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Capturing Moments of Authenticity With Chris Straley

The Ones / BY Austin Lane

Capturing Moments of Authenticity With Chris Straley

Believe Fearlessly July 08, 2021

Chris Straley is a well known surf photographer who got started by capturing his group of friends enjoying life, catching some air, and following the tides. He progressed quickly and went from hobbyist to professional within just a few years. He’s had the opportunity to photograph for Transworld Surf Magazine, Nike, Adidads, Chase Bank and many others. His unique vision, easy going personality, and Southern California vibes have made him one of the most sought after lifestyle photographers around...but through his journey has stayed true to his craft and himself. Get to know Chris as SoCal native and BLVR Creative Director Austin Lane asks him about everything from breakfast to books to believing fearlessly.

The most important things that
are created come from authenticity."

Austin Lane: Let’s start small, what did you have for breakfast?
Chris Straley: Homemade granola with yogurt and fruit.

AL: Do you prefer coffee, tea, or neither?
CS: Iced Matcha.

AL: What gets you most excited to get out of bed in the morning? (besides homemade granola).
CS: The time before the sun comes up.

AL: Where did you grow up?
CS: Well I was born in Omaha, Nebraska and moved to the Carlsbad area when I was 4 years old. I have lived in north San Diego my whole life for the most part though.

AL: How did your upbringing and where you lived shape who you are today?
CS: Growing up in the Southern California surf and skate culture I had a strong connection to that counter culture. I literally spent almost everyday from 13 on at the beach. Immersing myself into that scene at such a young age allowed me to travel, and see things others would only dream of. Once I realized that my peers were competing on a different level I found photography and started documenting my friends. I quickly realized this was a way for me to continue to travel with my friends as well as pursue a new found passion. Traveling and working taught me about hard work, adapting to change quickly and how to live on the road.

AL: Film or digital?
CS: Digital.

AL: All time mentor?
CS: Not sure I really have one. When I started taking photos everyone was very secretive about cameras, setting, films, and all that stuff. There was a different mentality. It was an old school mentality of figuring it out yourself. Very different from the instant gratification we have today. A couple people that have really helped me along the way though have been Sonny Miller, Paige Long, my rep, and my wife. These three have helped guide and teach me a lot more than just photography.

AL: 3 favorite photos of all time that are not yours?
CS: Annie Leibowitz - John Lennon Yoko Ono, Martha Cooper - NYC Graffiti Photographer, Anything by Henri Cartier Bresson

I want to
create imagery that creates conversation between people."

AL: What 3 books do you recommend others read?
CS: Mmm... I don’t really read too much, but I love art and photo books. Virgil Abloh’s Figures of Speech, Futura The Arts Monograph, and Watching My Name Go By which is a very rare book on graffiti I got in New York when I was like 16.

AL: Top 3 favorite sneakers?
CS: Nike Air Force 1, New Balance 990’s, Adidas Samba.

AL: Top 3 favorite photos?
CS: Mmm... Of mine? Not sure I really have any favorites. Still waiting to capture it.

AL: Favorite place on earth?
CS: Really enjoy Tokyo right now.

AL: 3 things you can’t live without?
CS: Family, conversations, innovation.

AL: Biggest Fear?
CS: Not trusting creativity.

AL: Was there a time or shift in your life when you realized, “I want to create and explore photography.”?
CS: I realized there was something more than for me in photography when I honestly gravitated toward looking at photography magazines and not surf magazines. It was a hard transition mentally as since I
was a kid all I cared about was surfing. Now I had this fascination and immediate addition to all things photography related.

AL: What were the steps you took to get on your path? Were there any major roadblocks during your initial journey? If so, how did you overcome them?
CS: Well coming from the surf industry and working as a full time surf photographer for about 10 years I feel like my jump into where I am now was less of a hurdle and more of a stepping stone. I learned a lot about interacting with people, traveling and myself during those years. My biggest obstacle was when my wife was pregnant with my second kid and I decided to leave surfing and the industry cold turkey. I put my head down and really dove into branding and creating a website and finding artist representation that I could create a long relationship with. At the time I had no idea really what I had with my team. Now they are like family and I wouldn’t change that for the world!

AL: Do you remember your first big career breakthrough?
CS: Mmm... I think I'm still waiting for it? I have worked on a ton of really cool projects over the years but I honestly think of them a bit all the same in some way.

AL: What’s the perfect environment for creating something of importance? Where do draw inspiration from?
CS: I don’t know if there needs to be a perfect environment. The most important things that are created come from authenticity. Nothing staged. Truly documenting the situation, group or culture. I want to create imagery that creates conversation between people. Something that puts the viewer in the driver's seat.

AL: If you could choose any photography project to be yours, what would it be?
CS: I think I am just really interested in photographing culture. Whatever that may be from a tequila farm deep in Mexico to documenting teens running a muck around a large city for a footwear campaign. As long as I am telling an authentic story that is all that really matters to me. I would really love to document the process of someone like Virgil Abloh, Chicago Don or Kanye on their creative process through a project. But, I think telling a story that doesn't necessarily show them creating a physical object but really dives into their creative process would be amazing to document.

AL: I’ve witnessed first-hand your knack for being very tapped into culture. Film, fashion, art, music…. How important is this in the role of creativity?
CS: I mean truthfully it is everything. All of those cultural aspects shape a larger conversation that is told individually and together. Creativity that can’t be defined as a single object but a culmination of pieces that each influence each other.

AL: What other creative outlets do you have outside of photography?
CS: As far as physically doing other creative things not much. But I spend a lot of time researching pop culture, graffiti, music, and fashion.

