How fitting indeed that my February interview for the Features section should be with an Aquarius! And so it is – as this month my conversation is with Brooklyn-based portrait photographer Rayon Richards, an Aquarius born on February 6th. And how fitting also that Rayon chose photography for his profession – little did he know that Aquarius is connected with the “light” and the “ether” without which there would be no photography! And, the word “ray” is even in his name! We had spoken a while back about doing an interview, but things happen when they’re supposed to – we were obviously meant to do this now.
I began by asking Rayon to give me one of his earliest “photographic” memories, perhaps even the one that had him deciding to become a photographer? Or maybe not? One of my earliest “photographic” memories is when I actually discovered for myself, the importance of image capture and documentation. In 1996, I was on a trip to visit family in Jamaica. It had been 10 years since my last visit and so much of what I remembered had changed. In an effort to preserve the moment, in the event that I would not see Jamaica for another 10 years, I decided to buy a bunch of disposable cameras and document the rest of my trip. That was my first real encounter with photography outside of casual picture taking. So then what made you decide to become a photographer in the first place, and when was that? Well, the aforementioned instance developed my interest in photography but what made me actually want to pursue a degree in photography was meeting my mentor in 1999 and learning about the craft and business simultaneously.
Wendy Williams © Rayon Richards
What would you say is the most challenging aspect to what you do, and the most rewarding? The most challenging aspect to what I do can sometimes be marrying my perception of someone with how they view themselves and creating a portrait that satisfies us both, tells a story about the subject but also makes them feel good about themselves when they look at it. It’s a challenge I look forward to every time. The most rewarding thing about being a photographer is knowing that every portrait is a document not only of a person but also of an experience; an experience that we both shared.
And what would you do if you weren’t a photographer? If I wasn’t a photographer I would’ve probably gone into some other field in visual arts. I grew up in the arts and always knew that I wanted have a career as an artist but wasn’t sure what I was going to focus on until senior year of high school when I met my photography mentor. In the last couple of years I’ve developed an interest in interior design and home improvement. I’d probably be a landscaper. I like building things and working with my hands (My dream is to own a fixer-upper and make it “mine”). Since my career isn’t home-improvement based, a few years ago I started shooting architecture and interiors of residential and commercial spaces. When I was in school my professors always said, “shoot what you love”, so I’ve found a way to combine both of my passions together there.
Tribeca Kitchen Interior © Rayon Richards
How much time do you usually spend with a subject when shooting their portrait? Obviously with “celebrity” and editorial clients, time may be limited, so do you prefer to have more time, if you can get it? I always prefer to have as much time as possible but I also believe that photo sessions have expiration times. It’s possible to overshoot a subject in a particular span of time to the point where you’ve over exhausted the moment and that “special thing” disappears. Every shoot requires its own specific amount of time for “the moment” to be achieved. Each shoot is different.
When and how do you know that you have what you want? As an artist, your ambitions should always push you to want more from your work. There are two moments within a shoot where “the shot” happens. There’s the moment you get what you need (for example, for a client) and the moment you get what you want. While you’re working, your brain is always going. Getting what you need is based on logic. Getting what you want is based on feeling. When you get the shot you want, you feel it.
I asked Rayon to give me 3 words that best describe his creative style, and he said, “Vibrant, Familial, Warm.”
Peter Frampton, Brooklyn, NY © Rayon Richards
What is the funniest moment or story you can recall from a photo shoot? One of the funniest things that I can recall happening on a photo shoot was back in 2005 when I was photographing Damon Dash, then co-owner of Roc-a-fella Records with Jay-Z, for a publication. There were a number of people on set hanging out, including Victoria Beckham and Kanye West. At the time Kanye West was an unknown artist. Interrupting the shoot, he stood up in front of everyone and unveiled his idea to name his first album “College Dropout”. There was an awkward silence over the room. Then Damon Dash let out a loud infectious laugh and all of their friends followed. They spent a good portion of rest of the time cracking jokes and laughing at him. I couldn’t help but chuckle too. Years later, the joke was on all of us.
How much does Social Media play a part in your marketing and getting your work out there? I use social media as a conduit for anything that I post on my blog. Social media is like a branch that reaches more people than the people who check my blog regularly. It’s a really good way to promote what I’m working on. I also still use conventional methods of marketing like direct mailers, portfolio drop-offs, meetings and email promotion.
Do you have an essential piece of photographic gear that you always carry with you - your “must-have” item? And what is the most important piece of non-photographic gear you always have with you? It could be anything! I’m currently addicted to my beauty dish with a grid attached. No matter what my lighting set up entails it always shows up whether it’s a key light or a fill. The most important non-photographic gear that I always have with me is a ring I wear everyday with the Ethiopian [Rastafarian] flag on it. I feel naked without it. It reminds me that God is always with me.
Gabrielle Anwar, Miami, FL © Rayon Richards
Do you keep a journal? What inspires you? I keep a journal and I try to write in it after every shoot but sometimes I forget. Whether I write in it or not, I critique myself on a few key things. Lighting, my interaction with the subject and whether I feel like I succeeded at getting the best possible image are my three biggest. Seeing other people realize their passions and live out there dreams inspires me. I’m also inspired by the concept of love.
