HIGHLIGHT: JARED BYRD

HIGHLIGHT: JARED BYRD

Jared Byrd (@byrdfortysix) is a gifted artist. His music, photography and design work all attest to that. We've been following his work on Instagram for some time now and have sincerely become fans of the colors, tones and textures Jared uses to invoke a sense of connection and familiarity with those who view his imagery. As a longtime Mextures user Jared has compiled an impressive amount of time and experience using the app to accent and texture his images. So naturally we couldn't wait to chat with him about these topics and many others. Follow along!

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Hi. I'm Jared. I am a musician/writer/designer currently living in the humble village of San Francisco. Weird, right? There aren't too many of us here in these parts. I was born and raised in San Diego, California. You should really go if you've never been. They have real Mexican food there. It's pretty wild. To be fair, it was a really remote area of San Diego called East County. Don't go there. It's less fun than you're imagining. My parents were high school sweethearts at the same school my brother and I would eventually attend, which is cute and all, but some pretty small town stuff. I had a lot of the same teachers my parents did, which is strange to think about now. My dad, Jeff, was drafted out of high school to play professional baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays and my older brother Justin was an amazing football player that ended up going to Cornell University. There were pictures of them up in my school gym with plaques that basically said, "look how rad these dudes are!" Though really proud to be a Byrd, I felt the pressure to be really good at sports. I played football and really loved every minute of it. I even thought I'd go on and accept a scholarship of some sort, but my deeper passion for the arts won that internal battle.

Early on, I'd buried myself in fantasy novels and music. I spent most of my extra time writing stories inside the worlds that Tolkien and R.A. Salvatore dreamed up. When I wasn't ensconced in something fantasy related, I would sit next to my little cassette player boombox (if you don't know what this is, ask your parents) for hours and learn Pink Floyd, Radiohead and Tool songs on guitar. My imagination really spiraled out of control during that time and it certainly paved the path for where I am today artistically.

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HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO PHOTOGRAPHY AND DESIGN?

I remember being fascinated with Polaroid cameras when I was a kid. My brother, cousin and I would take pictures of our Star Wars and G.I. Joe toy battle scenes and replay them like they were movies. Sure, there were occasional Transformer and M.A.S.K. (twenty points if you remember those) appearances. But, for me, photography has become just another medium to convey a thought or idea. Where I have traditionally picked up a guitar or drawn a picture to express how I'm feeling, I've only recently started to apply that same approach to photography. I took photography classes in college and really didn't fall in love with it until much later on. I focused on design and illustration, the two mediums I understood and enjoyed. I ended up working at a graphic design studio in San Diego in the late 90's, when Photoshop 5.0 wasn't quite on everyone's computer yet. Photographers would submit photos to be retouched or altered completely and a lot of my job was editing those. Needless to say, I rely heavily on my intuition and feel pretty good about my ability to take less-than-amazing framework and retool it to what I want. As for what got me back into photography, well, I guess it's as ridiculous as someone watching the movie "Rounders" and thinking that they're a card player. I had an iPhone and suddenly became a photographer. Everyone became photographers. I remember downloading Instagram around the time it came out and not really knowing what it was or how it worked. That feeling may still hold true today, actually. It was poorly explained to me by a friend as a photo album in which you could select photos to share with other friends, rather than a public forum and social media platform. I took ridiculous pictures of everything. Stuff that shouldn't be shared. With anyone. Ever. After I found out exactly what Instagram was a few weeks later, I deleted the nonsense and changed my username. I remember stumbling upon a @leahminium post of a toy Stormtrooper and being transported back to my childhood. Though, she does it way better than I did back then! I got totally excited about reinventing my old Star Wars photos. Even though the iPhone camera has come a long way from what it was back then, I knew I needed something with more control and versatility. Last year, I finally ponied up and bought a Canon 5D and a 50mm f/1.2L.

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HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA PLAYED A ROLE IN YOUR WORK?

