Fine Art Photography Daily

The Bryan Formhals Mixtape

When you do find people that you connect with deeply, nurture those connections and build upon them. There are some absolutely wonderful, intelligent, forward thinking people swimming with the sharks. Find them, expand our fucking minds, show us new perspectives, alter our perception.

The name Bryan Formhals first came on my radar around 2008 or 2009.  I was writing Lenscratch and I wanted to connect with other  bloggers on the west coast– J.Wesley Brown’s We Can Shoot Too and  Miguel Garcia-Guzman’s Exposure Compensation were excellent blogs, and I heard that Bryan was also a Los Angeles blogger, but when I reached out to him, he told me that he had just moved to New York.  Bryan was an early proponent of Flickr, finding much of his content through the Flickr community and doing an excellent job of culling quality work for his blog, and later, his terrific magazine, La Pura Vida.  In 2012, I finally got to meet Bryan at Photo NOLA.  We were both reviewers and it was wonderful to get to know him a little better.  Bryan has been an honest and intelligent voice in the photo community, and over the years has produced content, both visual and written, that sets a very high bar.

When I approached him about participating in the Mixtape series as a publisher of La Pura Vida, he let me know that he was returning to his roots as a photographer and was shutting down the magazine.  We had a discussion over cocktails at Photo NOLA whether one can truly be an artist and take on other roles, roles that take away from from making work.  It’s a subject that I think about and wrestle with all the time.  With that in mind, I encouraged Bryan to share his story. Though he is persuing his own work, he is also finding new ways to communicate about photography, through podcasts and Tumblr and I have a suspicion that Bryan will continue to be an innovative and perceptive voice in our community.  With great pleasure, I present The Bryan Formhals Mixtape!

Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.

Born October 18th, 1976 in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I was obsessed with sports as a kid, especially baseball. Played all through high school. Wasn’t very good.

In college I studied journalism and communication. I thought I wanted to be a sports writer. Sophomore year in college I finally gave up playing baseball, and started partying, reading books and writing awful poetry.

Graduated from St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota in 1999. I thought finding a job would be easy, then the first tech bubble burst and I realized getting a job wouldn’t be so easy. I moved to Minneapolis, and eventually started working for a web company that monitored the internet for PR firms and such.

At night I wrote screenplays. I wanted to be Steven Soderburgh+Wong Kar Wai+Jim Jarmusch+Paul Thomas Anderson.

On 9/11 I arrived at work just as the second plane crashed into the WTC. A colleague grimly told me: “That’s the second one.” Our building received a bomb threat so we were sent home. I bought a big Mac meal deal and watched the news, then went out drinking with friends.

In February of 2003, cabin fever drove me to have a quarter life crisis. For some reason, I was making abstract paintings.

With the help of the I ching, I decided I needed to live in the desert. I’d always joked that Phoenix seemed like the perfect city. After thinking about it, I realized it wasn’t a funny joke.

As a fortunate member of the corporate class, it wasn’t terribly difficult to live out my fantasy of moving away from home. All I needed to do was make a transfer through my company. I packed my Chevy Malibu and arrived in Santa Monica, California on Sunday, May 23rd, 2004. I brought three disposable cameras but forgot to use them.

In Los Angeles, I took a class at second city because I had fun doing improv in Minneapolis. I thought comedy writing might be a viable new fantasy. The witty people in my class didn’t laugh at my sketches.

In 2005, I finished a screenplay and mailed it to my best friend in Minneapolis. He hated it. I was depressed. I couldn’t write. I didn’t want to be stuck in my apartment, so I bought a point and shoot camera and started walking around Hollywood and Downtown Los Angeles.

February 4th, 2005. I joined Flickr.

February 8th, 2005. Joined the Hardcore Street Photography group.

March 17th, 2006, St. Patricks day. I had a small get together at my apartment and photographed it.


Los Angeles, 2006/2007


Los Angeles, 2006/2007


Los Angeles, 2006/2007


Los Angeles, 2006/2007


Los Angeles, 2006/2007


Los Angeles, 2006/2007


Los Angeles, 2006/2007

September 1st, 2007. I started a Flickr group called La pura vida (Sept. ’07)

September 18th, 2006. I ordered four rolls of Neopan 1600 from B&H Photo.


Los Angeles, 2007/2008 – from Genesee Ave.


Los Angeles, 2007/2008 – from Genesee Ave.


Los Angeles, 2007/2008 – from Genesee Ave.

