"It's really critical to have people behind the lens that can kind of tease out these nuances in photography." We're joined this week by Eric Arce - freelance photographer, Specialized ambassador, and co-founder of Pedal 2 The People. Eric speaks about infusing BIPOC experience into his photos, how a camera can be both a tool and a weapon, and how facing his mortality led him to find what he really wanted to do. This episode is jam-packed with insights and thoughtfulness, don't miss it!
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Iris: Hello all you Outside By Design listeners. How's it going? This is Iris.
Lisa: And Lisa, it’s both of us. And we're in the office. We're working in the office in Whitefish. Things are cranking here at WHEELIE. We are trying to get three commercials shot before the snow starts flying. And we are trying to get a bunch of bike trails mapped because we do trail map design and trail system branding, and that's super fun. So we are kind of racing the weather right now.
Iris: Sure are. Winter is coming fast.
Lisa: Yeah, you're getting a lot of brands ready for their holiday social media.
Iris: Mhmm. It’s almost 2021.
Lisa: Yeah. It might be controversial to say, but I think 2020 has been a real gift in letting us reimagine our work life, letting us really get a little bit existential and think about what matters to us, what matters to brands. And I think while 2020 has been a shit show, I think it has also been a gift.
Iris: Yeah. You know what else is a gift?
Lisa: This podcast episode?
Iris: Our wonderful guest that we have today!
Lisa: Yes! I knew that's what you were going to say.
Iris: Who do we have on the show today, Lisa?
Lisa: Today we have the awesome guest, Eric Arce. And he is awesome. I really, really, really enjoyed this episode because Eric is a photographer. He's an athlete. He's a really cool BIPOC male who brings his perspective behind the lens as well as in front of the lens. He takes epic selfies with a timer, it kind of reminds me of like the old Mikey Basich style, where he would take selfies of himself snowboarding and jumping out of helicopters. It's like, kind of on that level.
And Eric is a really thoughtful, conscientious human. This is one of the episodes where I think I learned the most as an individual.
Iris: Yeah. There's a lot of knowledge dropped in this episode and I'm excited our listeners are about to hear it. Eric talks about infusing BIPOC culture into his photos, from his perspective as well as the subject that he's shooting. He talks about how you got into biking, how facing his own mortality led to finding what he really wanted to do. And also how brands can sometimes dilute the messages that BIPOC are trying to share to be more digestible to their own audiences. So this is a jam packed, informational episode. And we're excited that you get to learn more about Eric.
Lisa: Yeah. Take notes. This is an awesome episode.
Iris: Let’s do it.
Lisa: Eric. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today. I'm really excited to have you here.
Eric: I'm super excited to be here.
Lisa: The first question we ask everyone is to describe where you are in the world and what you are looking at.
Eric: I am in Salt Lake City and I'm looking out - ‘cause I'm in my bedroom. So I'm looking out the window and I'm looking at a pump track that I never finished.
So at the beginning of COVID, I was like, you know, I don't know where this is going to go. And I really want to build a pump track. That's always been my dream. And I had a good one day of it. And I was like, ah, it's pretty hot out here. So I'll wait a little bit.
Lisa: [laughs] And it's still out there.
Eric: It's there staring me in the face.
Lisa: Oh man. That's a... that's great. That might be my favorite answer to that question.
Lisa: So you are a photographer. You're an ambassador for Specialized. You co-founded an organization called Pedal 2 The People. We have a lot of stuff to cover. I kind of want to zoom out and ask you a really big question, which is what is your story?
Eric: Wow. That's really hard to narrow down, but I think for me... so one of the things that I am really passionate about is mountain biking. And I first started mountain biking when I moved to Mammoth Lakes. My brother moved there first and I was straight out of high school. I didn't really have a plan.
He's like, “look, you should come out here and try community college out here and, you know, just have a lot of fun.” And while there, he did a really nice thing and bought me my first mountain bike. And of course, like, I grew up like BMX and everything. But when I bought my first - or when he got me that first mountain bike, I was blown away by how much fun I had.
