RJ Agcamaran / The moments between

I’m on a transatlantic call with Photo Pace photographer Richard James Agcamaran. RJ to family and friends and cutting a youthful figure in a simple plain t-shirt, despite the early hour  he’s relaxed and smiling.

With a beautifully realised body of work that sets monochrome shots of San Francisco streets against the sharp shadows and golden hues of West Coast sunlight, it’s perhaps surprising that he chooses to first reference a teaching career in his Instagram bio.

But over the course of our conversation, it’s this passion for education that best exemplifies his thoughtful and conscientious character—RJ talking candidly on a range of topics from commuting by bike, telling stories with Photo Pace and the lessons we can learn from the young.


cyclespeak
I can see the morning light shining through your window. Living south of Manchester in the UK, that’s one of the reasons the Photo Pace imagery appeals so much. Those wonderful California colours and strong shadows.

RJ
San Francisco is this special, weird place. People paint their houses all kinds of crazy colours but it kind of works.

cyclespeak
So what colour is your house?

RJ
It’s normal [laughs]. But we did live in a neighbourhood where this house had a giant painting of a lion across its front. So, naturally, everyone just referred to it as the ‘Lion House’.

cyclespeak
Is there a particular pattern to your week? How does a typical working day contrast with the weekend?

RJ
I consider myself a full-time bike commuter so most weekdays start with a 5:30 alarm. I have a 14 mile ride to the school where I teach and I don’t start until eight so that gives me a little cushion if I get a flat tyre. But this extra time is also useful because I love to shoot photographs. And especially this time of year when the light can be pretty amazing.

cyclespeak
I guess it’s dark when you first set off?

RJ
Absolutely. But as I get closer to the city, the sun is rising and you get these awesome shadows.

cyclespeak
Do you vary your route?

RJ
Going in, I usually keep it straight but coming home I have more freedom.

cyclespeak
So quite an urban commute?

RJ
We recently moved outside of San Francisco proper so my ride takes in quiet neighbourhoods but there’s also a few main streets which can be a little scary. Four lanes of traffic with cars parked along the side of the road. You do have to watch out for doors opening and Ubers dropping off and picking up.

cyclespeak
How does this compare to the weekend?

RJ
If I have a really hard week – it can be a grind getting up so early – then I’ll sleep in maybe more than I should. But if there’s something planned with the Photo Pace guys, I’ll be up early so I can get into the city. We usually spend an hour or two talking at a coffee shop before we get moving.

cyclespeak
So coffee first?

RJ
I actually don’t drink coffee [laughs].

cyclespeak
But you’re a cyclist?

RJ
My friends tease me about it all the time. I’m a matcha fan.

cyclespeak
How often do you meet?

RJ
Every couple of weeks or so. But we talk to each other all the time over a DM thread.

cyclespeak
Are you all based out of San Francisco?

RJ
We live in different regions of the Bay Area so usually meet up across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin.

cyclespeak
What’s your own neighbourhood like?

RJ
I’m not exactly sure whether I’ve been lucky or unlucky but I’ve moved seven times in seven years [laughs].

cyclespeak
That’s quite a lot.

RJ
I guess so. But it does mean I get to explore lots of different parts of the Bay Area.

cyclespeak
And do you always carry a camera when riding?

RJ
There was a point when I was carrying it every single day—even on my commute. I never wanted to miss an opportunity so I’d have my little point and shoot Ricoh GR to hand. But I’ve started to intentionally leave the camera at home every once in a while. It’s nice to simply enjoy the ride and not get drawn into this social media world where you feel you have to post a picture and tell people what you’ve been doing. Sometimes I don’t even upload my ride onto Strava.

cyclespeak
You know what they say? If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen [smiles].

RJ
Exactly. We joke about it but I know that some people treat that pretty religiously.

cyclespeak
In your Instagram bio, you describe yourself as an educator / cyclist. Was that a conscious decision to state those terms in that particular order?

RJ
It was absolutely intentional. I love being a teacher—it’s one of the many joys in my life. The interactions that I get to have with my students and seeing their emotional growth over time is a real privilege.

cyclespeak
I’ve read that you first got into photography through skateboarding—creating videos on an old camcorder. What’s your take on the ease in which smartphones can capture amazing digital content?

RJ
Maybe I’m biased as a teacher but I’m a big supporter of people creating. Kids are the future and the quality of content they’re putting out is just awesome. When I was at school, the only people that had access to content creating equipment were the adults who could afford the fancy cameras. So with the advent of smartphones and social media platforms, I’m rooting for the younger generation to go out and give the world a refresh.

cyclespeak
Patrick [Lee] told me that Photo Pace evolved from a group of friends that messaged over Instagram but initially hadn’t ever met in person.