July 1st, 2009. Moved to Greenpoint

April 6th, 2011. Published the first issue of LPV Magazine

July, 2011. Started working at B&H Photo.

November 8th, 2013. Published LPV 7, the final issue.

December 9th, 2013. Received an email from Aline Smithson.


2008, from Road Ghost


2008, from Road Ghost


2008, from Road Ghost


2008, from Road Ghost

What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?

I’m a content strategist and manage the social media team at B&H Photo. On a typical day I read the internet and collaborate with my colleagues to develop content for our various outlets.


New York, 2009/2010 – from India St.


New York, 2009/2010 – from India St.


New York, 2009/2010 – from India St.

What are some of your proudest achievements?

Working with the photographers, editors and designers for seven issues of LPV. I was also fortunate enough to be in a group show, ‘New American Street Photography’ last year in New Orleans, and later at drkrm gallery in Los Angeles. It was curated by Stephen McLaren.

LPV 5_cover

LPV Issue 5


LVP Issue 4


LPV Issue 6


LPV Issue 7

What do you look for when attending a portfolio review?

I tend to gravitate to documentary photography and it’s various permutations. I look for narrative and a tightly edited sequence. Artist statements are hazardous. Be careful. I prefer to listen to the photographer tell a story about the project. Mostly, I want to know what motivated them to start the project and keep going with it.

When the work doesn’t resonate with me, I try to be constructive and give broad ideas about the creative process. I prefer to have a dialogue with the photographer where we can bounce ideas around to see where the project can go.


New Orleans, November 30th, 2012

Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?

Basic advice. Be prepared, know your project. Speak about it with confidence and enthusiasm. Bring alternatives. Leave something behind. Make it engaging, interesting. The bar is high in this regard already.

You can always gain something from each reviewer, even if they don’t necessarily appreciate the work. The smart photographer takes tips and insights wherever they can find them. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t. That’s the process.

When you do find people that you connect with deeply, nurture those connections and build upon them. There are some absolutely wonderful, intelligent, forward thinking people swimming with the sharks. Find them, expand our fucking minds, show us new perspectives, alter our perception.


New Orleans, December 2nd, 2012

What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you? 

In 2003 I started a gossip blog. Woke up early in the morning, hunted for links from the big gossip sites, added pithy commentary. Lasted about six weeks, but in an alternative universe, I sold it for millions of dollars and spend my time traveling around the world having sci-fi adventures.

Also, I haven’t bought groceries in 18th months.


Jackson Heights, Queens, January 20th, 2013 – from Thirteen


Greenpoint, Brooklyn, March 27th, 2013 – from Thirteen


West Village, Manhattan, June 16th, 2013 – from Thirteen


Times Square, Manhattan, July 30th, 2013 – from Thirteen


34th Street, Manhattan, August 15th, 2013 – from Thirteen

 And since this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?

I can’t recall the last time I danced. Sometimes I jump around when I hear a good song and have been in Lightroom too long.

I find most my music on Spotify these days. I don’t know about favorites but I have a 2014 playlist going right now.


Flushing, Queens, 2013


Willow Lake, Queens, 2013


Willow Lake, Queens, 2013

And now I let Bryan take over ….

Killing LPV

After the 7th issue of LPV, I decided to kill the magazine and the Twitter feed. When I was at PhotoNola in 2012, Aline told me rather bluntly that I’d probably need to make a choice between being a publisher and being a photographer.

I’m very grateful LPV resonated with an audience but focusing on it over the years has taken creative energy away from my own photography and art.

I work a full time job, so my time is limited.

I’m active on Tumblr, posting photos and quotes that I find around the web. Some people call it aggregation or curation, I’m not sure about that, I think it’s something else but don’t know what. At some point I plan on killing Photographs on the Brain as well. Then I’ll start a new Tumblr based around some idea or concept. Not sure what yet but I have some ideas I’m working on.

Last year I started an interview podcast, which was fun. Season 2 is in the works now. It’s a collaboration with Tom Starkweather, Eddy Vallante and a few people we know from Greenpoint. It’ll be a fun ride.

In the fall, a book I co-authored with Stephen McLaren will be published by Thames & Hudson.

For the last few years I’ve been photographing in Queens. I’m particularly intrigued by the area around Willow Lake. Paul Kwiatkowski and I are investigating.


Flushing, Queens, 2013

Thank you Bryan, for all you do for photography and photographers…

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