And I remember doing this trail there, which was, you know, a pretty big mountain as my first trail. And I remember thinking, “Oh my God, I'm gonna die.” And “Oh my God, this is so much fun. I want to keep doing it.” I remember that bike that he did buy me, which was an entry level cross country bike, I literally broke every single piece on that bike.
And from there I was... I worked in the service sector. So I worked in restaurants, had like two or three jobs. And I saved up for my first downhill bike. And the more I started racing, the more I got into it. And I just kept falling in love with it. And I haven't stopped ever since.
Lisa: That is really cool. How, how does photography come into this story for you?
Eric: Yeah, but I've always been really into photography. I think photography is really beautiful. Like you can just keep learning and improving. And when I was a kid, my parents had that handheld digital camcorder, which also had, like, a photo setting. It was that really... the old school, you know, you pop the screen out to the side and then you can kind of take photographs that way. I don't know if it was a floppy disk or some variant of that, but it was hella old school. So I remember taking photos of that everywhere.
And at some point I had wanted to pursue that. And I remember I applied to this photography school and, you know, the advisor called me back and I was so pumped. And then he's like, “yeah. So we're just going to need a check of X amount.” Then when he gave that amount, I was like, yeah, that's not going to happen. So I kind of put that to the back burner, but photography had always stayed with me. Like I still... you know, even if it was like a disposable or anything, like, you know, eventually an iPhone, like, I still wanted to photograph. And I thought that was really important. So when I moved to Mammoth Lakes and started getting more into mountain biking, I had bought like a... it was like a Canon Rebel, I think. And I started taking classes. I was super into it and kinda started photographing some of the other groms. Yeah. I started photographing them all the time. ‘Cause they, you know, young kids are always down to either hit something like a feature, and they were always game to let me photograph them. So I started doing that a bunch and the more I got into it, the more fun I had.
But when I went to - I did go to community college and when I transferred to UC Santa Cruz, I needed the funds to move. So I ended up selling that camera, which I extremely regret. But it was something that... like, I just always loved to photograph.
Lisa: Yeah. That'd be a tough call between selling the bike and the camera. I probably would've gone camera as well.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. So back when I was in... so I went back to graduate school and during graduate school, as many graduate students know, it's extremely stressful.
So I kind of had taken a break from mountain biking at that point and I got back into it and I started to photograph again to kind of relieve that stress. And I was studying, basically immigrant labor at that time, I was getting my PhD in sociology. And through that, I was doing a lot of work with immigrant labor groups. And I knew that I wanted to make visible a lot of these Latino restaurant workers, but I didn't really know how to make them visible. So I thought, Oh, why don't I take their portraits and kind of portray like, the complexity that they have instead of just like these downtrodden people, like picture them laughing, picture them having a good time or picture them resisting. So that's kind of what I wanted to use the camera for at that point.
Lisa: Whoa. What was the effect of that or how... I guess how did, where did those photos go? This is very, very cool story. Yeah. What happened next?
Eric: Yeah, so, you know, like I would often visit them at their workplace. ‘Cause at that time I was trying to interview them to understand kind of like their day-to-day lives.
And you know, a lot of them joined this particular nonprofit to improve the working conditions of immigrant workers. And I really wanted to show how complex their stories were. So I really wanted to create like a, like a project to go along with my dissertation to also show that these people have humanity in them because they're often disregarded by society. So I really wanted to show all sides to them. If that makes sense.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds beautiful.
Lisa: How'd you shoot it just, would you light it or just sort of like shoot it as discreetly as possible or kind of what was your creative approach?
Eric: Yeah, I was pretty discrete about it. Yeah, and often I would… you know, obviously I would ask for their permission to see if it was okay and all that, but yeah, I was trying to be discreet and kind of just capture them as they- as if I weren't even there.
Eric: So I would kind of plan ahead of time and tell them, and of course they would have to check with their manager and everything. And it wasn't about like spotlighting that place of work. But I wanted to show just how important their lives were.
Lisa: Absolutely. On your website, you have a statement that the camera can be a tool for good, but it can also be a weapon acting as an extension of racist frameworks. And I would love to hear your thoughts on that and how this has kind of become a real backbone in the work that you're doing now.
Eric: Yeah, I think how photography has worked in the past is like, you know, you have certain people that go into... like back in the day, right, it was mostly white photographers going into people of color communities and photographing them almost like an exhibit.
