Samantha Bell

Ben Christensen is a man of many talents. In addition to working as a professional photographer and videographer, he recently produced and starred in the Western film LeGrand with John Wayne's son Ethan. It was a natural fit for Christensen, a born-and-raised Arizonan who discovered his love for Western films and photography through his father. “Growing up, my dad worked in custom cabinetry, but he loved ending the day watching an old Western and grilling a steak," Christensen recalls. "So, in high school, me and my friends always knew we could go hang out with my dad, watch a Western and eat a steak."

We asked Christensen a few questions about the film, his background and more. (This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.)

How has Arizona and the Western genre influenced your journey in photography and videography?
It’s the biggest thing when it comes to Western film or editorial photography. I think people tend to go to some Western town or some structure, something like that, and it becomes dated or stagnant. There’s nothing more powerful, more beautiful and more timeless than nature. Nature, specifically Arizona’s, has been key to my visual inspiration. It’s just so diverse. I can drive an hour and be in the pine trees, then the sandstone, to the high-desert saguaro cactus, to the river, to the man-made lakes. Someone could tell me I could be in Arizona for the rest of my life and not go near another state, and I would have no problem.

How did your background in photography and videography shape your approach to producing and starring in a Western movie?
I found out that I’m not a filmmaker and I’m not an actor. I’m not any of those things. I found that the best actor, director or producer is the one who sees and understands the story and has the passion more than anyone. I knew I was the craziest, most obsessed person for the vision I had.

What are your favorite Arizona locations for capturing Western imagery, and what attracts you to them?
Everything near and around the Grand Canyon. Northern Arizona and the mixture of the red rock, open lands, the treacherous canyons and the white skies. I love everything. That drive from Flagstaff to Page is my favorite.

How do you incorporate storytelling and nostalgia in your Western-themed photography and videos?
I build each person off of their character. Characters are everything to me, even if it’s my photography. When I’m highlighting a person, I think of the characters that they are and I build off that and bring it to light as much as I can. It’s not like creating a character; it’s finding people that are just living, walking characters. I like to bring them to light through my imagery or my Western film.

Do you utilize Arizona’s Western history in your work? If not, do you have plans to do so in the future?
Not yet. I want to create my world first for everyone. I want my audience to see my world, through my lens and my eyes, so it can be recognized and they can feel it. But when the time is right, I cannot wait to make a film off the Lost Dutchman or old gunfights and tell history through the world that I created with my Western lens.

How do you balance traditional techniques with modern technology when capturing the essence of the Western landscape?
Know how to simplify and know exactly what you want. When you have a clear vision, you’re able to know how to execute that precisely and you can simplify your vision as much as possible. That’s what I did. I used one camera and one lens, because I knew exactly what I wanted. I don’t use drones or modern camera movement, only the equipment or the visuals that I was attracted to in that era of film.

To see more of Ben Christensen’s work, visit Learn more about the Western film LeGrand on Instagram.