The Photography of Hunter Dood

Selective analysis on the Michigan native's range of work. TB, Kelana, Kitchen, and more.

At this year’s running of RedBull’s Day in the Dirt Down South, three out of shape cameramen hastily took to the course on borrowed equipment: Tom Journet, Hunter Dood, and myself. We painted a modest, everyman’s portait of long sleeve shirts and jeans. Pre-owned helmets with ill-fitting boots. I had extra goggles for everyone, but the crew were advised to use their tear-offs sparingly. I only had 1 for each of us.

Tom and Hunter promptly put that advice into practice by perfectly timing the official’s green-flag wave, rounding the first turn with the lead 450 Beginner pack to start the 35-minute melee. I sat helplessly behind, awkwardly fumbling with my shift lever after stalling out.

Though my pride took a small hit, it was no matter. This was supposed to be a fun exhibition for us three, where the competitive edge would be brushed aside in lieu of the feeling that only comes from riding with your friends. But as I cruised in the back of the field, dodging takeouts and thrown elbows, I was abruptly reminded that none of the other competitors had gotten the memo. This was a race, and I was in the way. Move or be moved, as they say. I had to wick up the pace.

I met up with Tom in my attempts to advance towards the front, and we sliced past a couple of jockey’s. Upshifting, we drag raced down the wide-open street section, then had a laugh before settling into our respective paces. It was fulfilling, having graduated from hired employees to giddy participants of a banner event, comfortably testing our limits between ourselves and those around us.

It was at this point in the moto that I passed a downed rider in the thicket of “No Man’s Land,” a section of the course cut out of dense Florida brush that featured tight, winding S-bends and, as the name implies, minimal course workers. I selfishly pushed on, caught in the hyperbole of the racer’s mentality. “This is war, it’s either him or me!” The next lap, someone had sacrificed their own race to check on the fallen solider. It was Hunter.

“He just looked like he needed some help,” Hunter explained after the moto. “I wasn’t doing much out there anyway.”

I learned a lot about Hunter on that trip to Florida. He’s one of the good guys. One hell of a photographer, too. He and I picked through his work below.

Bereman at Wyvern Ranch.

World of Echo: So this was the first photo you sent me when we started talking about doing the interview. What’s good with it?

Hunter Dood: This was an easy choice for me, because it’s my all-time favorite photo I’ve taken so far. From the style, to the way that I shot it, and how everything just seemed to line up make it a personal favorite of mine. That jet streaking in the background is the cherry on top! Launching into the sky like TB. I’m also fond of how Tyler is framed up with the mountains, it layers up really nice compositionally.

This was during the Twitch Jam at Wyvern Ranch, an event I somehow got invited to tag along at. I have no idea how I ended up in that position, but it was dope. I had only been out in California for a month at that point, so I was starstruck seeing everyone out there jumping all those hits in the hills. I’d never seen anything like that in person before.

You and Tyler seem to have a history together, even though you haven’t been in California too terribly long.

I met Tyler the first day I shot in California, actually! I was working at the State of Ethos warehouse and he and Twitch just cruised by to say what up to some people. It was nothing to those guys, but that was a huge deal to me. I had been in California for three days at that point, and in walks TB and Twitch out of nowhere. I had no idea the DBK warehouse was just around the way.

So you saw those dudes often?

Tyler moreso, yeah. Dustin [Humphrey, State of Ethos founder] was in the middle of producing Tyler’s 805 documentary, “The House That Built Me,” so Tyler would come through to look over archives off old hard drives. Dustin asked me to help with that, so Tyler and I forged a small relationship that way, just going through old drives. Through eventual relationships with Max Mandell, a mutual friend of ours, and getting some DBK work on the side, I saw a lot more of Tyler in the months after I moved out west.

Kelana Humphrey

What can you say about Kelana?

He’s an energetic kid! Always doing something with wheels, man. Always cruising. Kelana is really the main reason why I ended up in California in the first place. I shot for him at an amateur race back in the day and got an opportunity through his father Dustin to come out and help the State of Ethos guys in their early stages, and through that I ended up hanging with Kelana everyday and going to more races with him. We have a sort-of brotherly relationship from being around each other so often. Great kid.

He seems to naturally take to this position as a freewheeling minicycle grom. Does he get that from his peers?

He’s been that way for as long as I’ve known him, yeah. Even through stories I’ve heard of him and Dustin back in Indonesia during the Deus Ex Machina days, he’s been a natural on camera. He’s not phased by it at all, and he’ll even lean into it at times. Like after a moto, if there’s someone shooting him, he won’t immediately go to his pit or wash his face off because he knows the photographers are trying to get those gritty shots. It’s trippy because, like you said, he is so young, and to have that presence of mind at his age is pretty rare, but above all that he’s really just a fun kid. He may pause a moment to make sure you’re getting the angle right, but it’s not a front. Kelana is real.

