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Josh Ryan on Playboy Magazine, Guess & What It Takes to Make a Model a Cover Model

Josh Ryan

I like to take people out of their realm and transform them into something that they haven’t ever seen before.

Josh Ryan
Photographer Josh Ryan

When you think of Playboy Magazine, what comes to mind? You may think of one man that had a dream and created a magazine that turned into a media empire. Hugh Hefner and Playboy were one package, and it was Hef’s aesthetic which broke barriers down and made the brand what it was.

On this episode of OWC’s Leaders & GameChangers, Setorii Pond speaks with the photographer that revamped the iconic brand’s look through his masterful images. His name is Josh Ryan, and his aesthetic brought Playboy into the modern age. Ryan was responsible for transforming Playboy’s signature “girl next door” look into more fashion-forward pictorials. His images have graced magazines, covers, billboards, campaigns, and more.

Josh has been trusted by celebrities to capture their most important photos, fashion brands such as one of my favorites brands GUESS, Nasty Gal, Marciano, Koral Activewear, and many others. His photography has been featured in Treats!, Maxim, FHM, Muscle & Fitness, and Galore. He has also created his own magazine, Cherries.mag. Josh Ryan’s masterful creations have made him one of the most sought-after and versatile visionary artists.

Notable Quotables

  • I had a connection to Hugh Hefner because I shot his girlfriend’s a lot. I shot probably two or three of them, you know depending when he was dating them so.
  • The goal was always the same, you know his particular taste and what he thought the girl next door was and that’s what he was constantly looking for..
  • Hef was a creature of habit, he ate the same thing, dressed the same way, did the same things all the time, and his tastes in his magazine really didn’t change aesthetically.
  • The formula was really sort of gradually blending a modern day model and giving her that playboy feel an aesthetic without making it look like it’s straight out of 1995 or 1985 you know.
  • A lot of times you know you’d see a girl, and he’d never look twice but I knew how to test the model to show him the potential and once I got past the test we would do what we wanted, but we tested them a certain way and to get him to get the models approved and then came up with our own modern way of displaying and bringing Playboy into the next era.
  • I think there’s room for everyone. I think there’s room for a girl that’s 5’11” and super thin and very high fashion to be in playboy… I don’t think it should have just been Sally Jo from Kentucky.
  • I would take each girl and find their best attributes and focus on that and shoot them in a very modern way, but in a way that still related to Playboy and when I see something in somebody I just see it.
  • Sometimes you try it out and test them out, and you realize that they look great in person, but they’re horrible on camera, or sometimes you’re not too hot about someone that gets sent in for testing, and all of a sudden, they come alive on camera so you never know.
  • Georgina Washington, I had shot her for Treats! Magazine a couple years ago. She is a beautiful African American, 5’11”, gorgeous. Not your typical playmate type but she had a great attitude and she was very open to doing new projects and trying new things. She’s like… yeah let’s do it, and so I tested her, she was approved to shoot and we shot an amazing layout for her for the December issue and ended up being actually my last cover for playboy and actually my last centerfold.
  • I tend to look for people that haven’t altered themselves too much if that makes sense, so someone that’s you know somewhat symmetrical and you know moves well on camera and there’s all types that attract my eye.
  • My taste is always kind of the same, but I see myself seeing a lot more potential in girls I wouldn’t have normally looked at before because of the way this world works now.
  • I go out of my way to make everyone I’m shooting feel the best they can onset and a lot of sense I know model isn’t confident in what she looks. I’ll start by taking a few photos and I’ll take a break for a minute and I’ll find the best photo.
  • I’ll retouch it real quick maybe lightly and just kind of cleaned it up and color just it and say… hey can we took a look, this is you this is you, you look amazing and yeah so that usually works.
  • I’ve had a lot of people say I’ve never felt sexier as when I’m shooting with you… so that’s a great compliment.
  • Everybody wants to take shots that are social media friendly, so you have to be careful what you shoot.
  • I still love shooting fine art nudes, and I still love doing things that are provocative.
  • A swimsuit and heels doesn’t make sense in a living room next to a fire to me.
  • I am a big believer in connecting with the photo, and maybe you get one out of 100.
  • Just look for something that’s going to catch people’s eye, you know what’s going to make people take a second look. I think that’s the key to having powerful images.
  • My biggest advice to most people that come to me and ask how I do certain things is… learn your camera.
  • Most of my shoots or shots that you see are literally one light or no lights and it’s just about you know how to manipulate what you have you know, or you know a lot of my shots or maybe there’s one light way in the background. Sending a little light flare from somewhere and it’s that one little light flare that’s changing the whole vibe of the image.
  • I like modifying that light, with different things to shape it or a bounce or a small delight here and there to add a flare and then I do my little magic and post, and you know, bring highlights down, and you know kind of create the second half of the act, so to speak.
  • I think Treats! should be given a lot of credit for helping playboy change, you know, I think that it’s what started that whole movement into play. It was this one guy starting this little magazine and gave playboy run for its money and they got intimidated by it and I believe what Playboy should have done is bought the magazine and kept Steve Shaw to curate it and run it and they would have had both magazines to leverage great models with each other, I think that’s what should have been done.
  • There are so many great images that came into Treats! Magazine. So many obviously and a lot of people became famous from it. Look at Emily Ratajkowski! Without that who knows where she would have been… I mean Steve Shaw made her famous.
  • He ( Steve Shaw ) was a great mentor to me. I learned a lot and actually the TREATS! Magazine Studio I’m sitting in now.
  • I love beautiful things that are said aesthetically pleasing so that’s why I love incorporate I always incorporate some type of beautiful car into my guest campaigns or get some amazing architectural home.
  • I like to take people out of their realm and transform them into something that they haven’t ever seen before.
  • I have a great actor campaign coming out that we just shot a couple weeks ago that was shot at willow springs, and these with these amazing cars and great models.
  • When I look for places to shoot or shoot a campaign and look for things that inspire me so my advice to a lot of people often is that you know shoot things that really inspire you, you know within reason.
  • I love, what I do so, I encourage people to do the same and find something that they really love shooting.
  • What I hope to do is sort of bring my take on continuing the legacy of that brand.
  • My favorite campaigns are from the 80s and 90s, and you know I really am inspired by those and I tried to you know incorporate those into my current campaigns, you know with a modern twist.
  • Very grateful for GUESS and Paul Marciano. They’ve given me such a good opportunity.
  • Images are going to stick with people that are going to grab these images and make them their inspiration.
  • I want to say that sometimes I shoot guys better than girls, it’s weird. Obviously, not every shot is great, but for me guys are really easy to shoot.
  • Helmut Newton was way ahead of his time, and such a great artist.
  • My good friend Tony Kelly inspires me. He’s wonderful at what he does. He’s inspired me also in different ways, and he has this approach of not compromising.
  • The business is definitely evolving and it’s sort of evolving into teaching others and training, you know instructional videos and workshops.
  • You know what separates the men from the boys is there’s a lot of guys that can take one great photo and post it on their portfolio the Instagram whatever but try running a campaign and trying to get 30 looks in one day with the team of executives breathing down your neck behind you and a $200,000 budget that you’re responsible for.
  • If you get in your head you’re done.
  • You’re only as good as your last campaign so either you do it and you pull through or you find another job so you just got to take a deep breath and say… okay, this is what we’re doing.
  • You never see any black and white covers for Architectural Digest.
  • I’m obsessed with modern black cabins and barns.
  • Just Google me.

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