So, I, you know, that's why it's so important to have people behind the lens. You know, a lot of people, when they think about representation, they think about being captured in front of the lens. But I also think that it's really critical to have people behind the lens that can kind of tease out these nuances in photography.
And I know there's been like photographers in the past who've done, say, for example, a story on poverty or a story on black people where the way that they've taken the photograph hasn't been in a dignified way. Where they highlight certain aspects that can be humiliating. So that's why I think how you shoot, who you shoot, and under what conditions is really important in photography.
Lisa: Big time. I, as a white woman, I can relate to the aspect of what it feels like when you look at photography that's clearly been like a man being like, “this is what women want, and this is how women ride bikes” and, you know, and it just feels off. And there's nothing to connect with on that.
And so while I understand that I don't truly understand, I totally am absolutely on board with it matters deeply who's behind the camera.
Eric: Yeah. And like, for example, in mountain biking, one of the things that always really bothered me - and I, I know a lot of people like don't do this with malice or, or ill intention or anything like that. But like for example, mountain biking, they're in videos or in photographs. They like, will go to like another country and they have all the little kids around them and it just feels really weird to do that, to always focus on that, you know, like, “Oh, like this is the first time they've encountered this mountain bike.” Let me photograph them and really focus on that when there's, I think there's other ways to focus on different cultural aspects than just that.
Lisa: I love that. So when a brand asks you like to go after, like, “Hey, we want to mix of action photography and lifestyle photography.” What are some cool perspectives that you bring in or that you try to bring in as you approach the subject, I guess?
Eric: Yeah. I think one of the things is..., you know, whoever the rider is, if it's portrait or riding, is trying to infuse some type of like whatever the… if they want to, whatever is important to them culturally. Right? You know? ‘Cause I mostly shoot BIPOC, it’s to infuse kind of their own culture into the photographs to some degree.
Like, for example, something I did recently with Specialized which I thought was pretty cool was that I photographed myself doing a wheelie in front of a low rider. With a mountain bike. And I think that is just a small way to give kind of like a little nod to a cultural difference, but it's still being something that I grew up around and I can still highlight. So things like that I think are really important.
Lisa: Also, how did you shoot a portrait of yourself doing a wheelie? Both, both impressive feats on their own.
Eric: Oh, so in that case - I do have like a hand trigger that I have on my handlebar. But in that case I had my buddy shoot it and then I shot the photo of the bike in front of the low rider. So yeah. So I definitely had help on that.
Lisa: You, you have like a remote on your handlebars? Is that what you just said?
Eric: Yeah. Which is... which is cool, but also like there's some drops I do, I'm like, I need to just get somebody out here to help me with that. [laughs]
Lisa: That's awesome. Yeah. Well, I think that your story is very layered and very complex. And so when I asked you what your story was, that is a very hard question. And your answer was really humble. ‘Cause it seems like you put tons of thought into everything you do. Is my impression of you.
Eric: Yeah. I think I overanalyze things which has its good bonuses and its drawbacks, you know, like, I like to understand the kind of impact that I'm going to have, especially as a photographer, because my hope is that people are going to see my images and that I could either inspire or impact them in a really positive way. And you know, like kind of mountain biking and BIPOC is a really new terrain. So I think it's really important that we get it right with how we do it. Like, we don't want to tokenize people and we want to make sure that people are highlighted in the right way and for the right reasons. So I kind of think of it as a big responsibility to photograph people. Like, I want to photograph BIPOC, but I want to also produce really beautiful images of them riding. I think that's really important to show them, you know, doing joyful things. So on one hand you want people to highlight, you know, some of the racism within the biking community and to push against that. But then also it's like, I want to see native people, you know, just out riding and having fun. Or I want to see a Mexican person riding in Iceland. Like just being who they are. So I think it's really important to kind of show the vast diversity of not only people, but the type of stories that are out there.
Lisa: How do you find your stories? Are you just growing your network and it happens organically or are brands like Specialized contracting use specifically to do that? Or how, how has that worked for you? I know every journey is so different.
