Celebrating those employees that make our company great. Employee Spotlight: Ryan Walters, IT Manager
by Julie Brooks
Intentional. This is the word that Ryan Walters chooses to describe himself.
He spent his childhood and teen years striving for greatness in both the sports and music worlds. By the age of 20, he had already spent two years touring the country with his band. Then as a student went on to bring Meramec College’s photography program from the film to the digital world.
By the age of 25 he had started his own photography business and was sought out by Apple to fill a new position within the company.
Growing up in Jackson, MO
Ryan lived the quintessential mid-western, Americana lifestyle. He is the eldest of three siblings and grew up with two caring and devoted parents. His father coached his little league baseball team and his mother was a “super fan” who supported him and his siblings in their many interests. Ryan played several sports growing up but his true passion was baseball, at one point he played on six teams in one summer.
In high school, he earned the nickname “The Ryan Express” a nod to the great Nolan Ryan thanks to his 98-mile per hour fastball. He also excelled in basketball and soccer, with his first real jobs being refereeing soccer games and umpiring baseball games at 14 years old. Ryan was a leader both on and off the field and strived to set a good example for his younger brother and sister.
Ryan’s love of sports led him to his lifelong passion, music.
His favorite uncle in Tennessee was an avid basketball fan and a talented musician; it was through his uncle that Ryan discovered his love for music. He is a classically trained drummer having studied and performed jazz, marching band, samba, tango, and rock. It was music that eventually led Ryan out of Cape Girardeau and onto the road.
For 3 and a half years, Ryan toured with his band, Safe Haven. The band recognized the need to document their adventure on the road, and Ryan, armed with his mother’s Canon AE-1 Program and some black and white film, filled that need. It was while photographing his band that Ryan fell in love with photography and began to nurture his talent.
After his band came off the road, Ryan took a couple of swings at college but found that his active learning style and the regimented structure of Southeast Missouri State were not a match. While he was destined to eventually return to higher education, he took a break to work for the Department of Mental Health at the Cottonwood Residential Treatment facility in Cape Girardeau. The facility helps children from 6 to 18 years old with varying degrees of mental health and behavioral difficulties ranging from depression to violent behavior.
In 2004 Ryan decided to give college one more shot and found his niche in the photography department at Meramec College. While film interested him, it was clear to him that if he wanted to make a career in photography, he needed to go digital. At the time Meramec offered only film classes, so Ryan set up a meeting with the dean to pitch his idea of starting a digital photography major. He offered to write the curriculum and act as the program’s inaugural student/guinea pig. The courses included Photography 101, Studio Lighting, Color Management, Post Production, and Digital Asset Management. Ryan acted as the campus photographer’s assistant and was a member of the academic fraternity, Phi Theta Kappa. While working with the campus photographer, Ryan spent over two years digitizing the college’s film negative archive.It encompassed 65,000 slides and negatives, dating back to 1965.
Studio Black is born.
Ryan and his brother, Adam, founded his still-thriving photography company, “Studio Black,” in 2007 in downtown St Louis. Ryan handled the artistic side and his brother headed up the administrative side of the business. Adam eventually left the studio to pursue his love of crafting things by hand, and now owns a fine furniture business called Espion Woodworks.
He designs and builds custom furniture and has become a master craftsman. Ryan often turned to a friend of his who worked at a local Apple store when he needed to come up with solutions to different tech related hiccups. In time Apple, created a new position called “Creative” (software employee training) that Ryan’s friend felt he would be ideal for. Apple offered him the position in late 2007.
Let’s meet Holly, The love of his life.
A friendship with a coworker that had started years before at the Cottonwood facility ultimately grew into Ryan discovering the love of his life, Holly.
He describes her as his “better half” and says that she “taught me to value things I never knew I should value.” Ryan and Holly lived the city life in a loft apartment in downtown St. Louis, MO for several years before he decided to pop the question. Ryan used a way-too-tempting, fake birthday cake to propose (the story is adorable, make him tell you) and with that, they began their lives together.
After a beautiful vineyard wedding and some time spent as a family of two, Holly and Ryan welcomed their first-born child, Ian, into their lives. It wasn’t long before they decided that the suburbs would be more conducive to raising a family, so they said goodbye to their cool loft apartment and headed to a two bedroom, white house with a yard. (Ryan would like it to be noted that at no point while living in suburbia did he drive a minivan or wear khaki shorts, but we have yet to verify this). Holly joined the Studio Black team and now runs the day to day operations of the business.
She’s an accomplished photographer in her own rite, just stop by Ryan’s office to see some of her portrait work of their kiddos.
It was in the suburbs that the “IT guy” went unplugged for 12 months.
Ryan describes a night when he and Holly were sitting on opposite sides of the couch, texting each other, while the baby played happily on the floor in front of them. They sat back and realized that technology had a hold on them and was taking their focus away from the important things in life. They decided that night that they would take a break from all things “tech” in their home for one year. They cancelled their wifi and cable and concentrated on building their family.
Ryan insists that it revolutionized his marriage and benefited both their physical and emotional well being exponentially. Time that would have been spent sitting on the couch using the internet or editing photos was now spent outside, living life. They still used the web outside of the home, but learned to use it with a direct purpose, instead of out of boredom or by default. Eventually they eased back into having technology in their home, but Ryan says he learned a lot from his year unplugged and if he could give one piece of advice to others it would be to make time to step away from technology whenever possible.
In 2010 Holly’s parents decided to make the move east to Ithaca.
Holly and Ryan wanted their kids to be near their grandparents so they decided to move to Homer, NY in 2013. Apple was sympathetic to Ryan’s wishes and allowed him to transfer to a different store in the same position. It was in New York that Ryan’s family grew again with the birth of their daughter, Avery, in 2014.
A few years after settling in to their new life in New York, Ryan became aware of Vantine Imaging. The idea of working in both the IT and photography business was a perfect fit, and he immediately appreciated that it was a real family business, built from scratch and truly authentic.
Being able to contribute to the company and impact change in a positive way has left Ryan very happy. He is excited to see what the future holds both for his family and his career with Vantine Imaging.
Check out some of Ryan’s work below: