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"The Great Outdoors” are often portrayed as majestic places that are hard to reach and require complex gear to explore. While this is certainly true of many outdoor pursuits, it’s not the only truth. Today, short on the heels of his recent cross-country trip to Detroit, we sit down with photographer Robert LeBlanc to discuss his creative process and the ways outdoor spaces are represented in an inner city context.
Please tell us a bit about yourself…. Age, occupation, home, general interests….
I'm 33-years old and I'm a professional photographer living in Los Angeles, CA. When I'm not shooting stories, you'll usually find me pushing around on my skateboard.
Current camera body and lens set-up?
Sony Rx100V and Sony RX1R M2 with fixed 35mm lens.
Other recent projects you may have worked on….
I've been working on a longterm project about the cultural landscape of America for about the last five years and will be releasing it as a book in 2020. I've also been focusing on an old Pentecostal church that practices serpent handling in West Virginia.
Books, zines, or other published works…..
My first book "Unlawful Conduct" was self-published worldwide in 2015, and my follow-up book "A New America" will be released in 2020.
Where did you grow up?
The rural wilderness landscape of Montana.
How did your early years influence your desire to become a photographer?
Skating around seeing weird shit all the time and wanting to document all the craziness that came across our path.
When did you first pick up a camera? What did you shoot?
I've always had a camera on me when I was young skating around, so I would carry disposable cameras when I was 10 or 11, then when I turned 17, my dad gave me his old Minolta and that was the first time I used a "professional camera." I would just shoot skating or random things but that's where I started spending time in a dark room and the addiction really kicked in.
When first starting out, what was it about photography that interested you?
The ability to show people how I see the world through my lens, and hopefully create images that will stand the test of time.
Has your interest in photography changed over the years? If so, how?
Not really, just to spend more time developing longterm projects and hopefully tell more stories that matter.
Do you see your work as commercial, fine art, photojournalism, or documentary-style photography? Or as a combination of all four?
Definitely photojournalism and documentary. But I think that style can cross over to commercial for the right client.
How did you come to work with Holden and Allied Feather & Down on the ‘Into The Cold—Detroit’ project?
I was doing my second cross-country road trip through America and after contributing my forest fire photos to the last issue of 'Into the Cold', I wanted to be part of this new upcoming issue and shoot something unique while on the road.
How long were you shooting in and around Michigan for the project?
For about five days, but like any project, it developed into something even better. I was able to use the original concept and adapt it to other cities outside Detroit including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Jackson, Mississippi.
Do you have any favorite moments, locations, or experiences that came from the Detroit shoot?
I think being able to look at the city as a new wilderness and a place where I could adventure was my favorite takeaway. This experience gave me the opportunity to look at the city in a completely different way and I loved it.
What was the weather and temperature like while shooting for this project in Detroit? What kind of equipment did you use for the shoot? Both in terms of camera equipment and outerwear.
The weather was pretty hot with some rain so I kept things pretty simple. Keeping my equipment small and less distracting is always key for me.
Any challenges or interesting anecdotes from the shoot? Information that might help other aspiring photographers and photojournalists?
Do you homework, I can't say that enough. Also make connections with locals, no matter what you're shooting. Having a local perspective and understanding of your location will give you a proper prospective of the people and the community you're photographing.
What is it about the urban landscape of Detroit that compelled you to take on the project?
I just love Detroit so much. I think it's one of the most unique cities in America with so much to discover and rich history.
What interests you about the manmade vs. the natural elements in the landscape?
I like having to look at an urban landscape as a wilderness and how I would treat the city like outdoor adventure.
When viewers see these images what are you hoping to show them?
That you don't need tons of camping gear, a four-wheel drive vehicle and all the other shit that goes along with experiencing the wilderness. It can be in your own neighborhood or city with just the right amount of imagination and creativity.
View more of Robert's work here.