Eric: Yeah. I think it's a little bit of both. A lot of times I kind of either just reach out to people or they reach out to me. And, you know, we'll kind of say, “Hey, let's work on this together or work on this project or let's meet up” and eventually just kind of happens organically. Or a company will reach out to me and saying, “Hey, we want to photograph this person. Would you be willing to do it?” And then I'll say, “yeah, for sure.” And we'll kind of go from there.
But one of the things that's really important is, you know, I said that I was studying to get my PhD, which I ultimately dropped out of, which is... we could talk about that later. But you know, when I was interviewing folks, ‘cause I was doing ethnographic research, so I was interviewing people and kind of looking at their own personal stories. Well, most of them were undocumented immigrants. I'd say a lot of them were. And one of the things when I asked them, “Hey, can I interview you?” They would say, “why would you want to interview me? Like, I don't have anything important to say.” And that's kind of the same thing, like, most people think that their stories aren't that important, but that's the beautiful part is that when I interview them or I talk to them, like they have really beautiful stories that they didn’t even know, or they didn't even think of as beautiful.
So once we kind of go through those layers, then we can see how complex and how unique every story it really is.
Lisa: Yeah. How, how do you do that? Do you ask the right questions or, you know, from like the creative perspective alone, the amount of honor that you're putting into your work is... it seems like it's really important to you. So like what, what's your creative approach when you sit down and interview someone?
Eric: So generally, like, I take a lot from what I learned about grad school, right? Like making sure that you ask certain questions, but you can always kind of tell when people light up about a certain subject. So making sure that, you know, you kind of ask these broad questions, but once you know that someone is really passionate about a certain topic or that something just really stood out and you kind of want to probe that a little bit more.
I just kinda try to ask the right questions, I guess. I don't know if that sounds pretty vague, but I just try to make sure that I kind of open up where they… with the theme that's really important to them. But at the same time, you also want to make sure that you're not... that you're being respectful when asking certain things. ‘Cause you don't want to just start asking people these really delicate questions that could ultimately be really triggering for them. Like if someone's talking about a past trauma or an injury that was really difficult to overcome and you don't want to probe too much, if that makes sense.
Lisa: And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then…
Eric: That too.
Lisa: That too, you know, get in there in a way that doesn't feel like someone is on exhibit.
Eric: Sure. Yeah, exactly.
Lisa: Yeah. Let's talk about joy and how you... you find joy through bikes. I have read a lot of your Instagram captions, and I know that bikes are like a very high point of joy for you. And you co-founded Pedal 2 The People.
Lisa: If you want to talk about that or why you think photographing BIPOC joy is important, kind of like wherever you want to go when we talk about joy.
Eric: Yeah. I think that, you know, a lot of times when… especially in these really, like, contentious moments, like with everything that's happened with Black Lives Matter and everything. A lot of times people, you know, want to highlight you for kind of tackling the racism within the bike community, which is definitely there. They want you to kind of talk from a place of pain, which... and I totally understand why people want to do that. But it's also good to make sure that we balance that out with talking about what brings us joy.
And that's really easy to do in biking because biking is really joyful. Like, we all bike - or a lot of people bike - because it's really fun. Like even as an adult, you know, if you're having a bad day, then it's really easy to kind of flip that around with a quick mountain bike ride or a pedal around town, or, you know, I think that we can... most of us agree that the mental health aspects of biking, you know, we can see that, it's really evident.
So it's really important to kind of understand how we need to highlight definitely the things that we need to overcome within biking, but then also the things that kind of bring us together and the kind of universality of it all.
Lisa: Yeah. Velocity.
Lisa: And gravity.
Eric: [laughs] Yeah. And crashing, but being okay.
Lisa: Mhmm. Let's talk about Pedal 2 The People and why you co-founded it and what it is.
Eric: Yeah. So Pedal 2 The People, I started it with my really good friend, Rachel Olzer. She is a Black woman and a mountain biker, a pro racer in Minnesota. And we did a project last year with Patagonia. And that was the first time we met. We did that project in Duluth. And as soon as we met, we like, hit it off. And, you know, we obviously became really good friends, but we also wanted to create a space where… and we've said this before, you know, BIPOC can be seen right through photography. We share their photographs. But then also where they can control the narrative, so where they can be heard.
