Through The Lens by Matisse Thybulle

by Matisse Thybulle

A little more than two years ago, Matisse Thybulle was on the cusp of breaking out. He had just finished his second collegiate campaign, which saw him set the single-season steals record at the University of Washington. 

The achievement was a precursor of things to come. The Seattle native went on to rewrite that same mark each of the next two years. As a senior, he was the NCAA's steals leader, and named National Defensive Player of the Year. 

Around the same time Thybulle started putting himself on the map as a sophomore, he also picked up a new hobby, one inspired largely by the people in his life closest to him. What began as a modest interest in photography has since exploded into a full-blown passion ("Me and Coach Brown talk about Ansel Adams every now and then, which is pretty cool," the 22-year old recently said). 

There's no question that basketball is Matisse Thybulle's life, his "everything" as he put it. But this much is also true:

The 2019 no. 20 pick is damn good at taking photos. 

Scroll down for evidence of Matisse's talents, and read the personal stories behind some of his favorite snaps. 

Me and 'Quese

Basketball's a very creative game. There's a lot of freelancing opposed to other sports. Football, you run your route, and you don't really veer off that. Basketball is one of those sports where you really never know what's going to happen from play to play - you don't know how you're going to score, what's going to happen, or what you're going to do in order for it to happen. I feel there's a lot of creativity that goes into that. 

Photography allows me another creative outlet. It's kind of my escape in that sense. 

For this picture, I was with one of my old teammates, Marquese Chriss, who's in the NBA. My first year at Washington, me and Marquese were both freshmen. We were roommates, so we were basically best friends. He left after our first year, I stuck around all four. He would always come back to visit. He actually got into photography. So now, whenever he and I hang out, we'll take our cameras. I've taken some photos of him that have turned out pretty cool.

In this one, we found a hoop on a court by Washington. It was this side court next to or under a bridge. It was pretty cool, with chain fences surrounding it, rugged and kind of worn down, tucked in the woods. There were logs and tree branches on the court.

Washington and the city of Seattle have been huge for me. I went from being some skinny kid who nobody really knew of as a basketball player to staying in the same city and having it support me as I grew to become the Matisse you guys all see today. 

The basket in the picture had bleachers right underneath it, so 'Quese was able to climb up and sit up on the hoop, stand up on the hoop. I actually came up with this shot when he was getting down. He put his foot there, on the rim, and I was like, 'Wait! That looks really cool.' It just happened that the net was broken in a way that you could see his shoe through the net perfectly. It turned out as a really cool picture. 

Pre-draft in Scottsdale

These two photos I took in Arizona. My dad, Greg, lives in Scottsdale, and I spent a lot of time there training for pre-draft. It was nice to be able to stay with him, be with family. I'd wake up in the morning, get to the gym around 9:00 or 9:30, workout for like an hour. There was a weight room there so I'd lift. Then right afterwards, my dad and I would go get lunch. I'd go home, take a nap, then go back to the gym with him later because he plays squash (he's really good at it). I'd watch him work out, we'd probably eat together again, and then I'd go back to the gym at night. I'd repeat the same routine the next day.

One day, I had a little bit of time in between workouts. I was driving down the street, had my camera in the car, and I saw this court, so I pulled over. It's rare that you see chain nets anymore. I thought it was really cool. I'm sure all the kids playing basketball thought I was crazy. I was out there on my tiptoes with my camera, trying to shove my lens as close to the hoop as I could. 

The lens I was using is a Sigma 35mm. The aperture was really low. It creates a really shallow depth of field. I feel like it captured the chain nets and the hoop and just made a nostalgic feel. If you saw the court, you wouldn't think you could get this from there. I was really surprised. It was a super average playground court in Scottsdale. 

When I think back on these photos and the pre-draft in general, it was different. I didn't have anyone to compare my progress to because I wasn't going to workouts. I didn't know if I was at the same level as other guys. It was a lot of time in the gym with my trainers, more or less alone without any idea of what was going on outside of other NBA workouts or any other players. 

But then you get drafted, and I think more than anything, you feel really special, really important - especially in my case because the Sixers traded up to get me. That made me feel like they wanted me that much more, and I felt that much more important to this team and the franchise.

Best bud

In Arizona, the sunsets are really, really nice; they're aesthetically pleasing. One night during the summer, my sister, Chloe, and I went out to shoot. She was a very patient model. We climbed on top of this rock off the side of the road, and we got these. Turned out pretty cool.

My sister, she's like my best friend. I'm two years older, but we're only a year apart in school. She skipped a grade, but she's not that smart (wink). When we moved from Australia, the school years didn't line up, so she skipped a grade.

As much as we can, we do whatever we can together. Even with me in Philadelphia, we still talk all the time, I FaceTime her all the time. She puts up with me and my photography stuff and basketball stuff. She's my best friend, simply put. 

We weren't always close like that. In fact, now people think it's kind of surprising how close we are. Our relationship changed in high school when I transferred from Skyline to Eastside Catholic, because we had gone to the same school for a year. Then I transferred. After that, we got pretty close because we hadn't realized until then how much we appreciated each other.