It's tough to argue the fact that social media has, for better or worse, irrevocably changed most of the ways we think and function. Most everyone reading this, at least. So, yeah, I'd say it plays a role in how I approach certain projects, specifically due to the endless amount of inspiration that is now accessible through it. I guess that since I remember the days when the internet wasn't a thing, (thanks, Al Gore!) I can really appreciate being on the crest of that wave and witnessing art evolve with the inundation of information.

Remember LiveJournal? That was the first creative platform I remember liking a lot. I would design a character or landscape in Photoshop and post a story that correlated. I looked forward to logging on and seeing my friends responses to them. That format never translated well on Friendster or MySpace. Fast forwarding fifteen years or so to Instagram, there are some really amazing artists out there consistently creating deep, thoughtful pieces that inspire me to try new approaches to how I shoot and edit. Not to mention the awesome micro-communities that exist within. It's been great meeting people that I've followed for years and been inspired by. Surprisingly enough, another inspiring aspect is the cheap, synthetic stuff that has trail blazed a path for an entire industry of insta-fame and narcissism. The whole grandiose versus vulnerable study is a compelling read. It's reverse engineered inspiration to me. You know those accounts where every single post is a pool selfie, a mirror selfie, a bar selfie, a gym selfie, a buy-this-product selfie. Fascinating stuff, in a social study kind of way. The really awful on Instagram makes the really great even better, for me. Strangely not the case on Facebook. It's only when I'm feeling particularly masochistic or when I'm looking to get bummed out that I log onto that site anymore. Suffice to say, I don't like to use it for anything art related...unless it has to do with Photoshopping Justin Johnston's photos. I don't care to give this context.

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IS THERE ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR THAT YOU HOPE TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH YOUR IMAGES?

As with all of the projects I do, the whole idea is to create a thing that hopefully inspires others to create. At the end of the day, we're responsible for the amount we did or didn't do. I post a variety of different styled images intentionally. There are so many Instagram accounts that you know, for the most part, exactly what is going to come next. It's that aesthetic consistency that builds a following. That got boring to me very quickly. I needed the freedom to post anything that moved or compelled me at that time, so I've just campaigned on that approach. It doesn't take much to figure out that I'm not keen on curating an ultra clean looking page to collect likes or followers. It's not my end game there. I get strangely Fight Club about Instagram (polishing brass on the Titanic) at times and, admittedly, it has caused my posts to swerve different directions. I should add that I'm a total joker, so, I can appreciate when people get my sense of humor or obscure references.

Additionally, I really enjoy when artists use it as a means to share the pieces they've drawn, painted or sculpted rather than an approach that begins with "this is going on Instagram." By and large, the images I post have a specific meaning for me and if people pull something positive away from them, that's great. The best compliments I get are when total strangers reach out and tell me they were inspired to make something because of my work. Instagram Mission complete.

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WHAT EXPERIENCE HAS LED YOU TO PROGRESS THE MOST IN YOUR WORK AND STYLE?

There was a pretty profound turning point for me about three years ago that really changed the way I approach my artistic endeavors. I hit a pretty rough patch that made me question a lot of what I was doing and why I was doing it. Existential crisis stuff. I was very insecure about a lot of facets of my life. I was carrying around a sense of loss that was jarring for the better part of six months. I'll spare you the details! I felt the need to escape San Francisco for a bit. I'd just come off of a two month detox/cleanse thing and felt some amazing clarity. I also felt like getting on a plane, so my buddy Dave and I went to France and we just wandered around, got very lost and photographed everything. It was only my second time there, so I was still unfamiliar with the city. It was a really amazing trip. It rejuvenated a sense of urgency that I'd lost. When I came back to the states, I had this wild idea to start a band, buy a new camera and do all of the things I'd regret not doing later on. I've been pretty prolific since then, between traveling, photography and music.

In terms of how my work has progressed, I think it's been a fairly logical progression. As I've mentioned before, I really enjoy observing the boundaries and straying from them. I avoid keeping the same feel or texture with anything I'm doing. It could very well be that I haven't found my voice in all of this mess. If I spend a lifetime creating things to find it, the journey will have been worth it.

