A few weeks ago, we stole Brandon Carter from his house at 4 a.m. to intern for vurbmoto for the next few weeks in Utah. While we’re sure Brandon is tired of watching Wes FaceTime his dogs every day, he’s been doing some excellent work for us. Brandon explained how he made it to Utah last week, but how did he get into the industry? We’ll let him explain.
Welcome back, folks! It’s been a full week since I got the call to come hang out in Salt Lake City. The fine folks at vurbmoto claim that a couple of you liked my story, and while I’m not sure whether they’re just saying that so I’ll keep making them coffee or if it’s actually true, either way, I am excited to be here.
As we get back to the swing of things here in week two, I first felt it imperative to explain how I got myself into this mess in the first place. So, if I may, let me take you back to July 27, 2019, where I attended my first Pro Motocross event, the Washougal National. It was on this day that I really fell in love with shooting stills of dirt bikes and decided to pursue it further than taking photos just for my Instagram. While I did not have track side access that day, I was fortunate to able to line up behind the fence, just feet behind some of the most influential photographers in the action sports industry and shoot photos of my favorite riders as they did battle in the Pacific Northwest.
There is no shortage of great photographers in our sport, but amongst them stood the legendary Garth Milan. Garth has taken some of the most iconic photographs in action sports, and the opportunity to witness him in action that day gave me a massive rush of motivation. I was fired up and shot literally thousands of stills, as I hiked what felt like a hundred miles up and down the natural elevation of Washougal.
I snapped a single shot of Garth in his blue media vest. The day after the race I posted the photo of Garth on my Instagram, along with a caption that I’d made a goal for myself of lining up with him next year, with a blue vest of my own. Garth replied and told me that I should go for it and that he hoped to see me out there one day. That simple message of “go for it” changed my entire perspective on things and it became my mission to shoot from the other side of the fence. I had given myself 364 days to figure out how to get there.
I dove in headfirst and spent countless hours studying the principles of photography, the work of my predecessors, and how to edit photos in post. I started shooting at local tracks during my free time to practice my craft and make connections, but months later I wasn’t truly satisfied by the progress I was making, and I was still working a stale day job that I hated. I knew I’d have to work harder and smarter than ever before if I had any hopes of this goal to coming to fruition.
When Kyle Cowling’s Perseverance series was released in January 2020, I reached out to complement him on his great work. We got to talking and that day I made the decision to make an offer to lend a hand. At that point I felt that I had nothing to lose, and as the story goes, Kyle decided it would be a good idea to enlist my help. A few days later we’d made plans to meet at 7:30 a.m. to get started on our first project together. I arrived at his home and we spent a few minutes exchanging pleasantries while we packed gear for the days shoot. We hit the road, but we never breached the topic of what exactly I was getting myself into. After all, I never asked what we’d be doing, or who we may be working with, and he never volunteered that info. At this point all I knew was that we were headed to Irvine, California, for our first assignment.
We made a quick stop at Starbucks for Kyle’s standard hot chocolate (no whip) before heading into the dense Los Angeles traffic. It was right around the third bite of my breakfast sandwich that Kyle casually mentioned that we were headed to the Fox headquarters to film a custom gear set being made for seven-time AMA Champion, Ryan Dungey! I nearly choked on my sandwich, and although I was “super pumped”, I did my best to play it off and be cool. I mean, no big deal, right?
My first job with Kyle would consist of a half day filming Dungey’s gear being hand made at Fox, followed up by an afternoon shoot at the GEICO Honda race shop. After we checked in with reception and began shooting, I spent a few moments taking a better look at the premises where I found myself surrounded by gear sets being prepped for today’s top talent such as Adam Cianciarulo and Ken Roczen. A seamstress was busy stitching a signature Ryan Dungey butt patch onto a fresh set of gear. A printer rattled off Dungey’s number 5 along with various heat transfer logos for his one-off jersey.
After filming the assembly of Dungey’s new gear, we packed up and began to make our way over to the GEICO Honda race shop. Here, we’d get a first look at Jade Dungey performing the finishing touches on Ryan’s new bike. I spent the day with a grin from ear to ear as I shot photos of the race shop, the bike build, and custom #5 graphics being installed on the GEICO Honda. The experience was surreal, and never in a million years did I expect to find myself walking around this facility, much less with my camera in hand. Little did I know this new chapter of my life had only just begun.
We met on Friday and headed to Fox Raceway, where we met with Ryan to film as he rode his new bike. This was my first time meeting Ryan, and he was a true gentleman. He greeted each of us, and was genuinely excited to be there, where he’d host a ride day with local riders later that afternoon. Now a family man with a little one of his own, Ryan hadn’t thrown a leg over a bike in months. As Jade and Ryan made a few final adjustments to the motorcycle, Ryan joked that he wasn’t sure that he’d remember how to ride the bike, and asked us to make sure we got his good side in the camera. Kyle had invited me along to an exclusive event, where he would be the only journalist hired to document the occasion, and he’d enlisted me as the sole photographer. As the morning pressed on, I came to realize that this would likely be an important day for me and, while there were no expectations set, I did not want to let him, or myself down.
I began to feel the pressure of the situation, but quickly reminded myself to have fun and not to take things too seriously. I had never expected to be thrown in to the deep end like this, but I knew I had to embrace the opportunity in front of me to chase this dream.
The experience was surreal, I’d never dreamed I’d find myself walking a track while Ryan Dungey burned laps, much less with my camera in hand. Although I wasn’t fully aware of it’s impact for a few weeks, the experience would prove to be transformative for me. After our shoot with Dungey, Kyle and I worked together on a few other smaller projects over the next few weeks, but nothing would quite compare to our shoot with Ryan. Kyle’s video would launch, and for the first time I was able truly relate to what I was seeing from the camera lens. I was present the day that gear was made, the bike was built, and I was there as Ryan gracefully rode the track that was now painted across my screen. It was an amazing piece of art, and I felt proud to have had a small part in the project.
Just days after the release of the video, Kyle reached out to me with a request for a hand full of photos from the day. I sent him my selects from the day, praying that he would be happy with the work I did. Minutes later, I found myself reading an email which stated that there was potential interest from an Italian motorcycle magazine to publish the photos I’d taken, along with a feature interview of the champ himself. I was shocked, and I read the email over and over again, confident that my eyes were deceiving me. I again found myself trying play it cool, and as my hands shook I replied that I’d love to see the photos published, and made just a single request; they’d have to send an extra copy of the magazine (for my mom).
Thank you all for stopping by again, and a huge thanks to everyone at vurbmoto for having me back.