Who is your favorite photographer – you can give me more than one! My favorite photographers are George Hurrell, Yousuf Karsh, Richard Avedon, James Vanderzee and Nadar.
When you’re not shooting something for a client, how important is it for you (or any photographer) to be shooting personal work, and how does yours come about? Where do you get your inspiration and ideas? When I was a student at School Of Visual Arts, I knew from very early on what my focus would be. I was very fixated on my desire to shoot celebrity portraits and when my career began to take off it’s all I cared about. I remember my professors always telling me that I need to find a balance by shooting personal work but I didn’t care about that. Years later when I began to realize that shooting for clients was only satisfying a small portion of my creativity, I returned to a mental space where I was once again creating work for myself. I had come full circle to the years when I was in school. Today I feel 100 percent fulfilled. My ideas for projects come from just living, observing and thinking. My everyday observations spark ideas and before you know it I’m saying “Wow! That’d be a great idea for a project…I’ve gotta do that.”
Josefina Guzman from The Assistants Series, © Rayon Richards
Do you have anything you would have changed when it comes to your career? There’s nothing about my career that I would’ve changed. I’m thankful for every experience I’ve had thus far. I have no regrets and I look forward to continued growth.
And how about a proudest or defining moment you can recall in your career (or maybe your life!)? As morbid as this may sound, the defining moment(s) of my career came when a few of the people I’ve photographed passed away. Rapper, MCA of The Beastie Boys; 60 minutes journalist, Ed Bradley; legendary actor, Ossie Davis, former Tuskegee Airman, Dr. Neal Brown and my maternal grandmother Ivy Reid are no longer here with us. The photographs I made of them not only serve as documentation of the experience we shared together but after they were no longer on Earth with us, my photograph served as evidence of their existence. When I came to that realization, it made what I do more meaningful to me. One of my proudest moments in my life is the relationship I’ve developed with my goddaughter, Anya. I love her.
And last but not least we have the ChatterThirteen quick questions:
1) What is your favorite day of the week, and why? My favorite day of the week is Sunday. It’s a day I like to relax, reflect on the previous week, and prepare for the upcoming one.
2) What is your favorite TV show? Mad Men is my number one show but I recently caught up on Breaking Bad and I’ve gotta say…IT’S PURE GENIUS!!!
3) What was the last movie your saw? A 1967 film with Dick Van Dyke called “Divorce American Style.” GREAT movie!
4) Give me a favorite word or phrase, and why? “Congratulations.” I think it’s one of the most positive words in the English language. Only good feelings, happy moments and great accomplishments are met with the word “congratulations.”
5) If you could be born in another period of history, when would that be and why? I would be born in the early 1950’s in Jamaica, which would mean that I would be in my 20’s in the 1970’s. Based on the music of the time and the stories I hear from my parents, it seems like such a great time in the country’s history.
6) What is your favorite music, song, or band? That’s a hard question. I listen to so many different types of music. My favorite genre of music is classic Reggae (from the 60’s & 70’s). My favorite classic reggae artist is Dennis Brown. My favorite contemporary reggae artist is Damian Marley. Some of my other favorite music artists include Solange Knowles, Billy Joel, Allison Krauss, John Coltrane, Astrud Gilberto, “80s’ Madonna” and Jim Reeves.
7) How about your favorite animal? A Lion
8) If you could get on a plane tomorrow, and go anywhere you wanted to and perhaps somewhere you’ve never been before, where would you fly to and why? The first place I would fly to is England. I have 14 aunts & uncles and countless cousins there and I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve yet to visit. That’s a trip that’s definitely happening this year.
9) What is your favorite food? Grilled Salmon
10) And your favorite color? Navy Blue
11) Who (dead or alive) do you admire? I admire Jim Henson for his innovation and dedication to children’s education.
12) If you could spend just one day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be, why, and what would you do during those 24 hours? I can’t say that I’d ever want to experience anyone else’s life. A lot of times we admire what we think others have based on the appearance of what we think we see but we never know what people’s lives are like privately. If I could spend 24 hours in the shoes of someone else it would be my future self. I don’t think I’m anywhere near my full artistic potential and that excites me. I feel like I have a million concepts and ideas in my head that I’d like to translate to the world in photography and it’s only a matter of time before they all make it onto photo paper.
13) If I handed you an Oscar for photography, whom would you be thanking in your acceptance speech? - I would first thank God for all of the blessings I’ve received in my career.
- Next I would thank my parents for all of their love & support.
- My mentor for introducing me to the world of photography in the kind of hands-on way that I could never have read about in books.
- My high school photography teacher at New York City’s LaGuardia High School of Music & Art for her initial instruction
- My college professors at School of Visual Arts
- The photo editors who gave me a start and trusted me to produce when I was still in school
- And all of the great assistants I’ve worked with over the years. I hope that they were able to learn something from me to help further their own careers.
Louisa J. Curtis, www.chatterboxenterprises.com
For more information on Louisa's services or to be added to her monthly ChatterBulletin mailing list, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.