So we wanted, like... you know, a lot of times companies will kind of filter what BIPOC say in their stories. So we wanted to kind of get a direct line and community with how they can share their words. So we wanted them to be honest and say whatever they wanted to say and that's on their mind. So out of that kind of came Pedal 2 The People.
We created that space so that we can interview folks and kind of highlight how unique every story is within the cycling community. So that could range from talking about past injuries, talking about substance abuse, talking about how they overcame something or just how much biking makes them happy. And it's been a really beautiful process in doing so.
It almost, you know, for a lot of people, I think it feels really cathartic for them to kind of express in, you know, in a very - what we hope to be - a very supportive arena for them to express their feelings. But it's also changed us a lot. Like for me, you know, there's an amount of vulnerability that's required to share these stories. And I think it's made me become more vulnerable and sharing my own story. Like, normally, you know, as much as I'm interviewing folks, I'm like, I don't think anybody wants to hear what I have to say. You know. So it kind of creates... it allows me to be more vulnerable too. So the stories there, I know Rachel as well, really inspire us to share our own stories as well. So it's kind of like this back and forth, which I think is really awesome too.
Lisa: Yeah. Would you be comfortable kind of expanding on... like, maybe not even naming a specific brand, if you don't feel like it, but how companies filter or try to filter what BIPOC stories are or like how they're said or like sensor the words? I'm just so interested in your perspective on that.
Eric: Yeah. I think that, you know, I think there's a certain way that BIPOC really feel, right? And then perhaps, you know, that editor is really wary of, you know, coming off too strong to affect the consumers. And I completely understand that, you know, you're not trying to go in there and piss everyone off, but an indirect way that happens is, you're going to have to change what you really mean. Right? Or what you're really trying to say to kind of a certain audience. So that message then becomes digestible for that audience. And because of that, like, you're not actually being honest about the problem, whether it be about racism or sexism or transphobia, et cetera, it becomes somewhat diluted. And you know, I think we're in times right now where we kind of need the truth to come out about... the bike community isn't always friendly. I mean, the bike community can be really awesome, but then it can have some very non-awesome moments in it. And I think that's what we're really trying to break down.
Lisa: What kind of awesome moments would you like to see more of and like not awesome moments to see less of?
Eric: I think in photography, right, it'd be really awesome to see more in magazines, just diversity. And people just shredding and riding. I think that'd be really cool. I think that's something that can be really easily done. Not every rider in a magazine is like the best pro or the top of the top. Right? It's going to be a photographer with his or her friends. And so it'd be really great to include more BIPOC in those shoots. Right? Maybe make more friendships within that. That'd be really great to see.
I want to see less white males in biking. Honestly, if I'm being really honest. For example, if I go to like Red Bull TV, like it's the most bro-ey bro fest I've ever seen in my life. And I think we're at a time where we can really focus on so many really beautiful stories. And I think consumers themselves want to see something really unique and different. Whatever that may, whatever that means. Like, I just talked about the Red Bull TV, like red bull also has this really cool story about Nigerian BMXers. And they kind of, you know, in their own words share the uniqueness of their story. And I think stuff like that is really awesome. It lets the person themselves tell the story and we're also seeing something really different. And the people in that BMX story are killing it. And I think that's really easy to do. There's so many stories out there. Why not show a diverse set of them?
Lisa: Absolutely. And so… that's kind of like the goal of Pedal 2 The People, to share these stories and like, amplify other voices, right?
Eric: Yeah. I think a lot of times, you know, people will say, “Oh, well, we couldn't find said rider,” or “we couldn’t find said photographer.” And one of the things that's really important to me is also interviewing photographers of color so that we can also be like, “Hey, here's a photographer that you said you couldn't find,” but then also why it's so important for photographers of color to be behind the lens. So kind of expressing some of the importance of having representation, both in front and behind the lens.
Lisa: Yeah. That's huge. That's super huge where. Where's the best place for people to follow that, on Instagram @pedal2thepeople?
Eric: Yeah. At pedal - and then the number two, like actual number two - 2thepeople.
