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Riley Kalbus: The Purpose is People


Growing up in California and moving to New York City affords a photographer a couple things: One, an appreciation for nature, and two, a fresh fascination with people immersed in an urban environment. Twenty-year-old photographer Riley Kalbus meets the two seemingly divergent worlds halfway, focusing his lens on the city’s die-hard surf community and, with equal interest, the strangers passing him on the street. Because whether engulfed in the Atlantic or making your way through the cement sidewalks of the city grid, what it comes down to is simply this: Communities of people moving through the world.  

ISAORA caught up with Kalbus to talk about the differences between the LA and NY surf scenes, the photographers who have inspired his work, and the necessity of getting up in strangers' faces for that perfect shot.

Having grown up in Northern California and moved to New York City, do you find yourself inspired more by the urban now or still by the natural?

Looking through my bodies of work, I have a connecting thread through them all, in that I focus on communities of people. I have a deep fascination with being an observer in an environment and seeing how all the pieces (people) of this larger puzzle work and co-exist. I feel that I can tap this drive on either coast. I wouldn’t’t say I am inspired by the physical landscapes of the place I am from or where I live now, but by the people that occupy these regions. People are what drive my art.  

What's your opinion on the East Cost surf culture?

The East Coast surf community is not as prevalent as California’s is—people are usually surprised to hear that I go surfing every weekend, or every morning. You don’t think people surf in Long Island or Far Rockaway in January on the East Coast, but there is a surfing presence, which is awesome. On the East Coast, the surfers feel more committed in the sense that they are out there surfing even if it is ten degrees, snowing and flat. They put in more effort to get something that is close to California's worst. Both coasts value different aspects of the surf culture. California is about living with the ocean and the lifestyle of being so attached to the ocean, while in New York it feels more like the escape from the urban jungle.

What types of people are you most drawn to in NYC?

I would say I am drawn to every walk of life that makes up the streets of Manhattan. I love to capture the subtle human expressions of the people on the streets that would otherwise be invisible.

What is it about the urban that you like the most?

The diversity of the people. The fact that I can meet someone from Kentucky on one corner and the next corner start a conversation with someone from South Africa is amazing.

You're really good at capturing someone's individual moment in a city. Do you ever feel weird invading another person's space?

There are times when I am yelled at or asked to stop, but it is my right to take photographs as I wish. I try hard to make photographs that best represent/ capture a person in that moment. This requires I get very close to them sometimes.

Other photographer's work you admire?

Other photographer I am inspired by would be Sebastiao Salgado, LeRoy Grannis, Ron Church, Tim Hetherington, and Ken Light.


All photos courtesy of Riley Kalbus.