"We started it as a creative outlet, free from the restrictions of deadlines and client needs. We literally just make whatever we want, when we want. We hire our friends and people we admire... letting them design something they want with no deadlines or art direction up front. We just want to have fun. And somehow, that model is successful. "
We have the absolute pleasure of sharing a recent conversation with Brian Stowell - touring concert photographer, co-founder of Lost Lust Supply, and proud owner of one of the finest outdoor adventure Instagram accounts out there. Thank you so much Brian for taking time out of your busy schedule to reply with such huge #knowledgebombs -- we hope you enjoy this one, folks!
When did you first pick up a camera? When did music become a career for you?
11 years ago I was a community college dropout, burnt out on 15 credit hours and 40 hour work weeks between two jobs. I applied for and landed an internship at a music management program in my hometown. I was 18 and had already spent a couple years driving all over the East Coast to see my favorite bands and had spent what little money I made working at the local record store on band merchandise. So when asked what I wanted to do most in the music industry, I said I wanted to go sell merch on the road. I had a romanticized idea of what it would be like - we've all seen Almost Famous. That summer I hopped in a van with some dudes from Washington DC and set out on my first tour. A few months later I landed another tour. And then another and another. Friends helping out and hiring friends - that's how my career was built.
In the Summer of 2009 I bought my first DSLR, a Canon Rebel and kit lens, the week before I left for a summer on Warped Tour. I figured I should probably take some photos in all of the cities I was visiting. And I had unparalleled access to shooting concerts and backstage. The first couple years with that Rebel were spent stumbling my way through the camera settings, learning post processing basics, using way too much saturation, and shooting every live show I could. Three or four years ago I found myself burnt out on the limitations of live music photography. "First three, no flash" and a lot of time shooting singer-songwriters with just a 70-200mm becomes monotonous. My photos all started to look the same and I was bored. I pursued landscape photography to counter it. Where you can spend an afternoon or a weekend or a week shooting what you want, when you want, where you want. Spend 15 minutes hovering over a patch of wildflowers or bushwhacking into the brush to find that perfect composition. It's very freeing, very relaxing, and very rewarding - even if I don't come home with a single photo I love.
I've picked up 2 more DSLRs since then. I've learned everything I know about photography - and continue to learn - from YouTube and simple trial and error.
Ouroboros was such an incredible experience for me. After touring with Ray in 2014 on his Supernova tour, I sent him a book of photos I had taken throughout the year. He called me in January 2015 and asked if he could use one of the photos in the book as his album cover for his next record. Obviously, I said yes. He recorded Ouroboros in February 2015 and I delivered the cover photo and 4 additional photos that were used throughout the album packaging to his record label in the fall. Holding my first copy of the LP was an incredible experience. Seeing my photos in that format. That was one of those bucket list tier accomplishments
We kicked off the Ouroboros tour in June 2016. We had production and show rehearsals a few days before the tour started. I arrived to see a 40' tall interactive video wall created by the incredible Deborah Johnson at CandyStations. Deborah used my eclipse photo as a reference for an amazing 3D model of the moon that cycled through a full eclipse phase during Ray's show. I was floored. My photo was suddenly an icon, representative of an entire era of an incredible musician's career. I'll never not be humbled by that. Ray is so supportive of me and my photography and I'm incredibly thankful to have met him and to be able to work with him. Can't wait to see what he's cooking up next.
When you're not busy touring with world-class artists - you have just a few other hobbies. Can you chat about your experience launching Lost Lust, as well as running one of the most inspirational wilderness Instagram accounts in existence?
Not even close! But, I'm happy with the little niche of Instagram that I fill. I get out when I can and shoot what I like. My style varies from day to day and I'm always experimenting. I've been so lucky to meet some incredible friends from the outdoor / pacific northwest Instagram community.
My best friend, Charlie, and I launched Lost Lust Supply 15 months ago. We make and sell enamel pins, patches, stickers, camp mugs, and soon to be more. We started it as a creative outlet, free from the restrictions of deadlines and client needs. We literally just make whatever we want, when we want. We hire our friends and people we admire to fill out our Monthly Artist Series of enamel pins, letting them design something they want with no deadlines or art direction up front. We just want to have fun. And somehow, that model is successful.
(A small sampling of radness from Lost Lust - our personal favorite might be Sick Drake)
Is it safe to say you've traveled to nearly all of the National Parks in the US? If you could only visit one of them for the remainder of your days, which would it be and why?
Ha! Hardly. I'm up around 20 or so National Parks. Not even halfway! There's 4 (of 8) National Parks in Alaska that are only accessible by plane. American Samoa NP is a 15 hour flight halfway across the Pacific Ocean. I'll knock em all out one day. Right now, I'm happy to cross a few off each year. Don't forget about all of the National Preserves, Monuments, Forests, State Parks, Wilderness, BLM land, and more. Just because a space lacks the delineation of "National Park" doesn't mean it's not worth seeing.
