Ryan Bartaby is “a Graphic Communicator and observational photo-taker” living and working in blustery old Cambridge for the exciting The District and the mysterious Ben Stott. He’s interned at the wonderful YCN, London outfit Hyperkit and Brighton based StudioMakgill.
Your CV takes you from Falmouth to Cambridge: where are you from and how did you start out as a designer?
Throughout my life I’ve moved around quite a lot. My Dad is in the military so as a family we lived wherever he was told to live. Subsequently I’ve lived in various places because of this, between the UK and Germany, which I think in turn has informed my wider view as a creative and a person. At school I had natural leaning to visual arts and I continued with this quite naturally into college. It was at sixth form college when I really started to become aware of the existence of the creative industry on the whole. I originally thought I wanted to be an illustrator but did a foundation art course, during which I really enjoyed various forms of visual communication, particularly photography and screen-printing, and I realised that if I pursued design at university that I could do all sorts with it.
Even though your work consists of both printed and digital media, there’s a definite consistency through your photographs and your design work. We can really tell it’s yours. Is it a conscious effort to imprint your signature on your work?
The work on my website is meant to be a showcase for my more personal work. It acts as a platform where I can publish personal projects with no restrictions and act as an insight into what makes me tick as a designer. I intentionally don’t show any really commercial or contextual work. So in that sense the work on my site probably does have a natural consistency, as it’s done for me, but it’s not a conscious effort.
Being trained in design I tend to allow visual outcomes to be determined by the unique situations that a project exists within. It’s about whatever communicates the point the best. But I agree that I probably have a natural leaning to various ideas and visual manifestations of these. My ideas tend to be more relational and intuitive to each project. I also have an unashamed awareness of aesthetics and interest in materials and processes, though I don’t let that drive a project by itself.
You’ve worked in Brighton, London, Cambridge and yes Shrewsbury. What are the differences in creative culture between those places and which would you recommend for someone looking for a creative city?
I’m a firm believer that these days you can produce good work no matter where you are in the world. It’s one of the things I think is great about the internet. It’s never been easier to know what’s going on visually and socially somewhere else in the world. However, I also strongly believe that your surroundings inform your view. It’s easy to forget what it’s like where you’re not and what the internet can’t do is replicate and translate the very fabric of a place. Such as the people who inhabit it, the diversity in culture, things on the street, buildings, food, drink, excitement and loads of other stuff.
All the places I’ve been have naturally been different, that’s inevitable. I don’t want to overtly credit or discredit places as its not fair to compare them competitively. Shrewsbury is a pleasant town with nice rural surroundings, but it doesn’t quite have enough going on for me. Brighton is obviously a quite open minded place on the whole, with plenty going on, of which I only scratched the surface during a two-week stay. Cambridge has some interesting stuff going on and some great places to check out, plus great rail links with London. It’s also a pleasant and comfortable place to be. But London definitely has a lot more to offer with loads going on and things to dive into. It would, being a massive city. Its a really great place to be a designer with plenty to be inspired by, directly and indirectly related to design. The standard of work is also generally higher and in larger volume.
Typography and iconography seem really important to you. It’s almost like they’re the subjects of your photographs, in a world devoid of people. What do letterforms mean to you?
I have a fascination with signs, symbols and language systems, to me they’re visual communication at it’s rawest. Letterforms are essentially shapes for sounds, to borrow from Falmouth tutor Timothy Donaldson, so are essentially symbols themselves. I’m interested in symbols because they’re consciously designed graphic forms that carry meaning. Signs are the more functional counterparts of symbols, that aren’t elevated to a higher status to stand for something culturally, and just communicate something in it’s simplest most effective way. Language systems are collections of shapes and symbols that can be endlessly rearranged to create new meaning and to help human beings communicate with one and another.
We tend to enjoy photography that has a reality in its tone. That the people are your neighbours or anyone in the street. A lot of your photographs have this quality; they’re fragments of memory. Is this intentional?
I’ve never thought of it like that before, it’s not really intentional, the memory fragments that is. A lot of my photos are simply things I find interesting that I’ve captured and recorded visually. They’re almost functional in that sense, which is why I refer to myself as more of a photo-taker than a photographer. I don’t like to get in the way between what I’ve seen and how it’s presented to other people, I prefer the honesty of reality. I believe in honesty to the medium, not making something look like something it’s not and making something the best they can be using tools relational to that medium.
You enjoy taking photos of things that have fallen down. We love that. Why do you do it?
I’m not sure really. I guess with those photos I find it amusing as things aren’t supposed to have fallen down. Sometimes when things have fallen no-one realises for a while. By chance they’ve changed appearance and how they’re perceived. I think it’s the unexpected and fresh perspective that I like. Its the kind of approach I try to have with my more developed design work sometimes.
You describe yourself as “a Graphic Communicator and observational photo-taker”. Which disciplines do you feel are your strongest and which would you like to explore in the future?
Which one is strongest doesn’t really come into it. To me it’s all linked under a wider discipline of visual communication, which I practice broadly. My photos are more of a constant flow and more easily immediate, unless it’s a planned project. The more graphic and illustrative design projects take more time and deal with more elements, making them more developed than immediate. I’m just going to continue what I’m doing, graphically and photographically, exploring the spectrum as a whole.