Lisa: Cool. We will, 100% include links to that in the show notes. Of course. And the work is beautiful as well. Right? So it's impressive that you're able to kind of grow a community in, you know, a very cool sociological way. And also just like from an artistic, creative standpoint, just so beautiful too.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. I think like there's a lot of really great photographers of color that are just killing it right now. @adamonthego is really good. @thegreenevan's really good. They're out there, so.
Lisa: You're really good.
Eric: Uh, I don't know if I'll say that, but… [laughs] but yeah, I'll throw myself in there.
Lisa: Yeah. I really enjoy your use of color. And so do you, do you, art direct when you go in to do this or is it, are these natural moments that you're mostly collecting where people are like really popping against yellow leaves and things like that? Are you…
Eric: Yeah, I just really like bold color. Like I think it's really cool. And it also makes the skin color pop in, in a way. And I really love that too. It kind of makes it glow so that's... yeah. I'm super in love with color.
Lisa: Yeah, I picked that up immediately.
Eric: Yeah, I just wanted to do something a little different as well. And I think it comes out that way and I'm super stoked on it.
What I really love about photography is like, you know, a lot of times you're so worried about like messing up, et cetera, in like, life. But like if you mess up a photograph or you're not happy with it, you can always do it tomorrow. And that's super exciting to me. Like, you know, after you're like, “Oh, I didn't like it this way. Let me adjust.” You go back tomorrow or the next day or the next shoot. And you're like, “Oh cool. This is how I wanted it to be.” So there's like, such room for improvement. And I think that's the really fun learning aspect of it.
Lisa: Yeah. And I like too, that you... to truly take a photograph, like, you can't fake it. You have to be there when the light is a certain way and the colors are a certain way. And so, for me, at least, photography forces me to like really observe the nature and the beauty of what there is to work with already, and then live a life where I have to go to those places in those moments.
Eric: Yeah, and you have to be out there photographing to capture these somewhat rare moments. Like you have to be out there as much as you can. And that's what's really great about it. Like, it motivates you to go out.
Lisa: Do you find... this is like a weird thing, I'll just tell you. It's kind of embarrassing. So I'm not that strong. I have a small upper body. And so I always am so scared to mountain bike with my cameras that I will like, train by putting rocks in my backpack. [laughs] Without cameras, just so I’m strong enough. ‘Cause I just like, I can not get dropped if I'm out there trying to do creative work. Do you have any tips and tricks for like how you get your gear into these beautiful places?
Eric: So I have the worst back in the world, like, I’m a pretty tall dude. I'm like six one. And the world is not made for tall people. So like, I, you know, I had to make sure I have my desk the right size and my chair. So when I lug around a bunch of cameras and stuff, the next day, I'm like, I need my AARP card, I feel like. So I actually, one of the really cool things about working with Specialized and being an ambassador for them. And I love Specialized, not just because I'm an ambassador for them, but their bikes are awesome. So I recently ordered an e-bike. I'm super lucky to be able to do that. And I'm going to go on my first ride after this podcast with my camera gear. To see what it's going to be like. And I'm super excited about that.
Lisa: Oh cool.
Eric: Yeah. I think that's going to be a really cool tool to save my back. And I'm pumped on that.
Lisa: Yeah, because I think when you're like... if you're flipping through a magazine, a lot of people don't really realize how hard it is to actually carry that gear in to get the shot. And it is so hard sometimes, and expensive and you have to be able to ride certain trails sometimes, it can be... and then you fall and you're like, okay, do I give them my shoulder to this? Or my camera? My body, or the tools?
Eric: Yeah, that happened to me three days ago actually. ‘Cause I do this thing where I'm riding down, you know, and then... If I'm riding ahead, right? Usually, in some cases, the photographer goes first if no one really knows the trail so that you know, that person stop and kind of look. But I do this thing, which I need to stop doing ‘cause it's super dangerous. It's like, I look back to see what the lighting looks like on the trail. And then I did that at the exact moment that there was this branch sticking out.
Lisa: Oh no.
Eric: Yeah. And so my pedal just hit that and I went over the bars and, and I just, while I was mid-air I just kept thinking, “Oh no, my camera.”
Lisa: Right, right. You're like...
Eric: But I was okay. I think my ego wasn't, but I'll be alright.
