Born in Toronto, Canada and currently based out of Shanghai, China, Ryan Pyle has evolved into one of the world’s most prolific photographers and adventure travelers. As an award-winning photographer, documentary filmmaker, author, and motorcycle enthusiast, Ryan Pyle has taken his intrigue of China and transformed it into an artistic archive of visual media and adventure.
Photographers’ Companion, a Chinese magazine with a circulation of 380,000 recently did a succinct profile on contributor Ryan Pyle on his reasons for coming to China and his collaboration with Corbis. Additionally, we were able to ask Ryan a few questions ourselves regarding his coverage of China’s tallest building, where he was the official photographer for the project.
Photographers’ Companion: Why did you come to China? What has kept you in China for such a long time?
Ryan Pyle: I studied Chinese history and Chinese politics at the University of Toronto and I felt a real need to visit China see the reality of what I had been studying for so many years. My first trip to China was an incredible 90-day backpacking adventure through the most remote parts of the country, and it was actually this initial journey through China that sparked my interest in photography. Prior to this trip in September 2001 I hadn’t had any interest in photography. China was very much my muse. I’ve stayed here for such a long time because I feel China is incredibly vast and diverse and there is much to see and document. Because the country is changing so quickly and the lives of Chinese people are being altered so drastically from the way their parents grew up, it makes for some unique story telling opportunities.
Photographers’ Companion: Why did you choose to collaborate with Corbis?
Ryan Pyle: Originally I joined Corbis to be part of their photography assignment team where I would get magazine assignment from Corbis editors and travel throughout China telling its stories for the international media. But, over time that business began to disappear and now I mainly work with Coribs on managing my vast stock photography archive and making sure that the image rights are properly managed and respected in the international markets. And Corbis does a fantastic job at putting the interests of their photographers on the forefront.
Corbis: Was there a sense of national pride in China over the completion of this building?
Ryan Pyle: The Shanghai World Financial Center, the building in question, is owned and operated by MORI Building of Japan. So actually there were some mixed feelings in China about China’s largest sky scrapper being developed. The general consensus was, that although it was a beautiful building, a land mark in the financial district, why was the Chinese government allowing the Japanese to stake such a large claim in Shanghai? There are still a lot of unsettled feelings between the Japanese and Chinese because of actions that occurred during the Japanese occupation of China during the 1930s and 1940s.
Corbis: How long did it take for you to document the entire process?
Ryan Pyle: The building actually broke ground in 1997 and then Asia was hit by a financial crisis and they put the entire project on hold. They re-started the building in 2004 and it was completed in 2008. I came on and began working on the project in 2005 and finished in 2008. It was a wonderful opportunity to document the advancement of the construction and development of this landmark.
Corbis: It looks like many of the images were shot up high, during construction. Any perilous situations?
Ryan Pyle: There were a lot of sticky situations. If you want to document high buildings, and I mean really high, then vertigo is not possible. You’ve got to be light on your toes, aware of your surroundings and wearing a harness and being clipped in to the safety wires on the building is also important. It was a challenge, but it was incredibly fun and exciting and it presented a new challenge to my photography career, at that time. It was a fantastic growth experience.
Corbis: How were you selected as the official photographer?
Ryan Pyle: I went through a selection process by the Public Relations firm that the building owners had engaged for the promotion of their building. I was lucky enough to get chosen.
See more of Ryan’s images here.