But that's my bud right there, my baby sister. 

One of the first

This photo is one of the first times I went out with my camera and really felt I knew what I was doing with it, where I had a solid enough understanding of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in order to freeze the water and get the waves splashing up. 

The waterfall is Snoqualmie Falls. There's an area where you're supposed to go to view the waterfall, but it's from far away. Every picture looks exactly the same because you're standing on the same platform. Me and my friends scouted out an area that was safe enough to jump, then we went down. 

You're actually not supposed to go down where I was. We kinda jumped over a fence - slightly illegal - but it was so cool. People do it a lot. Depending on how daring they are, some people do wedding shoots down there, but it's not easy to get down and get back up. It was fun, though, it was worth it. 

Initially, shutter speed, aperture, ISO - it's all super confusing and hard to figure out. But once I started with photography, I was obsessed with it. I would watch hours and hours of YouTube videos - like Peter McKinnon - things like that, learning as much as I could. On top of that, my friends wanted to shoot all the time, so I was always teaching myself and then going out and doing it. It didn't take long to pick everything up. 

The other thing is, being with people who are better than you helps a lot. This might sound weird, but I think being competitive fueled me, because you constantly strive to get better at anything. It sounds weird to think of photography as a competition, but competing against shooting something better than the next guy or shooting something better than myself previously has been a huge reason why I've stuck with it. The better you get the more you surprise yourself, and those surprises make you feel good. It's like, 'Wow. I didn't know I was capable of doing this.' 

This whole shoot at Snoqualmie Falls I did with my friends, and it was probably the point where I felt photography was going to be pretty fun, something I wanted to continue doing. My friends had already had a good grasp on everything. When we would shoot, any questions I had, they had answers. They were able to lead me in the right direction. So I really like this photo. It kind of captures that spirit. 

Nerding out

This was fun because it was the nerdiest shoot ever - we planned it all out and everything. There are these websites - one's called Dark Sky Finder - where you can find the darkest skies so you can see the most stars. My friends and I went online and searched for the darkest area within a reasonable drive from us. We found this spot called Lake Kachess. We went there right before camping season started, so there was no one out at this campsite. 

I've been around the outdoors my whole life. My mom, Elizabeth, was really outdoorsy. She was very active. She would go for runs and bike rides all the time. Just being her son, we didn't have a choice. She would always go for hikes, then we'd go on hikes with her. 

Photography is like that perfect thing to get you to go outside more, especially living in the Pacific Northwest, because the nature out there is beautiful. Having a good camera and knowing what to do with it just makes it that much more exciting to get out there and experience it. It gives you another excuse to be outside and enjoy it. 

When we got to Lake Kachess, we set up our gear, set up our little tripods. We brought a flashlight because it was pitch black, and we didn't realize this flashlight was also like a lightsaber. It was a super-crazy beam. My friend patiently stood there for a while - like 16 seconds - and didn't breathe, and we were able to come up with this one. So yeah, we got real nerdy. 

The other theme about me and photography is there are lots of connections to family and friends. And the line between family and friends for me is very blurred. My friends who got me into photography, they're my best friends - they might as well be family. We don't look the same, but I do everything with them. They were the ones in the gym with me getting up shots. Our career paths took very different turns, but they put in the same amount of work as I did. We've been through everything together. They support me, I support them. It's been pretty cool to see how things have played out for us.

A special embrace

This past month was the first time I've ever had my photos printed. I had never seen them on anything other than a computer screen, so that's been pretty cool. 

I think I took these when I first got to Philly and I was getting moved into my apartment. I was between a hotel and actually getting furniture for my place. One day, I just wandered around with my camera. You can see City Hall just by being on Broad or Market. It's an iconic building, so I decided to walk through it. When I looked up, I was like, 'Woah.' I had a wide angle lens with me - it captured all the different leading lines, things of that nature. I thought the space was really cool. 

Initially, I'd say I thought Philadelphia was a lot bigger. I was kind of intimidated by the scale of the city, but having lived here for almost a month now, it's not that big. You see a lot of familiar faces. It's very manageable. The streets all make sense with the grid system. It's been a good time. 

Lucky enough for me, people are really excited to have me here on the team. They've been very supportive of me just walking down the street, welcoming me to the city. That was the weirdest thing. From the jump, people knew who I was. It's not even like that in Seattle, so I was kind of caught off guard. I was like, 'What? I haven't even played a second of basketball here, and the people already know who I am.' It was a really cool feeling to have that much support despite not having done anything yet.

I don't think I could have asked for a better embrace. 

A point of pride

Ask me to compare making a good basketball play to taking a good photo, and it's different. For me, when I see a highlight, that's more of an ego thing. I feel like I see myself do something cool on the court, and it's more pumping up my ego. 

I don't like that feeling as much as when I see a photo I've made. It's like a photo is my creative process - my interpretation of something. For someone else to think it's cool, I don't know how to explain that feeling. It makes me very proud of what I've done. If someone can look at the way I see things and think that's a cool thing, I can't think of anything other than pride. It makes me feel good.

Don't just follow Matisse's personal account on Instagram, but his photography account too.

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