Lisa: [laughs] It's a funny nuance of photographing mountain biking, I think.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's pretty goofy actually.
Lisa: And so you got an e-bike, which I think is cool, I think e-bikes are cool.
Eric: I, you know, admittedly, I used to be kind of like a hater, but that's only because I'm so bad at uphills. I like to think of myself as like a retired downhiller. And, you know, so when somebody would pass me, I’d be like, Oh God, a e-bike, you know? But that's just my own issues with uphills that I need to go to like therapy for or something.
Lisa: [laughs] Yeah.Yeah. I started getting more into uphill lately.
Lisa: Yeah. Yup. You know what I used to do that I'm kind of ashamed of that's weird and funny though?
Eric: What's that?
Lisa: So when I was like 25, I thought it was hilarious while I was driving up the road to the ski resort to go ride lifts and downhill, and I'd have my downhill bike on the back of my truck, I thought it was so funny to slow my truck down and like an offer to a road biker, be like, do you need a ride? Oh, you're doing that on purpose?
Eric: [laughs] Yeah. I'm sure they loved you for that.
Lisa: Just young punk me thought that was just the funniest.
Eric: Yeah. You're like, I got them.
Lisa: I got them good.
Eric: That’s funny.
Lisa: Now I like going uphill. Yeah.
Eric: Yeah. I think when like somebody who's really good at uppill, you know, says like... and they’re passing your on the uphill and then they're like trying to be really encouraging, in my mind. I'm like “Oh, thanks a lot.” Right. You're like, “Hey, you got this,” but in my brain, I'm like, “Hey man, screw you.”
Lisa: [laughs] Totally. Now you got the e-bike.
Eric: Yeah. Now I am that guy. No, but I think, I think it'll be really cool. I think that stigma about e-bikes is, is really fading and I think that there's a lot of benefit to it. So I think once we break out of that, then we kind of see like, Hey, like e-bikes are pretty cool.
Lisa: Yeah. This is just a good year, 2020, to just explode stigmas.
Eric: Yeah. I like that. That's true.
Eric: Kind of break away from assumptions.
Lisa: Break away from assumptions about e-bikes or mental health or…
Lisa: Yeah. All of them.
Eric: I agree.
Lisa: Well, is there anything I didn't ask you about that, that you think our audience would like to know?
Eric: Yeah. I guess, you know, you had asked me about the story... about what's my story.
Yeah, so about two years ago, I was still in graduate school studying for these exams. I was mountain biking more than ever. ‘Cause I was really stressed. And I happened to break my collarbone during that time. And so I was like, “Oh no, this is like the worst timing ever.” Like I need to be like studying for these exams.
And then through breaking my collarbone, they actually discovered that I had thyroid cancer.
Eric: Yeah. And I, you know, I was pretty bummed about it. But through that process, I was like, you know, I'm not really happy doing academia anymore. Why don't I just, you know, pursue photography more and mountain biking more and see where that leads me. So yeah, I started getting super into it.
Luckily, you know, I'm totally fine. It was operable, you know, I'm still kind of struggling with it, but that kind of led me to buy a really nice camera and to really focus on photography.
Lisa: Yeah, no kidding. Talk about it like a life changing shift.
Eric: Yeah. Put things into perspective, for sure. So, you know, obviously, even though it was operable, you kind of start thinking about your own mortality and sort of thinking, well, what's the thing that I really want to do? And I really wanted to pursue photography. And, you know, what kind of turned into a silly dream is kind of coming to fruition. And I think that's really cool.
Lisa: Yeah. No kidding. What kind of changes did that... like, how did you actually make the changes when you realized you had the dream, you had the vision, what did you, what was like the steps that you took to change your life?
Eric: Well, I had to learn a lot of the techniques and a lot of the editing process, but I really just had to shoot as much as possible. Like, you know, I brought my camera around everywhere with me. And that's can sometimes be annoying. ‘Cause a lot of times you just want to ride and you just want to have fun. And photography is fun, but it also can be work too. So it kind of changes the kind of riding that you do. But I made it a point to photograph whenever I could.
Eric: So I always brought it with me on rides, hoping that I didn't crash on it because that would be the end of that.
