I just finished my first tour, and it still feels surreal.
For those of you who don’t know, my name is Ryan Watanabe and I’m a 21-year-old student at Berklee College of Music. I started doing photography (professionally) under a year ago. I got struck with some crazy luck and got taken out by the amazing group of guys in Oceans Ate Alaska to be their touring photographer this summer.
If you had told me two years ago that I would have been on Vans Warped Tour working as a photographer for some of my favorite bands of all time, such as Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Yellowcard and Sleeping with Sirens, I would’ve called you a goddamn liar. Hell, two years ago I barely even knew how to properly work a camera.
When the lineup for Warped Tour was announced back in April, I was jetlagged and thought, “Why not?” I sent emails to countless bands on the tour, displaying my work and offering my services. I got a lot of no’s, and even more un-responded emails. It was expected, but still wasn’t easy. So like I said, I got struck with dumb luck, thanks to James Harrison of Oceans Ate Alaska, who took time out of his day to check out my portfolio. He connected with it and suggested the idea to his band. The guys believed in me. They had never met me, I had never toured, I had never really worked professionally as a photographer other than around my school, but five genuine kindhearted Brits gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. A special shout to each one; James, Jibs, Adam, Mike and Chris. I love those boys and owe them everything for what they gave me.
So how I started working for the other guys…
Before tour began, I was just stoked to watch some of my favorite bands every day and call it “work.” That was the coolest idea to me. To top it off, I had an all-access photo pass to each one? That was actually my dream. So I just shot and shot and shot, for the fun of it.
About a week into tour, a representative from Sleeping With Sirens’ social media manager contacted me asking me to shoot SWS, Yellowcard, and Sum 41, saying maybe they’d use the photos, but probably not. So I did, and for a few days, nothing happened. Then Sirens started to use a few, and I honestly freaked out. Sleeping With Sirens was the first “scene” show I ever went to back in 2012, and they were the band that got me into that Warped Tour music scene, so it was a big deal for me. Then I was given a small two-day project, filming some behind-the-scenes and on-stage footage for a Sleeping with Sirens Instagram video. After that, I thought my job was done and I would go back to shooting them for fun. Within five minutes of turning my work in, I was told that the band asked me to stick around and work with them, no expiration date. I somehow became Sleeping With Sirens’ photographer. From there, it took off.
I was then asked to fill in for Sum 41’s photographer while she was away for 10 days, which was so cool. Sum 41, to me, are one of the gold standards of pop punk and to have had that opportunity made the middle school me, who learned “Fat Lip” on guitar, really really happy. Sum 41 have never sounded better and their new single is insane, I can’t wait for the new record! Then, after my time with them was done, I was asked to come back and be a second shooter for their remaining sets. That was a huge honor.
At the APMAs, Kellin Quinn introduced me to Benji Madden of Good Charlotte; my boss, Geoff Funk, introduced me to Benji’s brother, Josh Madden, who manages the band, and I was told I would be second shooting them as well. Way cool. They weren’t on the tour for too long, but hearing “Dance Floor Anthem” for a few days was incredible. Good Charlotte, also, are back and better than ever. I was then presented the opportunity to do live shots of Yellowcard and I jumped at that as fast as I could. Yellowcard were on their final Warped tour ever, in anticipation for their final world tour, and I wanted to capture the last of those Warped legends.
Warped was incredible. It escalated in a way I could not have dreamed. I came into the first show not knowing a single person and I left with so many new friends, amazing clients and thousands of pictures. I can’t express my gratitude to all the bands that believed in me and respected me regardless of my age and lack of tour experience. Each and every one welcomed me in and were a pleasure to work for.
It wasn’t always easy. It was often lonely and exhausting. I made mistakes and I wasn’t always the most well-liked person, but I really did work my heart out and I found friendships in like-minded people who wanted to create art worth remembering. We are a community of artists, we grow together and we create together.
Thank you to Kevin Lyman for creating Vans Warped Tour, thank you to Oceans Ate Alaska for believing in me and bringing me out, thank you Sleeping With Sirens for making me feel like part of your family, thank you to my bosses Geoff Funk and Caroline Jensen, and thank you to every person who’s ever liked, followed, shared, or just thought one of my photos was cool. Thank you for giving me the best summer ever. I really love what I do and I’m glad some of you do too.
Below are some of my personal favorite images of a wide range of bands including some of the ones I didn’t get a chance to write about in this blog. Special final shoutouts to my boys in Broadside and our bus mates, Gideon. I’ll be doing band by band galleries in the following weeks. Thank you everyone who bothered to read my story, I hope this isn’t the last x