While my love affair with Zion will never waver, my current obsession is with North Cascades NP up in Washington. I finally visited for the first time back in October and have thought about it daily ever since. It provides a ton of a varied landscape with an incredible range of hikes to cover an incredible range of skill sets. I'm making it a point to get back up there again this year. The tough part is that most of it is buried under snow for 8 months of the year. It's really only accessible from late June to early October. Those alpine views require a lot of patience. I was recently surprised to learn that North Cascades is in the Top 5 least visited parks in the US!
Are you involved in any type of outdoor advocacy?
I'm not personally involved in any specific campaigns. I write to my representatives about things that are important to me. And I write to representatives of other localities that are pushing controversial issues that effect us all. Jason Chaffetz of Utah comes to mind. We're all experiencing a mental and emotional fatigue right now because it seems as if every facet of life requires a defense front. And maybe it does. Divide and conquer. I can't fight for 100 things. Neither can you. Pick what you're passionate about and fight 10x more for it.
"The best things you can do to make a difference? Go out and experience as much of the beauty that our public lands have to offer. Empathy comes from experience. Wanting to strip our public lands from the people and drill or mine them until they're barren is nothing but blind greed and stems from a lack of empathy."
These places aren't important to the people who are making these gross decisions for them, because they're not the ones that depend on them for relaxation, inspiration, or as their very homes and communities. Beyond that - practice proper and safe habits while you're out. Be prepared. Leave no trace. Respect the land and the others that want to enjoy it. Educate others about these practices. We'll defend what we love fiercely.
We love when you post the "before/after" edits on the new-ish Instagram Story feature. Can you chat about that?
The Instagram Story feature is a fun tool that can provide your followers or friends a very brief look into the minutiae of your life. You could use it to post your breakfast. Or you could use it as a tool to learn. So when I make a new post on Instagram, very often I'll share the straight out of camera, RAW photo and then the final edit. A lot of new and growing photographers follow me and I get so many excited and kind comments about the before & afters from them. Nothing about my editing technique is fancy or over the top. I hope that someone sees how I've transformed a RAW photo into a final image and is inspired by it to try their own. That's how I learned - emulating people I was inspired by and watching YouTube tutorials.
When you're not on the road - you're home in Portland. What's your relationship like with that city - and how do you spend your time there?
I moved here 7 years ago and I never want to leave. The city is getting tougher to live in. Everyone figured out how fun and beautiful and previously, affordable, Portland was. And we all came in droves. Now the highways and rentals are beyond capacity and we're experiencing incredible growing pains. People at arms with each other wanting the "Portland experience" but trying to change it to make it more like their previous homes at the same time. Change is inevitable. We just have to make the right decisions as a community to keep us on the right track.
It's impossible to deny the natural wonder that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. You can ski in the morning and surf in the afternoon. High desert and alpine meadows and glaciers and rainforests all in a day's drive. I'll never get over how incredibly diverse and beautiful it is here.
Any daily habits that you abide by - whether at home or on the road?
Home and tour life require vastly different and unique balances of regimen and spontaneity. My time on tour, like any job, is dictated by the work at hand and a daily schedule must be adhered to. But within the confines of the daily schedule, each day is a unique challenge. You're in a new city, at a new venue, with a different local crew, with a new workspace that may not suit all your needs, if you're playing outdoors you need to account for the weather. Nothing kills band merchandise sales quicker than a few raindrops. So you learn to be flexible and adapt. On days off I always try to rent a car or recruit a friend in the city I'm visiting to embark on an adventure. Where's the closest park or beach or mountain that we can spend the day? What's the point of getting paid to go to all of these places if I'm not really seeing them?
At home, I have to work much harder to make all of that happen. Because it's all my own time. Most days start with a coffee, a PB&J, and 2 hours at the gym. Followed by answering emails and Lost Lust customer service, packing orders and recruiting new wholesalers. It requires a lot of discipline to maintain. But it also allows me to decide at 10PM one night that I'm going to wake up 4 hours later, at 2AM, drive 5 hours to Olympic National Park, run around until the sun sets, and then drive 5 hours back. Or you can say yes when your buddy texts you "Hey, wanna go on a 10 day road trip next week?". And then a week later you're standing at the top of Observation Point in Zion National Park.
Do you have any favorite "failures" that you'd like to share?
I fail daily. Weightlifting has taught me that failure just means you're performing at the top of your skill set and you're making attempts to grow. I'm struggling to increase my bench press. I've turned around on hikes I wasn't prepared for. Destroyed camera gear in the PNW rain. Lost control of my car on an ice covered forest road. Developed ideas for band merch and Lost Lust Supply that were non-starters. It's not a failure if you learn from the experience, change your approach, and attempt again with better knowledge, tools, and skills.
Any advice you would give to your 10-year-younger self?
Stop wasting your days off sleeping in and watching TV. There are things out there to see and experience and EAT. I've never regretted a day experiencing new things or being on a trail. You don't want to be old and gray and say "I wish I had done more."
Learn more about Brian at his website.
Follow him on Instagram @brianstowell.
Get 'yer fine enamel goodies at Lost Lust Supply.
... and a bonus quote that he shared with us:
New to this whole Latigo thing?