A Talk With...

A Talk With Denver Photographer Ghost Lenz about Being Self Taught, Light, Beauty and the Darkness

Colorado street photographer
“Apron” by Denver Photographer Ghost Lenz

Ghost Lenz’s photographs jump out at me with a gritty vibrancy and heart that feel immediate and raw.   Human moments – connections with strangers – his photographs are beating with life.  He shared his thoughts with me recently about being a self-taught photographer, taking risks, curiosity about the unseen and the origins and meaning of his name.

Ghost Lenz (aka Billy Riesing) has a show that opens this Friday, February 17th and runs until April 7th at “Down in Denver” VFW Post 1 and he will be featured soon at Artopia as one of the artists of Colfax.  Make time to check his work out at one or both of these venues!  It is most definitely worth the time and it’s always a good feeling to pick up something local for your walls.

1. From your bio with Gallery M, it sound like you’ve been an active photographer since you were a teenager – do you remember when you first realized that you had something special with photography? 

I started my first magazine when I was 13.   Storytelling has always been in me…creating narrative content that spins what I see through my mind’s eye yet also gives people a chance to see something, feel something, of their own.  I began working professionally in the magazine business, initially as a writer and editor, in my early 20’s, and invested heavily in becoming a self-taught professional photographer because I wanted to be the one providing the visuals for the story I was crafting and because economically it meant I was getting paid by the page versus by the word.  That’s when my love affair with photography began.  Being self-taught gave me an intimate opportunity to understand the synergy of creating impactful images…and to appreciate what the pro-gear was capable of and then try to push the limits of it.  Just set all equipment on manual functions and went out and learned.  With very high stakes.  Those were the old days of 100 speed color slide film for magazines…and there is simply no forgiveness for error in that.  It was either learn quickly to get strong images and get the work published, or don’t get the shots, don’t get published, don’t pay rent, don’t eat.  The pressure was great.  It added to my already high inspiration to succeed with the art of photography.  Learning that way with film allows me to truly appreciate the versatility of the digital equipment today…and explains why my digital work looks like it was shot on film.
Denver street photographer
“Dog on Colfax” by Ghost Lenz
2. I admire your ability to capture people – your name Ghost Lenz implies to me you have a way of drifting in to get the shot and then out without making a stranger self-conscious or uncomfortable.  This seems incredibly difficult.  Is this something you’ve always been good at, or have you had to work on your technique?  
My Ghost Lenz moniker is multidimensional.  I’ve always maintained a strong relationship with the paranormal.  Experiences with spirits, ghosts, different frequencies …my entire life.  I dig that energy and love knowing that there is spiritual electricity everywhere.  Even the darker ones, the very intense ones…I’ve been able to establish at the minimum some understanding and peace.  And personally I feel haunted.  Could be some of my past lives, people I met back then…or maybe different versions of myself that exist on other planes during this current life.  The name Lenz is German and is often used to reference being born in the Spring…the season linked to rebirth.  So the idea of the birth of a ghost appeals to me.  It is paradoxical, dichotomous, and so am I, and so are many of my photographs.  I celebrate the music of different forces working in opposition.  The natural conflict, the duality, carves its own collective path.  Light and beauty in darkness is a big one for me.  I am grateful to see and unearth beauty where many may not. 
And then, yes, you are on to something with the drifting in and out to get a shot.  Specifically with my street photography work, my documentary content.  I think so much of any City’s identity is built from the energies on the streets.  I try to be mindful in my overall existence and photography is a very specific exercise in mindfulness.  For me, being aware of energies around me, and in myself, and truly being present with open eyes, mind, heart and spirit…that allows me to phantomize in and out of situations.  Sometimes people don’t know I’m taking their photos, and in other instances they do.  I move quietly and quickly and with respect for life.  And I shoot the same as I live: with passion and purpose.  The human condition is my muse and I go completely on instinct.  There are times when people are not happy with me for taking their photo.  Many times they don’t even know.  But I act with tact.  And sensitivity, to both the opportunity I see in a shot, and also to the energies of my subject matter.
“Kids” by Ghost Lenz
Where can people see your work?
Down in Denver and Artopia are two big upcoming shows.  People can also follow me on Instagram at ghost_lenz to view a diverse representation of my work.  And my website is ghostlenz.com.  I’m currently working on some groovy projects that I’m submitting to art-fashion magazines, so hopefully people will be able to check me out in that medium too.  Keep a lookout for a show in Denver this Summer…for a beautifully dark fashion-horror project I’m creating.
colorado artist
“Man Dogs” by Ghost Lenz
Where can people buy your work?  
People can buy my work at my various shows, or can contact me directly either by phone or email, or through my website, to review my extensive portfolio and get custom print sizes.  Gallery M is repping a small collection of some Denver street photography I’ve done, and those images can be bought at gallerym.com.  
“Rise” by Ghost Lenz
What else are you excited about?
In addition to my street photography work, I also enjoy shooting in the fashion and portrait realms.  The instinct, mindfulness, the hunger to tell a story…it’s in all the genres I work.  Photojournalism is embedded in my style.  With street and documentary, it’s quite observational and I love that.  And with fashion and portrait, it is often creating set, working with models, and I love that too.  Two very different methods that I feel equally hungry for. 

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