I would do was, you know, I'd play guitar by myself or I'd work on drawings or art projects. So I spent a lot of time just sort of creating ways to entertain myself - just developing that skill. I'd like that to be... you know, that's what I excel at, so at a certain point, there's got to be a way for that to contribute to community, right? I can't tell you exactly what that is (laughs) - exactly what my role is going to be. Just like you, I enjoy photography and I'm fascinated by people and their stories. I try to be a good person. I try to give people respect. I try to take a minute and think before I make assumptions about people. Of course, I fail at some of that sometimes. Beyond that, it's a little bit unclear. I don't have a specific role, a specific goal that I'm heading towards. I'm just trying to get my bearings on my family and being a good role model and we'll see where that takes me.
How do you wish you were spending your time? Or are you satisfied with the way you spend your time?
Wow. Are you satisfied with how you spend your time. I don't think anyone's satisfied, you know? (Laughs) Everybody that I know - I mean it's just like you said - everybody wants more of it. I think there's always a better future in your mind as far as how you spend your time. I'm sure there's some people out there that have it dialed. For me, personally, being a freelance... I've been freelance for almost 10 years. And with that there's a whole lot of down time. There's slow periods where maybe a month or two goes by and work is almost non-existent. Then you have another couple months where it's just like pounding you down. (Laughs) It's like every client that you've ever worked for just decides to write you in one week and you're just overwhelmed. So that's always been tricky for me. Because in those down times it's very easy to get depressed somewhat. You feel like you're not working. It affects you. It really digs it's claws in and, if you let it, it can bring you down pretty hard. In those busy periods, it's stressful. It's definitely stressful, but it feels good. Not only do you feel like you're making a good living - you feel like you're doing good work. You feel satisfied in that aspect, but you also feel needed in a way. It's definitely an interesting place for me. Those down times - those are the times where I have to really dig in to personal projects. I have to really start pursuing things that I care about that are going to fill time, but don't have a paycheck attached but are still going to fill my time and make me feel good about what I'm doing and feel good about my abilities.
From the first time you reached to me a few weeks ago, you got that response from me: My time is crazy right now. I'm crazy. I don't have an hour to sit down. So, right now, my mom suffered her second brain hemorrhage about six months ago and has been in a full-care home between Bend and Redmond - in a pretty rough state. So my time is spent visiting her, thinking about her, thinking about the future for her. And then, you know, my 14-month old daughter - trying to be a good father. Raising her well. Spending as much time with her as I can. Enjoying it. And then a mountain of work. And it's... I feel like it's the biggest sort of time dilemma that I've ever been in in my entire life. Without the work, bills start piling up, right. You start backing up in there. Like, I'm not the kind of guy that's gonna go move into a van. I could, but that's just not who I am. I certainly don't want to move my family into a van. So I definitely feel like work is a huge priority considering there's going to be months, probably in the beginning of the year, that are super slow. So when it comes to me, I almost feel this need to take it. But then I have these family obligations that are also incredibly important because I never want to get to that point in my life where I say Well I didn't spend enough time with my mom or with my daughter or with my wife because I was working too hard. Because that's not me either. So I'm in this spot where I'm overloaded with work. I have these huge sort of... this event with my mom and the beginning of my daughter's life and I'm just trying to juggle it all the best way that I can. You know, sometimes I flake on people because of that. Sometimes I'm that guy. It is what it is. That's just the way it's gonna be. Sure, I wish I had a couple more hours. I wish I could do everything. But those three things right now are just dominating everything. AndI don't feel bad about it. I think those three things are incredibly important. It's just what I gotta do.
You got anything else you want to put out there?
(Laughs) Probably (laughs). Like I said to you earlier, someone wants to interview me, I question it. Because I don't feel like I do anything extraordinary, you know, on a daily basis or in general. But I will say that I care deeply. I'm a very empathetic person. When I hear about people's stories that move me, generally it hits me pretty hard. I can definitely empathize with people. And, at a certain point, I'm gonna put that to good use. You know? I'm sure it's already been put to good use. You asked me earlier about contributing to community and I think in one way or another that's gonna come into play. Yeah (laughs). Other than that there's probably a lot of other things I could say, but they're not coming to mind right now.