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WHAT DOES YOUR EDITING PROCESS TEND TO LOOK LIKE?

I used to have a very specific two-step process that began with Photoshop and ended with Mextures. Now, it completely depends on what I'm going for and the mood I'm in. I was a naysayer on Lightroom for a long time for no other reason than being stupidly defiant. I've used Photoshop for so many years, I was clueless to the awesome advancements that Adobe made specifically for photography. My friend talked me into giving it a try (more like made fun of me for my naivety) and I fell in love with the versatility right away. Now, I begin every editing process with the end in mind. If there is no immediate plan, I may let the image sit on my computer for a while until I revisit it. Well, that's what I've done historically. My laptop and backup drive were stolen a couple weeks ago, so now I have an extra blank canvas to work on. About eight years of work *poof* gone. Thanks, San Francisco! I was the dummy that felt it's be safe for an hour in my trunk. I was very wrong.

On a more positive note, the reason Mextures remains the last tool I use is because of how I texture and accent my work. When I began using it, I was enthralled by heavy editing. But the more familiar I became with it the more I discovered that its real strengths were found in its subtleties. Because I always draw musical parallels with how I work, I've found Mextures to be the mastering process rather than the mixing. A small tweak can change the whole entire picture. To summarize, I now flow from Lightroom/VSCO film, Photoshop to Mextures.

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WOULD YOU SHARE A FEW OF YOUR MEXTURES FORMULAS?

Here are a few of my formulas that I typically use as a blueprint depending on whether it's a portrait or landscape.

Hello (VTEFSSY), Unforget (AVRFKTX), and Sleep (QYXRHYQ) are the formulas I use primarily for portraits. They tend to work best on images with a flatter, non-textured background. They are subtle and are a great springboard for a lot of the images I've done recently. I always go back and fine tune the layers, regardless.

Cornelius (QGPABSJ), Rupert (XDSPAMR), and Jack (EZFGNZG) are formulas I typically use on landscapes or black and white images. They lend a nice touch to pieces that I already like but seem like they need a small adjustment to be where I want them.

DO YOU FEEL LIKE MEXTURES OFFERS ANYTHING UNIQUE TO YOUR EDITING PROCESS?

Mextures changed the mobile editing game for me. Before, it was definitely hard times for all of us relying on Instagram's "Kelvin" or "Earlybird" to bring our dinner selfies to life. With Mextures, the vast amount of versatility just within the blending modes section would be enough for me to use it. When I'm editing in Lightroom, I typically calculate what edits will happen within Mextures if I actually want the photo on Instagram. So, in a way, it's changed the way I view editing. I have a ton of photo apps on my phone and I've used them all for various purposes, but most of them are rendered pretty useless because I feel like they trash my photo rather than enhance them in any way. It could just be the fact that I got used to Mextures exporting the photos the way you see them when you're editing.

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WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND TO BE YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN DEVELOPING YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY?

This is the most difficult question yet. A little while ago I felt limited by the tools I was working with. I learned pretty quickly that was just a lame excuse. If you gave Led Zeppelin a bucket and a banjo they'd make an entire album and all of the songs would sound amazing and different. Ultimately, it came down to me needing to better understand what I was trying to say with my images and utilizing every resource.

What I can also say is that for a long period of time I was in a head space where negative reinforcement wasn't uncommon. It was a lot less "just create" and much more "this better not suck." It was a very unenlightened approach, to say the least. I needed lessons in humility. I've found that the biggest challenges have been ones I've created myself. When projects started to flow, I'd subconsciously toss a roadblock in there to see how far it flung me off the road. Recognizing that was something I was doing was a huge step and a big eye-opener. Accepting that failure is an integral part of the process and embracing the beauty of those failures is a newer place for me. Since I'm now constantly trying new approaches to how I shoot and edit, I'm loving all of the strange results I'm coming up with. A lot of people that follow me on Instagram might not feel the same way, but hey, it's all part of keeping it fresh for myself.