Lisa: Yeah it would.
Eric: But yeah, I just tried photographing as much as possible and kind of tried developing that craft and to take it seriously. ‘Cause I did feel... from the beginning, I kind of felt like I was on a mission to really showcase more BIPOC in mountain biking.
Lisa: Yeah. That's awesome.
Eric: Photography, you know, obviously we're capturing a moment, but it's also really important to highlight, you know, the complexities of different people. So, you know, like historically, right, it has been like white people who have had the means to photograph. So it's really important to have people that can tease out a lot of the nuances in certain communities or cultural aspects that is not... that doesn't feel like they're... it's like a zoo, where you're just looking into something and you're, you know, highlighting it without understanding it. As opposed to if somebody who is from that community can showcase the cultural aspects of that. I kind of think of like the old ways, I forget what the name of the photographer was, but there was like this photographer who went into... I think it was like West Virginia and these really rural poor parts of West Virginia. And they photographed all the kids and it was... the way that they did it was not very dignified.
You know, they kind of showed them as... look at these poor white people and look at how they live and you know, you definitely want to make sure that you cover the complexity of people, you don't just show them in one particular light but then showcase, you know, I think in academia they call it complex personhood. Right? You want to show how unique every person is, and you don't want to make a certain assumption through photography. I don't know if that makes sense, but yeah.
Lisa: I mean it so does. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being behind a camera, I think.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. That's a great way to put it, is that there's a lot of responsibility with how we showcase not only BIPOC, certain marginalized communities, but we want to just make sure that we're creating a very truthful and honest portrait of people.
Lisa: Yeah. Yeah. Right? And because you said it earlier, you're capturing a moment, like you're capturing a split second. And that split second doesn't represent every moment of someone's life by any means. And so to do so in a way that feels true.
Eric: Yeah. You don't want to photograph someone and them being like, “Hey, I don't feel like that really captures who I am” or “I don't feel like I have my dignity in that photo at the time.”
Lisa: Mhmm. And I think outdoor brands have good intention right now. And I think it's under emphasized that we need to put lots of different people behind lenses.
Eric: Yeah. And there's a lot of really great talent out there. I've been really inspired by other photographers of color and I think, you know, with George Floyd's death, we saw kind of a big emphasis on how the outdoor industry can make a lot of really great changes and really attainable changes. And, you know, we kind of saw briefly after, you know, a real commitment or said commitment about how things can change within the outdoor industry. And, you know, we're kind of seeing that die down a little bit, but I really hope that those changes are long term and that a lot of those brands are committed to making a more inclusive space and having real authentic relationships where photographers or riders or people that are wearing their gear are truly emphasized within the outdoor industry.
Lisa: Yeah. And designing that gear too.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah. I kind of think of... yeah. I kind of think of the outdoor industry and the movie industry, like have a lot of parallels in the sense of, you know, back in the day, you kind of had these white producers who are like, “we're not going to do that movie. That's a bad idea” or something. But then, you know, that really shaped the kind of movies that were being put out and they had these assumptions that these movies weren't going to do well. Right? And then, you know, we have movies like the Black Panther, et cetera, that was really successful. And people want to see these really unique stories. In the same way, I think the outdoor industry has kind of been monolithic in how they view certain stories. And there's a way that they can kind of incorporate all these vastly rich cultures in their storytelling. You know, not just as a side note within their, you know, white narrative, but rather within, you know, the stories of these individual or communities of BIPOC people. And I think that people are yearning for stuff like that. I truly think that people want to see different stories out there.
Lisa: Big time. I think so, too,
Iris: Eric, thank you so much for being on the show. We are so much smarter after getting to listen to you share your inspiration and your insights.
Lisa: and your journey.
Iris: And your journey.
Lisa: We can't wait to work with you. I'm pretty amped to work with you in the future, Eric. Anyway.
Iris: To our listeners, if you haven't yet, please leave us a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts, that helps us reach more people. And if you have a guest that you'd like to hear on the show, please let us know. You can go on our Instagram @wheeliecreative. Send us a DM, let us know who you'd like to hear on the show.
Lisa: Yeah. And as always, thanks for being here.
Iris: Thanks for being here. Bye.