Canyon Schmerse, a first year Sixth College student from Salt Lake City, Utah, isn’t good at drawing or painting. But it’s a completely different story when he has his camera.
“I remember when I was younger I always wanted those crappy, cheap art kits with all the markers,” Canyon recalls amusedly, despite the fact that he “could barely draw stick figures.”
Canyon expresses that he just wanted to be creative but had trouble finding a way to channel it.
Enter the iPhone, which came out while he was in junior high. Canyon’s rise to fame had humble beginnings, starting off with him taking pictures of his friends on trips and documenting memories. He took off from there, and latched onto photography as a medium where he could finally express his creative side. When he’s taking pictures, it’s just “me, my camera, and the other person.”
Additionally, coming out gay in a conservative area helped Canyon connect with others through photography. This experience had a huge impact for him, and he hopes to give back and get into LGBT advocacy through his photography by producing conceptual and emotionally-charged work.
“I’m a huge believer in that everyone has a creative side,” Canyon emphasizes. “Being able to channel that through a creative outlet is so healthy and so important for everyone.”
Canyon became enamored with the idea of film photography and Polaroids. He finds the idea of “vintage culture” and the retro theme appealing. This curiosity, combined with the emergence of his Instagram page, fostered his passion for photography.
The creation of his Instagram page wasn’t meant for anything besides posting fun pictures of his friends and sharing joyous memories. Now, seven years later, his page boasts nearly 45,000 followers, all of which came organically. However, it has never been a numbers game for Canyon. He actively reaches out to his followers in his engaging captions and seeks to create a sense of community. He focuses on expressing himself and helping others express themselves, not racking up a followership.
Canyon recalls the moment he received 1000 followers on Instagram as a life-changing moment. It changed his perspective on what he wanted to do with his life. He was thrilled and stunned at the thought of impacting a thousand people so much that they decided to follow him.
“I can’t even comprehend the amount of people who love and support my work,” said Canyon.
Canyon’s influence eventually reached Zuzu Ties, a tie company from Utah. The company contacted him, and November of 2016 marked his first photoshoot with a stranger. From there, he participated in an Instagram meetup and began networking and connecting with models, kicking off his desire to grow on Instagram. He began to view his photography as more than just a hobby, and sought to increase his social media presence.
Now, “there’s not a day that goes by when I’m not doing something with photography,” Canyon admits.
Since then, Canyon has grown in his photography skills, but some things remain the same: “For me, it’s always been about capturing moments.” When partaking in a shoot, Canyon describes the experience as forming an “intimate and pure connection” with the model, and he focuses solely on capturing the moment in front of him.
Much goes on behind each primed and finished photo. Before the shoot, Canyon begins by gathering inspiration from other photographers he looks up to, and even taps into music, movies, TV shows, and Tumblr to garner ideas. He collects these images and then sorts through them before a shoot, speaking with the models to gauge their vibes, and then pulling images that he believes fits with their image. He presents the chosen images with the models, and then through a collaborative effort, decides what to do.
“It’s really important to me to capture who the model is, to tell their story and my story in a creative aspect,” Canyon explains. During the shoot, he goes exploring to find backgrounds for his images in the spur of the moment.
“I don’t like planning things. I like having an idea, a story or concept in mind,” and from there, wandering around and finding things he and the models like. “I feel like it’s those moments where you get the most creative because you aren’t limited by any specific plan you had set up prior.”
He holds his photos preciously; even though he isn’t in them, they are an expression of him, seen through his editing and the whole journey he set out on to capture in that one moment. He tries to depict a “film-esque vibe,” distinguishing himself from other photographers who do the same work as he does.
When asked to describe his style, Canyon simply states that it is nostalgic, and “just happy,” mixed with modern influences. He compared it to Polaroid pictures, and how a sense of priceless nostalgia is instilled in a small rectangular photo. His goal this year is to “be unapologetically [him]self” and capture this in his photography.
Canyon primarily shoots natural portraits outside, but expresses a desire to expand to studio work as well. He also revealed an interest in video and becoming a creative director. He admits that there are many forms of photography he wants to try, simply because “I don’t know what I like and don’t like yet because I haven’t been able to try it all.”
“I definitely want to involve photography in some aspect of my career,” Canyon states. He loves working with people and simply being creative. Ideally, Canyon wants to be a fashion photographer. Ultimately, his dream boils down to doing what he loves. “I don’t want to stray too far from that because I don’t want to live my life not doing what I love to do,” Canyon declares. “Because what’s the fun in that?”
Just before the school year began, Canyon received another opportunity to broaden his horizons and refine his skills. Urban Outfitters Utah reached out to him expressing interest in him and wanted to recruit him to work on their social media page. Canyon was interested, but he was moving to California to attend UC San Diego. Not wanting to forgo this opportunity completely, he asked if they had connections with Urban Outfitters San Diego. Soon enough, the San Diego location messaged him and welcomed him to their team. Now, he shoots a lot of Urban Outfitters content, having them style a lot of his shoots.
Canyon also has a YouTube channel in the works to give his followers an image of who he is behind the photograph. “My photography page is my photography, but not necessarily me,” Canyon elaborates. “I’m hoping with my YouTube channel, I can connect with people who do follow me and want to get to know me.”
His work has also been featured in a few online magazines, like Portrait Culture and Leux. He was additionally named one of the Top Ten Creators for 2018 in the country by H Influencer Collective, a large agency for photographers and models. Canyon is slowly biding his time building up his portfolio and networking with people as he continues on his journey inspiring creativity within others.
Canyon’s takeaway message for aspiring photographers is this: “[You] need to realize that no matter what you’re doing, no matter what you get into, it takes time to really develop those skills.” He urges people to not take art so seriously, as art and creativity are about expressing yourself. “If you create something that expresses how you feel, then it’s amazing…If you love it, then that’s art. And that’s all that matters. Just be uniquely you. And just love it.”
Follow him on Instagram: @heycnyn
Contact him through email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mandy Huang is a staff writer of the Arts and Culture section for The Triton, as well as the Social Media Editor.