RJ
Photo Pace started as an Instagram DM. At the time I was living in Los Angeles and when I moved to the Bay Area, we arranged to go out on a ride. We wanted to share the photos we’d taken so we started a group chat and then Chris Corona came up with the name Photo Pace. We wanted to distance ourselves from the mentality of riding at a certain speed.

cyclespeak
Life doesn’t have to be full gas?

RJ
That’s right. We were a group of guys tired at following the norms. We wanted to ride at our own pace, have fun and shoot photos. Photo Pace.

cyclespeak
This all started over Instagram and I’ve heard it said recently that the platform has had its day.

RJ
With Instagram – as with life in general – you either adapt or get left behind. When it was first launched, you took a photo of what you were doing at that instance which you then posted. Maybe now the content is a little more curated which is why I like stories because they retain a sense of immediacy.

cyclespeak
I look at the Photo Pace feed and see this amazing body of work. What are the most enjoyable aspects of your involvement with the group?

RJ
All of us are so different from one another. So we tend to feed off each other’s energies and inspirations. And we joke about it but we probably have the longest standing Instagram DM. I’m sure if I looked at my phone now, I’d see a hundred or so messages.

cyclespeak
Are these diverse viewpoints important?

RJ
We’re a bunch of x-ray technicians, air traffic controllers, emergency room medical staff, teachers. We have cycling in common but we also have these other areas of our lives that we can bring into the fold. It’s always different—never the same old.

cyclespeak
Do you ride out with a rough idea of the shots you want or is the process more intuitive?

RJ
Most are unplanned. And I feel there’s a finite amount of photographers who can create something truly original. Whatever image someone has shot, it’s either coming from something they’ve seen before or inspired by another photograph. To shoot something that nobody has ever seen before is incredibly difficult. So subconsciously I might have this idea but I’ll go about capturing my own version. And when I’m riding with Photo Pace, we like to share the experience and shoot on the go. People sometimes think it’s this point A to point B thing and that’s the end of the ride. But there’s so much that can get missed and that’s where I like to shoot—the moments in between. The coffee stop, fixing a flat tyre, the signs on the side of the road. To me, the parts of the ride that are the most important.

cyclespeak
The moments between point A and point B. I like that.

RJ
Some days are different than others. The time you ride, maybe the weather. And then later, when you look at a photograph, it takes you back to that particular time. You remember the sunlight, you remember the shadows.

cyclespeak
I see what you mean about capturing a moment in time.

RJ
Instagram gives you the option of sharing 10 slides but I feel that’s kind of a lot? So lately – and by that I mean two weeks ago [laughs] – I’ve been trying to limit the number of photographs I use to tell a story to no more than three.

cyclespeak
Is there a pattern to your posts?

RJ
I usually go off the feel and momentum of the other Photo Pace photographers. Kyle, for example, will post a photo. Then maybe five minutes later Patrick will post one of his. And they’re like really good photographs so I want to jump in too [laughs].

cyclespeak
I couldn’t help but smile when I read in one of your posts, ‘Nothing like a good black and white photo on a Wednesday.’ Any other days?

RJ
I tend to avoid posting on a weekend. Because you should be out having fun [smiles].

cyclespeak
You mention the weekends and I was wondering whether your bike building is just a hobby or a part-time job?

RJ
I grew up without that much money so I couldn’t afford to take my bike into a shop. The one time when I did – my tyre had flatted – this guy charged me $20 to change the tube! So I was determined to learn how to do this basic servicing myself and that grew to trying to fix more complex problems before I resorted to paying someone to do it for me.

cyclespeak
A case of necessity being the mother of invention?

RJ
The more I worked on my own bikes, the more I realised that I was getting pretty good and it was something I enjoyed. And as a teacher, I don’t make that much money, so I reached out over Instagram to see if anybody wanted their bikes working on.

cyclespeak
What bike would you most like to build for yourself? Or have you already built it?

RJ
For a dream bike, I wouldn’t particularly want something from one of the major players. I’d much rather have something different—something unique.

cyclespeak
And your perfect day on the bike?

RJ
That’s kind of an easy question to answer but also very loaded. For me, it’s not so much the weather or the location—it’s more the people I get to enjoy the bike ride with. Wherever I am, if I can have some really wonderful conversations and make a good experience out of a bicycle ride—then that’s more meaningful to me.

RJ Agcamaran

Photo Pace

Feature image by Kyle Thornhill

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