Perusing the almost billboard-size high-def visuals hanging in the newly opened Bo Bridges Gallery—an autographed movie still of Tom Cruise from the latest Mission: Impossible reboot, a full-scale panorama of a 727 in a Mojave Desert airplane graveyard spanning an entire wall—it’s hard to imagine that the artist Elite Daily (“The Voice of Generation Y”) recently dubbed “The World’s Most Badass Photographer” got his start processing prints at a one-hour photo shop in Vail, circa 1995.
Like so many other kids in their 20s, Bridges moved to the valley after college to chase powder and live the Rocky Mountain lifestyle. He picked up a camera, got pretty good at using it, and quickly began working as a freelance photographer, shooting product photos for K2, Salomon, and Oakley, then found a following shooting athletes in motion at the X Games, Dew Tour, and the Birds of Prey World Cup races in Beaver Creek.
Before long, Bridges outgrew the professional opportunities to be had in a small mountain town, so when advertising agencies on the West Coast came calling, he and his then-girlfriend-now-wife packed up and moved to Los Angeles. He operated a gallery in Hermosa Beach for six years before relocating to Manhattan Beach, where his West Coast business currently resides.
While traveling on assignment to more than 35 countries (dangling from the open door of a helicopter, for instance, to shoot a rider conquering a monster wave in Tahiti that graced the cover of Surfer magazine, or Tom Cruise clinging to the side of a cargo plane at takeoff that ultimately adorned the official Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation movie poster), Bridges works seamlessly between two worlds. Between capturing the thrilling, action-packed moments that only camera can capture in 1/4000th of a second, Bridges also likes to slow the shutter speed and completely absorb his surroundings, be they a long-exposure blur of water and sand swirling around the barnacle-crusted pilings of a pier, the majesty of the Tetons shrouded in the clouds of an approaching thunderstorm, or a seagull’s view of a New Jersey beach dotted with colorful umbrellas.
It’s these simpler, perhaps mundane moments on Earth that Bridges captures best, and most beautifully.
“I’m always looking for clean lines and compositions that work within the frame,” says Bridges. “I’m always thinking about it before I even shoot. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to shoot this? What are my settings going to be, and what’s my goal here?’”
Much like his photography, one of the best features of Bridges’ new Vail Village gallery is its strategic location at the bottom of Bridge Street, upstairs from Loaded Joe’s and sandwiched between Art on a Whim and the 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit tasting room; he already has plans to partner with both, hosting moonshine-fueled combined gallery shows. The spot on Bridge Street and his standing in the action sports world has been conducive to other opportunities, as well; the gallery will be playing host to a fundraising event at this year's Burton US Open in partnership with the Chill Foundation, which seeks to empower youths through board sports.
“I’ve wanted to get back here for a long time, trying to figure out how to do it. I was missing the mountains. I love the mountains, love the ocean,” adds Bridges, who is exploring the possibility of relocating his family, now five strong, from the beach to the mountains full-time. “I love the fact that the gallery is on Bridge Street. When I came around the corner the other day and saw my name on the side of the building, that was pretty wild. It’s bringing me back full circle because I used to walk down this street every day, either to go to work or to the mountain.””
But Bridges doesn’t solely intend for his new Vail location to operate as a simple art gallery; instead, he hopes the space will also serve as a local hangout, a place to hold fundraisers for local causes and farm-to-table dinners. With a grand reopening in December of 2016, a commercial kitchen and virtual reality bar on the wish list, the gallery, he hopes, will be well poised to captivate locals and visitors alike.
But the biggest draw, of course, are the pretty pictures, the massive installations he calls “wall murals” of big waves and aspen groves, made of a vinyl adhesive that’s sometimes used to wrap buses, which he hopes to rotate with the seasons—and ideally with booming sales as they’re snapped up to cover the walls of vacation homes.
“An image can take you to another location just by having it in your house,” he explains. “You live in the mountains, but you also enjoy the ocean. It can remind you where your roots are from, or maybe it’s a place you love to visit.”
Like the red barn he shot in a snow field not far from Vail Village, where his career found a start, and perhaps will bring him home.