Photography—that’s how I want to talk,” Tyler Gourley confesses. It’s how he communicates, and given the wealth of awards and recognition he’s received for his work, it speaks volumes: a Cannes Gold Lion as well as multiple awards from publications and professional organizations, including Communication Arts, Photo District News, Graphis, Print and Lürzer’s Archive. His client list spans a range of industries, from the automobile industry to banking, and his commercial work touches on cars, fashion, sports and travel.
Gourley, 41, has been photographing for 22 years, although he looks far too young to have had such a long career.
While growing up, he would fantasize with his father about buying classic cars and fixing them up. Enthralled with drawing cars and all their interesting lines and curves, Gourley originally started taking photographs only as drawing resources. But he discovered that he reveled in finding the key attributes of a subject and featuring them in new and expressive ways, so he put down the pencil and picked up a camera. His commercial photography career has realized that early love of cars through large, complex shoots for BMW, Volvo, Jeep, Subaru, Lexus and Acura. “As objects, cars are very beautiful,” he says. “What makes a good car photographer is finding the key attributes and the lines and what really makes that car shine. How do I shoot it and make it look just as sexy as a car that costs 20 times the price?”
Extensive travel is imprinted in his DNA. Gourley was born in Los Angeles, but when he was six months old, his family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico, packing him and their two collies into their Volkswagen van. They were always camping and traveling on road trips, he remembers. Then they went from Mexico to Philadelphia, where his father went to medical school. After that, his father’s job as an Air Force doctor required the family to move frequently, including to San Antonio, Texas, and to Northamptonshire, England. “I think we saw every castle in Europe,” he says. From England, they returned to San Antonio, then moved to Fairfield, California, before settling in Salt Lake City for two decades—the longest he had lived anywhere.
Gourley was accepted into the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, but decided to study closer to home. He attended Salt Lake Community College, where teacher Terry Martin proved instrumental to his work ethic. “It’s what you put into it,” Gourley claims. “If you’re passionate enough, you are going to learn what you need.” Learn he did; personal work shot in his second year of school led to his first commercial job—an ad campaign for a ski resort in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Buoyed by success, he left school to pursue photography full time.
Recently he has come full circle. After moving from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, he has moved back to Los Angeles, where he lives in the Los Feliz neighborhood. He shares a handsome Spanish revival house with his girlfriend, Sara Czosnyka, who owns Process and Content, a custom hat company outfitting the likes of Jeff Goldblum (who once came to their home to shop and tinkled their piano keys while he was there). The home boasts a lush yard surrounded by park space and a secluded pool; Boston terrier Coco has fallen in love with the pool to the extent that she has shed five pounds through her new love of swimming. It’s a perfect retreat for Gourley when he’s between assignments, which take him all over the world.
His peripatetic youth exposed him to many museums as a child. Being introduced to culture and art in different cities and countries has made him comfortable traveling to exotic locations—although his lanky six-foot-five height often sets him apart from the crowd in places like Cambodia. His natural desire for exploration shows up in his work. Jeff Terwilliger, associate creative director and partner of ad agency Carmichael Lynch, notes that even on set, Gourley is constantly exploring. “I instantly liked Tyler’s unique approach of shoot and move,” Terwilliger says. “He’s constantly shooting while he’s looking for that perfect camera position. He’s always open to that moment of discovery in his photography and almost always produces images that are so beyond what we initially envisioned. The rare and unexpected gems he finds make his images so interesting.”
Whether he is shooting a hat factory or the story of tequila, Gourley imbues his work with natural light and a love of symmetry and classical proportions—techniques that show a strong commitment to a mastered craft, even after all these years. “I’m still excited about [photography],” Gourley says. “I look forward to each project.” In fact, he thrives on the camaraderie that forms on extended shoots, admitting he hates saying the good-byes at the end.
Such camaraderie could come only from establishing a tight team of amazing producers and assistants, Carmichael Lynch’s executive content producer and art producer Sandy Boss Febbo confirms. “His team is his secret weapon,” she explains. “They all have similar approaches and work in unison to deliver the most seamless, professional, buttoned-up, drama-free and lighthearted productions one could imagine.”
“Tyler brings a lot to the game,” adds creative director Bob Berken of Carmichael Lynch. “He’s extremely collaborative, doesn’t know the words stop or ego.”
“Tyler’s style is very observational,” Terwilliger continues. “Much like how we as humans interact with our world. I think that’s why so many people—myself included—love and relate to his work. You see the people he photographs as they really are. Nothing feels staged. It’s all honest and authentic.”
Gourley’s work first came to Terwilliger’s attention in 2007 when he was looking for someone to shoot an upcoming Harley-Davidson national print campaign. “Tyler’s eye very much became the visual voice of Harley-Davidson, up until we resigned the account in 2012,” he says. “But we loved Tyler’s work so much that we’ve continued to work with him on another agency client, Subaru. Now that he’s been shooting stills and also motion for Subaru, he’s been a vital part of Subaru’s success as a brand, one that has recorded record annual sales for seven to eight consecutive years.”
Although Gourley misses the darkroom, his exploration of new media enables him to bring more personal influences into his work—like music, one of his biggest inspirations. “I love storytelling,” he explains. “Directing has allowed a lot of other elements to be brought into my work, like music. So much can come out of a song.”
The mention of music leads him to recall how he ran into Björk on his last night of two weeks in Iceland, a trip that involved wild explorations in a rented Land Rover Defender to locations his Icelandic friends warned were too dangerous. The singer held the door open at a restaurant. When Gourley informed his dining companions, they responded breezily, “Oh, we see her all the time!” Iceland is, after all, a small country—although you would not know that from the beautiful, expansive horizons in the photographs he captured during his trip. A print from this photo shoot hangs prominently in his living room, showing a vast expanse of desolate landscape with one shining white building in the center distance.
Michelle Mintz, senior art producer at ad agency Argonaut, details one memorable shoot. “I’ve been out on some really long car shoots with Tyler, but my favorite was a road trip from Salt Lake City to San Francisco—before a car launch—with some precision drivers who really pushed the cars on some crazy mountain roads. Tyler sat in the back seat of a really small hatchback to capture the drive, and he got thrown around quite a bit on the twisting, turning mountain roads. The drivers were going really fast on the hairpin turns—I was scared out of my mind—and Tyler kept shooting. It was one of the craziest, scariest shoots I’ve ever been on, and Tyler was a rock star!”
Gourley adds to the tale that although, technically, the drivers were “precision drivers in the sense that they are trained to drive, they were really engineers.” He continues, “These were not necessarily high-performance cars either—I won’t name any clients!—but they weren’t cars that you’d think could do 80 around a corner on a cliff. There were elements that did not equal safe.”
Experience has mellowed him somewhat. “Safety is first for crew and everyone,” he insists. “But I will personally get into a dangerous situation if it means I get the shot!” Composition and lighting aside, his images relate a palpable sense that a true moment has been captured. ca