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Capturing The Energy Of The City That Always Moves
A day in the creative life of photography prodigy Ryan Parrilla
“The smells, sounds, what’s happening around me. I definitely use my five senses when out and about. I love listening to everything around me. I feel like I am one with my environment.”
It’s not often you find Ryan Parrilla (@ryanparrilla) without a camera in hand. The Manhattan-based photography prodigy, 18, has been snapping shots of New York for just four-and-a-half years, a fact that might surprise his 100,000 Instagram followers. While his original handle, @novess, speaks to his youth, his photos are anything but amateur.
They include ‘man-on-the-street’ documentary-style portraiture, shots of anonymous commuters navigating Midtown Manhattan’s busy intersections and freeze-frames of daring skateboarders catching air off a ramp.
Ryan’s father, Louis, picked up on Ryan’s talent when Ryan was in his pre-teens. That’s when, at 12, Ryan borrowed his sister’s iPod touch and, skateboard in tow, headed out onto the city streets, shooting fellow skateboarders and ordinary scenes in Manhattan’s Lower East Side projects. In one photo—a shot of a boy riding his bike through a puddle—Ryan caught a rainbow after a drenching downpour, and the residual raindrops that remained.
This kind of dedication led Ryan’s father, Louis, to purchase his first SLR for him—a Canon Rebel—as a Christmas present at age 14.
“His passion is a ten-plus,” he says. “At times I had to go to his room after midnight thinking that he was on the computer playing games [but] he was actually teaching himself and reading up on photographers from all over the world—just to learn more about how to get better at what he was doing.”
Ryan’s dad talks about how his son followed his passion from a young age.
But some might argue that no shots come close to the awe-inspiring work that happens each morning on the rooftop of Ryan’s home, a 54-story building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. There, among 270-degree views from New Jersey to Queens, with the Manhattan skyline, 59th Street Bridge and the East River as his backdrop, Ryan soaks in the quiet of the city and the high-rises that punctuate the horizon.
And then, armed with Canon’s PowerShot G7 X Mark II, which, while compact, gives him control over his shots and allows for superior manual control, Ryan starts snapping, capturing the majestic Time Warner Center and the diagrid-steel Hearst Tower before turning his eye to smaller buildings with interesting facades and slated roofs.
The result? Stunning photos of Gotham in a way most people—especially New Yorkers—have never seen.
“When I come up [on the roof],” he says, “it's really special because not only is it a nice view, this is New York, and being able to kind of just look over the horizon shows me infinite possibility.”
“It's really peaceful up [there],” he continues. “Then you go downstairs. And then boom, you're on the streets of New York. I love it…the fact that I can just [go up there]. Take some nice breaths and then go into the crazy city.”
After checking the weather and various live cams to gauge area lighting, Ryan then heads to any of the five boroughs to begin his day.
“I walk around,” he says. “I guess you can call me a photo taxi. I just look at where the light is best. And wherever the light is, I watch what happens in the light. And work with it.”
In Midtown, along a five-block stretch along Sixth Avenue between 47th and 53rd Streets, Ryan takes photos of people purposefully walking by, following them halfway down a crosswalk before stopping and catching them as they approach the corner. Spending 45 minutes waiting for the right shot is not out of the ordinary.
“Sometimes the photo comes to you and sometimes you need to work for it a little bit,” he says. “If I see a lady with a nice dress, I might follow her, see what she walks in front of, what kind of lighting she walks through. Those unexpected happy moments are what makes life magical.”
Ryan talks about how skateboarding influenced his love for photography.
While there, Ryan is inspired by the way the light hits certain buildings, by the cars passing him, by the shadows on the sidewalk. He spots a mail truck with the driver’s arm hanging out he window and snaps instinctually.
Indeed, at times his Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II seems an extension of his arm, allowing him to snap shots in split-seconds, in a range of lighting conditions and focal lengths. For the time he takes to search for and set up his shot, Ryan also understands composition in a way that allows him to raise his camera to snap a shot without looking through the viewfinder. The camera’s touch screen allows Ryan to quickly adjust his settings and review his photos on the go; the camera is also Wi-Fi and NFC-enabled, which makes it easy for Ryan to share his shots with his Instagram followers.
“I love using my camera because it just feels right in my hand,” he says. “It kind of feels a part of me. Being comfortable with your camera, just being able to photograph what's in front of you the way you want it, it's really important. Aperture, shutter speed, white balance, the focal length of your lens. All those things matter.”
Ryan ends his day the way his career took off—at the skate park—this one under the Manhattan Bridge, bordering Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
“I used to skateboard a lot and started taking photos of my friends and videos,” he says. “People started telling me I had the talent and the eye for it. I love getting to meet other people that do the same stuff that I do, and love it just as much.”
Ryan’s friend Steve Irby talks about what makes his photography stand out.
As the light turns a dusky hue, illuminating the tops of trees and the sharp angles of the plaza, Ryan snaps a gutsy ‘boarder mid-air, capturing his momentum in a still shot.
While some may see Ryan’s progression from skating enthusiast to in-demand photographer as a natural segue into adulthood, Ryan insists there are meaningful parallels between the two.
“When I used to skate, I had to get this feeling after landing a new trick or something,” he says. “When I get the right photograph I get that feeling ten times more. It's just as powerful. I think that's one of the main reasons I love photography.”