Born in Toronto, Canada, Ryan Pyle spent his early years close to home. After obtaining a degree in International Politics from the University of Toronto in 2001, Ryan realized a life-long dream and traveled to China on an exploratory mission. He moved there soon after, and began taking freelance newspaper and magazine assignments in 2003. Within a year he had become a regular contributor to the New York Times and was then listed by PDN Magazine in 2009 as one of the 30 emerging photographers in the world.
In 2010 Ryan and his brother Colin produced and directed a documentary film about their 65 day – 18,000km – Guinness World Record breaking motorcycle journey around China. Building on the success of this trip, he will attempt to circumnavigate India over a 60 day period beginning in August 2012.
Describe yourself in 50 words or less
I am very curious. I need to know what’s going on, and I need to see it with my own eyes; and I should get there by motorcycle and not forget to bring my camera.
What was New College like when you came?
Coming from high school in 1997 to New College was an exciting experience. My high school didn’t have a very diverse student body, but arriving at New College was fantastic – a few guys on my floor were from Hong Kong, a couple more were from South Korea; plus there were a bunch of crazy engineers and folks taking their masters degrees. The diversity was really something that had a strong impact on me, and it made for a fantastic educational and social experience.
What is your fondest memory of your time at New College?
My most memorable times at New College were in residence and during my first year. There is not one moment that sticks out from any other, it was just fun and the people were fantastic. Whether is was a big night out when everyone on the floor was going out for drinks, or enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon with some guys playing video games, it was all just perfect. I could not have had a better first year of University and much of that good will that I have towards my experience was because of the wonderful people whom I met in residence that year.
How did your academic and social experience at the University/College prepare you for life and your career?
I think the diversity at New College was very helpful. It was great to have people to speak with from different academic and ethnic backgrounds. It just helped provide me with a wider perspective on life and the world, which I believe helped me with both my academic studies and my career after University.
Tell us about some of the lessons you learned and how valuable they are today?
I think one of the biggest lessons that University taught me, in general, is that the world is a very big place and that I should not get too caught up in my own little world. The world is big, I need to go out and see it remember that any issues I have in my own life are minute by comparison. When I do encounter failure in my life, mantras like this help me absorb, evaluate and move forward. I try not to let too much slow me down.
What was important to you then – what is important now?
This is a great question. I think what was important to me then was finding my own place and finding my own space. I didn’t need to be popular, I didn’t need to be the “leader” or the “social coordinator” but I needed to have my own group of close friends that I could share experiences with, this was important to me. Today, things are much different. Because of my life, where I live and what I do, my time for friends is much smaller than it used to be. When I’m not working my family dominates much of my time.
What are your major accomplishments and who had the most influence on your Career?
I am very proud of having been a student athlete at the University of Toronto. This is something that will always give me confidence when I reflect upon it. Playing basketball and representing the University of Toronto was a very rewarding experience, and graduating from one of the top Universities in North America was also a very rewarding experience. These two accomplishments I hold very near to my heart.
Professionally, I’m very proud of being a regular contributor to the New York Times. This newspaper is a global institution, and a place where business leaders, political leaders and everyone in-between goes for the truth. It’s been a real honor to help shape global news coverage about China for the last ten years.
The person who had the most influence on my career was Howard W. French. He was the New York Times Bureau Chief in Shanghai for five years during my first five years in the business. When people ask me where I went to journalism school, I always say, “I went to the Howard W. French school of journalism”. He taught me so much. And actually today, he has left the New York Times and teaches journalism at Columbia University in New York. He is also a regular contributor to the Atlantic, an award-winning author and as a book about photography coming out later this year. And he is still a very close friend.
Do you have any final comments?
I try to live my life like an open book that has yet to be written. Too many people I meet have already boxed themselves in to careers or situations that they are not always pleased about. I firmly believe that we need to be open to all experiences at anytime. When I was 17 years old, just prior to entering University I was dead set to be a banker. My father was in the banking industry and this is what I wanted to do. Five years later I was making a permanent move to Shanghai, China. What happened in-between? Well, it’s hard to put my finger on it exactly but I was open to outside experiences. I took a huge risk and traveled to China alone in an effort to “see what was going on there.” At the time everyone I told about this trip said things like, “Why would you want to go there?” I firmly believe that first trip to China, and my will power to basically ignore people around me have lead to some of the most exciting life events I could have ever asked for, and has given me a career and a perspective on life that I could have never anticipated. Never set limitations on yourself, and never let anyone around you set limitations on your behalf. The chances are when someone says you are crazy for doing something, you shouldn’t stop, their rejection of your idea most likely means you are on to something brilliant!!