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WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVORITE PIECE TO CREATE?

This one hurts just a little bit, only because most of my favorite pieces I hadn't posted on Instagram yet before my laptop and hard drive were stolen. Boy, do I regret that.

Of the work that I still had on my desktop computer and phone, I really liked the Sutro Tower/Death Star image I made and posted on January 1st. Poignant for how I felt at the time about American politics, Dakota Access Pipeline and the multitude of other insane injustices happening before our very eyes. I felt like people had to see their own demise before it became real to them. So, there's the Death Star in our atmosphere. Deep stuff, right?

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WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CREATE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE?

For me, storytelling is at the nexus of all I'm trying to do creatively. The observer can interpret some wildly different things than the creator intended and that is such an incredible dynamic that happens across all mediums, whether it is a painting, a written story or sculpture. I operated very differently not too long ago when seeking inspiration to shoot, write or design. I'd wait for those special moments to arrive instead of just getting out there and finding it. I stopped believing that inspiration was a thing that miraculously happened to people. It's under rocks, inside locked boxes. My participation became necessary to be inspired.

About two years ago, I remember coming home from a long day at work and crazy hard workout at the gym and wanting to just crash on the couch and fall asleep. I'd gotten a bit of bad news that day, so I wasn't feeling the greatest. I had this thought that I was missing something pretty huge in my day. I recognized some level of emptiness that I needed to fill. I strapped my camera on and walked up to the top of Yerba Buena point on Treasure Island here in San Francisco. I started shooting late night long exposure shots of the bay bridge traffic and the San Francisco downtown cityscape. When I got home and started sifting through the images, I felt as though you could see some desperation in those shots. They were a reflection of how I felt. I started to find inspiration in the acts of movement. In following my intuition to pick up a camera, I now feel responsible to create images that inspire others to create.

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WHO ARE THE PEOPLE THAT HAVE MOST INSPIRED YOUR WORK?

Without going too crazy in-depth with the artists and why I appreciate them, I can rattle off some really amazing accounts that are always making me try new things.

For photography very specifically, Leah's (@leahminium) work was a catalyst for me in a lot of ways. It was a lot less of a "I can do that!" appreciation and much more a "I need to be doing my own versions of this!" It made me really happy when she complimented my Star Wars shots and reaffirmed my decision to get back into the craft.

Justin Halbert (@justinhalbert) is an old buddy from San Diego and I began following him on Instagram years ago before his account really took off. I started to see his work get more and more insane and it inspired me to do landscape shots.

Justin introduced me to Oscar Nilsson (@oscarwastaken) who is just brilliant at what he does as well. I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall when they chatted about gear, what they were using and why. Really cool coming from my world where I can do the same with musical equipment. Being ignorant to photography gear at that point made me even more intrigued.

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Chuck Lang's (@chuck) portraits and aesthetic are incredible. His work speaks for itself.

Kate Martin (@quietwisdom) is an ultra talented friend that set her camera down when I started getting back into it. After her break, she came back really strong and has been killing it. I love her landscape captures! It makes me happy to see her shooting again.

Olivia Lee's (@otleephoto) film shots are really great and I can thank/blame her for my appreciation for non-digital photography. That world gets expensive pretty fast. Thanks, Olivia!

Additionally, I really enjoy @oveck and @andrewtkearns. Incredible stuff.

Arguably the biggest influence on me artistically has been Adam Jones (@adamjones_tv). Everything from his illustrations, sculptures, video direction and musicianship. I adopted - stole probably - his creative approach and dark aesthetic years ago when I was a kid. I've really carried it with me and it can be seen in a lot that I do.

Constantly inspiring my work and how I approach projects is my girlfriend Sam (@samleehello) She really is a true renaissance lady. She blows me away with her pen and ink illustrations and her ceramics. On top of all that, she is a denim tailor and buyer for an amazing shop here called AB Fits. She makes me feel very lazy at times with how much she takes on.

Tune in to more of Jared's incredible work here!