How do you keep your composure for a photo like this? The mood needs to be light, but you mentally have to maintain focus to get your shots.

That’s the toughest thing with doing portraits, keeping that sense of authenticity while searching for an angle. I feel like you have to have an established relationship with the person you’re shooting before you can pull off shots like that. Even if you’re meeting that person for the first time at the shoot, as a photographer it’s part of your job to lay that foundation and make your subject comfortable enough to be themselves while you work.

I just joke around and try to maintain a level of lightheartedness when I shoot. Whether I’m going back and forth with the subject or just making fun of myself, I’ll do whatever to keep the mood light. I’m not a serious guy anyway, so I’m not out here trying to hate! [laughs] I’m just trying to get some cool photos. It’s important to understand their side of it as well, what they’re comfortable with and what not.

Kelana was just waiting up for us at this point, while the rest of the guys were skating the full pipe behind him. We came up on him and I thought it could be a good shot.

Levi Kitchen, Ponca City 2020.

Where was this photo taken?

Ponca City, Oklahoma. 2020.

You were just getting into the swing of things with your photography at this point, right?

I would say that Ponca that year was a turning point for me in my photography, for sure.

Is that one of the reasons why you picked this photo?

Yeah, definitely. This was a shot that I was instantly pumped on the day I took it. Today, I have to say that I don’t like that stick in the middle of the frame! I wish that wasn’t there. Everything else is on point, though. I like how I can see Levi’s eyes as well. As riders, we know we have to look ahead and not directly in front of us, and you can tell clear as day that Levi is charging forward. Looking towards where he’s going, not where he’s at. Just laying it down.

I remember Motoplayground and Levi himself actually reposted that photo onto their pages after the event, and I was so stoked! That was the first time I had ever been reposted like that. Not that I’m out here fishing for approval, but recognition for your work is always a nice perk, even if it’s just a repost. I’m excited to see Levi back this summer because I think he’s a top 5, top 10 guy outdoors this year. He was firing in supercross before his injury.

Axell floats over Slayground.

How did this Axell shoot come about?

Axell hit up Tyler that day to come hit some new jumps at his compound, then Tyler hit up GAS [Griffin Denbesten] about coming out to shoot some video. GAS asked if I wanted to roll with him and, I mean, you can’t really say no to go shoot with Tyler and Axell! It was a bit last minute, but we made it happen. Unfortunately after we got there, they had some water truck issues that made the new jumps unrideable. Axell put both of the rigs down that day. [laughs] It was back to the ramp hits!

Do you find any subtle qualities to Axell’s riding that you admire?

I couldn’t say anything about his riding that isn’t obvious, because it’s evident to anyone who watches him ride that he’s just on another level, but I would say that I admire his work ethic and mentality. He’s out at Slayground 7 days a week building, prepping, and riding. He truly puts in the effort to hone his craft and I have a lot of respect for how he operates. It does not matter if there’s thousands of people watching, or if there isn’t a soul around, he’s out there putting it down.

Great example: he did a backflip and landed in a perfect wheelie first try in front of Tyler and two regular ass dudes. Who does that?

Todd Cram at sunset.

I don’t know Todd Cram, but can you tell me about him? What’s the first thing that pops into your head?

HB kid. Free spirited. Surf style. He carries that style to his riding and it’s pretty cool to see. His progression as a rider has also been sweet to witness. When I got to California he was pretty new to the ramp scene and his jumps have improved a ton in a short amount of time. His injury of course set him back a bit, but he’s still out there doing his thing and killing it.

Is this in Huntington?

Echo Park in LA. I forget the exact spot, but it’s right around there. It’s at the top of this lookout point. We were driving around looking for a spot to set the bike up and shoot that photo, and I remember telling the boys to stop the van right there because that was it! A winding round, quintessential California palm trees swaying in the sunset.

At the time I really wanted to do something in the street, which is where that shoot came about. Todd had his dual-sport too, which I thought was sick because not many people can rip a dual-sport like he can. Those elements, combined with the visual of winding road leading the viewer to Todd created a photo that I’m particularly fond of. All in the midst of a random December day, just burnt on shooting ramps and dirt hits.

That might be one of the most fun shoots I’ve been on, actually. Just me, Todd, and our buddy Ryan going out and looking for spots. If we found something, we tried it. If we didn’t, we just kept it moving. Cruising, listening to music, aimlessly driving around LA.

Thanks to Hunter for his words and photography. Peep him at @hdood_, or on his website.