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A Conversation with the Delightfully Unapologetic Kyle Lightner

[All photos in this post are by Kyle Lightner, all rights are his]

There’s are those few diamond-in-the-rough people; The ones who are what the eff they are, and make no excuses or apologies for it. Think Lemmy Kilmister. They just give it to you – their unfiltered, unpolished selves in all of their pure and undefiled glory. It’s not like they planned it to be glorious. It’s just becomes that way because it’s such a rare disposition. Sometimes it backfires. Sometimes it might come off gruff. But sometimes it’s just plain refreshing and delightful. One of those people is Kyle Lightner.

Amy and I got to finally meet the local Orange County legend of a photographer last month for a project we worked on for Locale Magazine. We met up with Kyle at Eat Chow (an amazing restaurant that you must try) in Costa Mesa. On the upside of his twenties, Kyle Lightner is an opinionated, earnest, genuine and wonderfully cheeky individual. His photography is just as lurid. Lightner has this signature vibe: gritty, honest, sun drenched moments of modern nostalgia. He usually documents his friends, a band of contemporary Lost Boys, as they live their fringe California lives, surfing, skateboarding, playing music, or traveling the world in search of adventure. Unpretentious and un-calculated, the pictures are the essence of savage youth, fearless and curious and looking for something: meaning, mischief or otherwise. With an upcoming show in NYC in July, we sat down to chat with Kyle about photography, music, and Orange County summers.

What are you trying to capture when you shoot?
Kyle LIghtner: I’m just trying to capture people and moments that breathe life into me, and inspire me to no end. I only shoot photos because of how the guys I looked up to (Stecyk, Colver, Gaberman, Friedman, Stoner, Witzig) photographically inspired me through their images, through the moments they captured.

What do you want to shoot more of in the future?
KL: The best answer to suit that question would be, “exactly what I’m doing right now – which is, shooting whatever i want.” I don’t like to limit myself to shooting just surfing, or just skateboarding, or just music. I like to shoot whatever I’m into during that time of my life. I guess it’s like a mental scrapbook in tangible form, if that makes any sense.

You reached your goal of having a NYC exhibit/show before age 30. Tell us a little about the show.
I got home from Australia on April 5th. Pat Towersey called me like three days after and asked if I wanted to be a part of a gallery show with ‘60s Newport surf photographer Thomas Adler. Tom is pairing his images of Newport Beach from the ‘60s, with some of my imagery from the past few years of living in and documenting Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. I was super stoked immediately because I didn’t tell anyone about my goal to have a show in New York by age 30. Im excited,
but totally nervous about how the New York City art crowd will perceive my work. Tom is established there, and has a following. I, on the other hand, do not. So the anticipation for July and New York is pretty exciting in itself.

What’s your new goal?
Find an agent. Move more in the direction of fine art & gallery work in New York City. Find a way back to Australia as soon as possible.

Favorite thing about summers in Orange County?
The smell at night. I cant explain it… but if you live here, you know what I’m talking about.
There’s lots of shows during the summer, lots of good natural light to take advantage of, south swells, and of course – the weather.

Favorite longboarder(s) to shoot?
Hm. That’s a rough question, considering I shoot pretty much all ‘longboarders’. Robin Kegel, Alex Knost, Jared Mell, Kassia Meador, the Prairie brothers. But if I had to give a definite answer: Robin Kegel, mainly because he is the most unpredictable surfer/shaper of our generation. The dude is on a totally different level than anyone I’ve ever met in my life – easily one of my biggest influences, total genius/idiot-savant.

Favorite shortboarder to shoot?
[Laughs] I don’t really shoot shortboarding. Im not limiting myself, I just don’t really have many friends that are riding traditional thrusters anymore. Shooting Tyler Warren on his Bars of Soap has been quite the eye opener. He rides that thing like nobody’s business – like a full on shred-tastic voyage every single time he steps foot on that board. On the Australia trip, I got to see Jared Mell shortboard, and good Lord, he’s incredible: amazing style, approach, and fin-out hacks and airs. I was blown away. I had no idea – dude has mad shortboard skills and style.

Favorite OC shaper?
Robin Kegel. Hands down.

Favorite OC restaurant?
Mad Wolf Mongolian BBQ.

Favorite summer memory?
Driving with my friends to the beach growing up, blaring music non-stop, losing surfboards off the roof and watching semi trucks obliterate them. Parking tickets, sunburns, skating backyard pools shirtless, going to shows every day of the week, sleeping outside, staying up and out all night long, getting high with friends after an all-day surf, sleeping in, wearing virtually nothing and bumming people out, streaking, having band practice at 3am — freedom. Summer defines freedom.

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We also asked Kyle for his ultimate album playlist soundtrack – what he listens to while he shoots (in no specific order). Here’s the queue:

1. DS13 – “Killed by the Kids”
2. Annihilation time – “Annihilation Time : II”
3. Blasting Concept – “S/T LP & 7” “
4. No Justice – “Still Fighting”
5. Life’s Halt – “Discography”
6. Amdi Pedersens Armé – “Blod Ser Mere Virkeligt Ud På Film”
7. Grateful Dead – “Europe 72”
8. SLAYER – “South of Heaven”
9. Carry On – “A Life Less Plagued”
10. Ten Foot Pole – “Rev”
11. NOFX – “S&M Airlines”
12. Death – “For the Whole World to See”
13. NAILS – “Unsilent Death”
14. VOID – “The Faith/Void Split LP”
15. Gross Negligence – “R.I.P. EP”
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Here’s some more of Kyle’s work. To see more, go here. To buy prints, talk to the man himself. You can contact him through his website.

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