A conversation with Michael a.k.a. ryustyler, a Taiwanese photographer, painter and artist whose prolific work is published under the #deliciouskicks hashtag. He created this set of images exclusively for our April 2018 issue of Sneakers Magazine.
Michael, what triggered your interest in sneaker photography?
The story starts with my grandpa, a former athlete who worked in sporting manufacturing. Ever since I was really little, he liked to tell me about the technologies being developed, but I was too young to understand. He’d give me a pair of sneakers, I’d admire the color and shape, then I’d have them beat within the school year. Fastforward to 1997, when I first saw a pair of “white on whites” gleaming on the shelves. That’s when I started to see sneakers differently, and realized that each pair had its own personality and vibe, and that they had to be cherished – just like a person, they’d get too tired if we worked them too hard.
What is your background in arts and photography?
I work in contemporary art and paint in acrylics on canvas. I’ve also done design work for record covers and so forth. It wasn’t so long ago that I was still snapping away with an iPhone. After I started working with a real camera, I quickly dove deep into photography. It’s true that life in the arts can be challenging at times, especially starting out, so you have to be persistent and also learn very quickly. I think having a background in art grounded my interest in the individuality and authenticity of photography. Painting and photography are separate mediums, but both are really rewarding outlets for creativity – like different planets revolving around the same sun, if you will.
How do you approach a new project? Can you take us through your creative process?
Sometimes a shoe has its own story or theme behind it, but if not, then for me it starts with color. Just as tastes or scents can trigger emotions or vivid memories from the past, a specific hue can do the same. Take the Air Max 1 Pinnacle “Silt Red,” for example. The combination of pastel purples reminded me visually of a garden of f lowers at Easter time, and it also brought back the electrifying feeling of having a grape Fanta slushie for the first time as a kid. What ideas or feelings each shoe brings can be random, but I try to share the “taste” of that inspiration in each photo. For the Pinnacles, I remember the specific feeling I wanted to bring across was refreshing, cool, but also soft. I pieced together f lowers and candy for the taste and arranged them to look like they were gently expanding outwards to represent the explosion of f lavor. Ideas come and go spontaneously, so it’s important to catch the wave and not overthink it. Sometimes inspiration is just a feeling – it doesn’t always make sense.
Do you shoot only shoes you personally like, or do you pick them for their looks combined with accessories?
A bit of both. It helps tremendously if I love the shoes and has a really positive impact on the workf low. Sometimes, I’m tempted to pick up a shoe because an idea may pop up in the spur of the moment or they seem just right for an idea I’ve had percolating, but I am usually selective with my purchasing decisions and it has to be something that I would wear. If a store or brand asks me to dish up photos for them, it might not be something that I’d personally wear, but it can also be a pleasant challenge to try and reach outwards and shoot from the perspective of the creator or wearer of the shoe. There is so much potential in good storytelling with that method.
What do you look for in a shoe that you shoot, what does it have to have?
I believe that every shoe can be shot well. To me, it’s not just about highlighting the strengths or covering up f lattering f laws with distractions. It’s important to show the shoe authentically. Whether I am shooting for myself or other companies, I’m not trying to package the shoe like a shiny product, but my responsibility as an artist is to convey what I saw in that pair and to highlight what is unique about it. It’s why I started in the first place.
What comes first: texture or color?
For me, it’s always colors first, because the combinations are infinite. It blows my mind to think that there are more than 10 million hues out there and each can evoke a different feeling. The possibilities are endless, and color is what grabs my attention when I see a shoe for the first time. The texture is complementary to the color and gives it greater depth. It may make or break a shoe.
Do you have a favorite brand or favorite shoe that always looks nice?
The shoe game right now is an embarrassment of riches; there’s so much going on now I feel like a kid in a candy store. We all have our classics and favorites, but now and again there will be a new f lavor or product, and we just can’t help having a nibble. Twenty years ago, Air Force 1s and Air Jordans were my first love, but I have expanded my palate since then. Nike’s Flyknit and adidas’s Boost are pioneering technology. One of my favorite developments from New Balance is their customs, which are always well-made and the comfort can’t be beat. Asics has really strong collaborations – some beautiful pairs with great palettes. I like how Puma keeps it sleek and sporty while staying classic. There are also some nice premium handmade quality options from brands like Diadora or Kangaroos.
Have you already been contacted by brands and stores?
I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a number of different brands and boutiques, some of which I’ve been a fan or customer of for ages. Before I ever got into IG, I was a huge fan of Concepts in Boston. I once woke my wife up at 2 in the morning so she could help me order a shoe that had just dropped on their website! So it was amazing to be able to shoot a pair of Concepts exclusives for them. That was my first partnership, and it never stops being exciting to work with the brands and companies I admire. Things like that, and the chance to connect with sneaker lovers from all over the world, have been such a great part of doing #deliciouskicks.
What do you do besides #deliciouskicks? Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I was born in Taiwan, but grew up in Australia from the age of 4. I studied business, worked in Japan, and decided to pursue an art career in my mid-twenties. I started off working primarily in paints, but have become really passionate about photography. Aside from #deliciouskicks and sneaker photography, I’ve branched out into commercial photography for other subjects. I never felt like I was good at expressing myself in conversation, so art is a way for me to express myself more completely and f luently. I currently live and work in Taipei, but try to get back to Gold Coast in Queensland as often as I can. My wife and I had a baby last year, and I can only hope that my son grows up to be a size 10 so we can share sneakers!
Follow Michael a.k.a. ryustyler on his Instagram account for more of these unique pieces of sneaker art.
This story first appeared in SNEAKERS MAG #38 – Released in April 2018