AL: If you could invite anyone in history to dinner and conversation, who would it be? Why?
CS: Wow, that is a hard question. I would probably chose Virgil Abloh. I would love to spend some time having conversations about culture, music and fashion. He is honestly the modern day Picasso and has his finger on the pulse of pretty much everything creative coming out in this world right now. Pretty heavy statement, but from Off White to Louis to Canary Yellow, he is doing crazy shit.

AL: Describe what it’s like to see your work in the streets, in a magazine… globally.
CS: Oh man. Its kinda funny actually. Sometimes it is amazing and sometimes it is horrible to be honest. I have shot jobs that I thought were horrible and the design really brought the images to a whole new level and as you can imagine I have shot images that were amazing and the design absolutely ruined the images. So honestly being my work is always a roll of the dice. I would say that it is cool to be somewhere and point out to my kids that I took that picture. They think it is pretty cool!

AL: Do you remember that first big job or feature that blew your mind when you saw it? Tell us about it.
CS: Yeah I had a job back in I think 2013 shooting my first entertainment job in NYC. It was for a show called Younger by Darren Starr who created Sex and the City. Super random and honestly I cant believe I shot it. It was bonkers though working with Debi Mazar and Hillary Duff. Dealing with popperazi and what not… Just the production and support I had on that job was insane. I think our first location which was a roof top in Dumbo was like $55k a day. It was rad though once it all came out and I was driving down Sunset and saw billboards all over the place for the show. Definitely a pretty cool thing to be a part of.

AL: If you had the podium for one minute and the entire world was listening, what message would you share?
CS: Be kind to one another.

AL: What 3 things does anyone starting in your industry need to know?
CS: Create, create, create. It is something that I so hard to do, but it gets easier the more you do it. Creativity is a muscle and working that muscle definitely gets stronger the more you use it.

AL: What would you do differently if you were starting in your industry now?
CS: I would honestly just try and shoot as much as possible. When I started I didn’t really have true guidance to get me to this stage. No action sports photographers that I knew had really taken the leap into commercial shooting. Now it seems as though more people have. I didn’t really have anyone to tell me to shoot more than surfing. I really wish I would have spent more time shooting portraits and doing test shoots as I think I would have gotten to place that I am at faster.

AL: Which people, books, and/or experiences have had the most influence on your growth and why?
CS: I have a really great group of supportive women in my corner. First my wife, she has been through a lot with me. She is extremely supportive and gives me a lot of freedom to create and while keeping me grounded. Second for sure would be my rep, Paige, at Fox Creative. I honestly have never met anyone like her. She knows that industry and photography better than anyone I have ever met. She edits my work, supports my creative process and ALWAYS has my back. Next would be my other Paige, Paige Dorian. She is my producer and a good friend. She is like a mother, wife and friend while on set. She is the best. Honestly all three of these women put up with a lot of shit from me I couldn’t do this without them!

AL: Tell me about the biggest failure you've had. What did you learn from it?
CS: One of my very first jobs was for a small shoe brand. We shot up in SF at an absolutely amazing location. Everything seemed really great as it was my first big commercial job outside of action sports. On the phone the agency was so laid back and gave me the green light to everything I wanted to do but had a very hadn’t in talent, wardrobe and styling. Everything that they chose was so bad, the talent looked horrible on camera, the product was shit and the wardrobe was horrendous. I told myself after that job that I wanted to be involved in as much as I can on every job so that I can say to myself after the job is done that I did everything I could to make it great!

AL: When are you the most creative? Do you have any strategies you live by to get in the zone?
CS: I feel like I am most creative when I am passionate about the project. I mean that is kind of a given I guess. But really I feel like creativity is at its peak when people collaborate on something. Whether you end up using the idea or not, just having conversation extenuates the process.

AL: For those who want to make a difference in the world, but struggle to know how or think they have nothing to give, what would you tell them?
CS: Everyone has something to give. I mean if you want to make a difference, youre already changing the world. I would tell the person that just them sharing their story with me made a difference and if they keep doing that their message will have a domino effect on people.

AL: When it comes to where you are today, if you were to go back in time, what would you do differently? If nothing, expand on why?
CS: Honestly not sure I would do anything differently. I feel like I am where I am based on the path I was supposed to take. If I changed something on my journey to get where I am something else may not have happened and could possibly put me somewhere completely different.

AL: What do you hope the impact of your career and life will be on this world?
CS: I don’t know if my career will have an impact on the world. I really just want to be known as a person that was kind, authentic and caring. Someone that was fun to be around and made people smile. I want my kids to look at my career and see that passion, persistence and hard work can take them to where they want to go.

AL: What advice would you give to the next generation?
CS: Man this is so hard. This industry has changed so much since I started. I think the best advise I would give is to do you. Don’t try to be anyone but yourself. I have tried emulating others, wanted to be others and honestly I am happiest and most successful creating when I do me. People need to trust themeselves. Trust what they want to capture and trust who they are.

AL: What does it mean to you to Believe Fearlessly?
CS: Believe Fearlessly means to me that you should have no reservations in
whatever you want to do in this world.

AL: Okay, to finish it album of all time?
CS: Damn that is a really hard question…


Austin Lane

Austin Lane

Executive Creative Director

With over a decade of experience, Austin leads the creative vision at BLVR. Photography, painting, drawing, and filming were all early passions that eventually lead to a career in Design & Advertising. Austin has worked with a wide range of clients across all verticals including Transworld Surf Magazine, Victory Motorcycles, Polaris Snowmobiles, MillerCoors, Toyo Tires, Wild Turkey, The North Face, Eddie Bauer, and Harrah’s Resort Southern California to name a few. He’s been recognized by the ADC Awards, One Show, Communication Arts, Lürzer’s Archive, Adweek, Ads of the World, National Addy’s, The Denver 50, and his artwork has been shown in Colorado, California, Georgia, and New York.