Reed Rowe is an accomplished commercial photographer. Rowe lives in Utah and is another ‘honorary Mormon’ that attended BYU and obtained a BFA in Photography.
Tell us a little about where you grew up and how you got into photography. I bounced around a bit growing up. I was born in Provo, but then spent the next 10 years in Othello, Washington. It was a good place to be as a small child. Farming and agriculture, horses and cows, barb wire and electric fences. Just a lot of space for a young boy to run around and get into very innocent trouble. But it really was a fun place as a child and I have nothing but fond memories of Othello. We probably would have stayed there had it not been for a few traumatic years that changed the course of our family. My father was involved in a very tragic car accident that he was very lucky to have survived. He was in a coma for three months and had several brain surgeries. His recovery took years, and to be honest it still goes on today. That event really changed my life. Life was very fragile and I didn’t really have anyone to sort of guide me as a small boy. Relatively simple things like fixing my bike was on my own shoulders now, since my dad was physically and mentally incapable at the time. Being forced into that situation was a two-edged sword. I became very introverted in many ways, but I also became very analytical as well, since I had to figure out things on my own. To this day I am a very handy person. I love to create, build, design, and repair, and I believe that developed out of necessity as a child.
My father was in a coma when Mt. Saint Helen’s erupted and our home was covered in ash. He has no memory of the incident, but it was another very memorable and traumatic incident for such a young kid. A year and a half later as my dad was trying to get back on his feet, my grandfather (my father’s father) was killed in a very tragic accident at work. My mother was a saint and a rock for our family during my father’s recovery, but my grandfather was crucial for my father. He was the one who could inspire my father in his recovery. We lived just down the dirt road from my grandparents, so the loss was massive in many ways. This series of events led my father to finish college, which resulted in him taking his first job as a teacher in Juneau, Alaska. We spent a year there, but when oil prices drop in Alaska the entire economy is affected. So we ended up in Orem, Utah, where my father’s sister and her family lived.
I had a very strong inclination in my studies towards architecture, which I pursued for awhile. It played very well to my structured and problem-solving mind. Sometimes I still wonder if that was my calling. But I eventually went the graphic design route. Graphic designers and photographers work hand-in-hand, so once again that do-it-myself instinct kicked in and I got into photography. I had graduated in graphic design and was working in the field and realized I liked photography better. I also realized I had more potential in that field. Potential in the sense of how I could personally succeed. So, after reviewing my options I ended up at BYU where I eventually graduated with a BFA in photography. Honestly, going to BYU was something I had sort of been avoiding, but what a great decision going there ended up being. The facilities, the faculty, the education, and the connections that the photography program have are unbeatable in my opinion. I loved my time there and love the people I met and learned from. John Telford, Paul Adams, and Val Brinkerhoff all taught me a variety of invaluable things, but it was my first still-life class, taught by Michael Slade, that really opened my eyes. I was hooked.
Your commercial work is fantastic. How has your approach evolved over the years? One of the things I’ve never been able to escape in my work is that very structured aspect. There has always been a very strong graphic sense to my work. It’s just how I think and work. It’s not that I am actively trying to escape it, but certain clients have needed more candid and casual images. That doesn’t come natural to me and it’s where I grown the most over the last few years. Instagram and the like have really affected the market. Certain styles have developed by what would be considered amateurs by the pros, and looked down on a bit, too. But either way, the images produced have become so commonplace that those styles invaded the professional market. Now clients want that style that was developed by very young and inexperienced kids. It’s an outrageous turn really. You are seeing look books being produced by teenagers who have this seemingly effortless style. So I’ve been forced to follow that to some degree, follow much younger photographers and try to see what they are seeing. Not entirely, but what they are doing is a very valuable and sought-after style. You have to give it credit and know its part of your competition.
You were able to travel to China on a photo trip with BYU. What was your experience? Yes, I was able to go to China. What an opportunity that was. Something that I would have never made happen on my own, and I have to thank John Telford for that opportunity. I’ve been all over the world, and many places in Asia too, but going that deep into remote parts of China was special. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. We were on the move every day so it was very exhausting. I think that put us all on the edge a bit. Mix that with some very difficult personal issues I was going through and it makes me look back on China with some very mixed emotions. But the experience overall was amazing and unique. It was so great to see each photographer’s varying styles come out. We would all photograph the exact same locations, but the photographic translations of each spot were unique to each of us. It was great.
What’s next for you? Well, I’ve spent the majority of my photographic career working for other people. I spent a couple years at Skullcandy and a couple years at Backcountry here in Utah. The connections I made at Skullcandy still to this day keep coming back to me with opportunities. People who I used to work with there have all gone to work for other amazing companies, so I now have connections all over. I will always be grateful to my Kevin who hired me there because it has led to so much. I’m happy I still get to work closely with him to this day. At Backcountry I managed the photography studio. I had a team of about 35 people. We had a large studio in Salt Lake, a smaller one in Virginia, and a retouching team in Costa Rica. I knew that taking that job was going to teach me a lot, whether I liked the job or not. Running numbers for a team that large is not for me, but I loved working with them all. Teaching is something I love and I had the opportunity to do that with that team. I learned a lot from them as well. But for the last year and a half I have been on my own. It’s been a great return to pure photography and I am handling it much better after the experiences I had from being an employee. Things are going well. There are ups and downs for sure, but it’s all very positive right now. There are so many local companies here in Utah that have a national and international reach that I’ve been able to stay here in Salt Lake City and slowly work on building the international reach that I’d like to have. I’ve loved living here and having a studio here. I hope to keep that momentum going and keep growing right here. And more pictures of dogs, for sure.