Interview by
Ricardo Carvalho



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Jesse Rieser is one of the guys that you understand how important sports photography is when you see his work. His impressive portfolio filled with colors, shapes, shadows, and lights caught attention from brands like MLB, Nike and Adidas, and every single moment captured has a nice touch or a nice joke that makes us think and react, not just moments captured on a frame. As a retired athlete and now professional photographer, Jesse spoke with us and explained how his work got this amazing direction between sports photography, personal and commissioned works.

Photo: © Jesse Rieser / Instagram @jesserieser

Jesse, tell us how did you started you career and how you’ve decided to become a photographer.

I had a background in drawing and painting. When I was finishing high-school and trying to choose a university I decided not to pursue my sports scholarships and went to an art school within a large university at Arizona State University. After that moment, I started to work on commissioned jobs assisting photographers in London. That’s how I knew what I wanted to do. So, I came back to Arizona and assisted for maybe another year and went off on my own.

I was pretty successful the first couple of years working also in Los Angeles. Now I’ve my studio working for clients like AT&T, Adidas, NFL, Nike, ESPN among others. A mix of conceptual advertising, sports clients and editorial with a narrative-driven story type of work. Meanwhile, I have my personal projects in contemporary fine-arts space.

How you started your personal projects and how you keep improving them?

In the beginning, the work was more portraits and conceptual things, and after a while, I started exploring more environmental and landscape type of work trying to find ways to stylistically link the work together utilizing color and light.

Now my work has achieved a uniform and singular style, when I’ve learned that it is very important to find ways to make the work very recognizable as your own, so all things can feel uniform, singular and coming from a very strong point of view. It is important for me to have such a signature type and esthetic so everything feels like it is done by the hand of the same person.

Tell us how you differentiate your sports works from everything else and how your work was improved by those commissioned works.

There’s one part of my work that’s very stylized by documentarian work, like journalistic work but then there is also another element of my work that can be a little more produced and conceptual. Those specific works need bigger crews and sets, where the result s utilized post-production to bring those concepts to life. It’s another way to work for different audiences. I always try to shape every kind of marketing and messaging to not make the narrative confusing and inappropriate for their roles and areas.

"There is something very human with doing this type of work, you have the ability to capture the authentic and the extremes of human emotions, the joy, and the struggle. It’s different than capturing artificial faces and smiles inside a studio. It’s a very real emotion."

Jesse Rieser

Photo: © Jesse Rieser / Instagram @jesserieser

Photo: © Jesse Rieser / Instagram @jesserieser

Photo: © Jesse Rieser / Instagram @jesserieser

How do you deal when working with big clients to follow their guidelines and still keep your work relevant and add your quality touch?

Sports works are becoming more prevalent for me because I do work in a narrative sense with storytelling and I think how people are consuming a lot of brand messaging with a story behind it. Nowadays you can see that things are different with Instagram and scrolling, you need to produce more material and select your very best to make them different from other works without losing the human connection and emotional response. That’s what I always have been looking for.

How did you come up with the idea to make your project Autobiography of a contact sport?

I wanted to add my sports background to my work but as my own history. It was my way to say goodbye to the game that shaped me and now I see the importance that this period had in my life and who I am today. A lot of that is because I wanted to register the additional knowledge we acquire when we are an athlete, the memories that forged me.

“I grew up in Missouri and I was an art-jock. I felt like I was unique—maybe I was—who knows. I received a handful of scholarships, which I considered, but I opted for pursuing my passion for art and photography. I love being a photographer. I still suffer from the effects of playing the game. Some include coping with depression and general panic disorder (my doctor now thinks these are related to my playing days) chronic back and knee pain, two torn thumbs, two torn hamstrings, two shoulder surgeries, and a hip surgery. I would never say the pain outweighs the power. The game gave me an understanding of power and restraint.

Over time, I have become more and more leery of passing on my playing legacy, my family’s football heirloom (my grandfather, father, and both my brothers played.) Living with my own physical and mental ailments combined with our better understanding of CTE, my decision to not let my son play the game increasingly crystalized.

As a farewell, I chose to document the Phoenix based Sunny Slope football program. They are the Sunny Slope Vikings. I was a Parkview Viking. Both mascots depicted with the familiar horns flanking our helmets. We share the same school colors and are nearly identical in socio economic complexion. It was a perfect fit and the closest thing to being home without actually going home.

There’s a violent beauty at the heart of the sport. These boys wear a costume of manhood, disguised by their strength, speed, and violence which only lasts so long when their childlike joy and rage comes to the surface.

In New Orleans, they have big bands at funerals and in football marching bands announce the euphoria and pain. I imagine football like that: an end, a beginning, and a celebration all wrapped up in the light of my nostalgia. Don’t consider this a eulogy. This is a celebration.”

There is something very human with doing this type of work, you have the ability to capture the authentic and the extremes of human emotions, the joy and the struggle. It’s different than capturing artificial faces and smiles inside a studio. It’s a very real emotion.


More from his works: