Interview :: Rayon Richards :: Photographer

A graduate of the School of Visual Arts BFA program in New York, Brooklyn native Rayon Richards has been a professional photographer for the past nine years. With a portfolio that ranges from music personalities to cars, buildings to classic portraits, Rayon uses photography to express his view of human and social complexity. Inspired by modern culture and driven by history, Rayon captures people in their natural states, and attempts to dispel myths and stereotypes in his portraits. Some of his clients include Vibe, Latina, People en Espanol, Guitar Aficionado, Revolver & Fortune Magazines, Columbia Records, Atlantic Records and Ciroc Vodka.

How did you discover photography?

I discovered photography in 1996 on a trip to Jamaica to visit family. Prior to that trip, the last time I had been to Jamaica was 10 years before. So much about the place had changed from what I remembered so I got a few disposable cameras and started documenting everything. I wanted to record what I saw so that in the event that  another 10 years passed before I made it back and drastic changes and development were made I would have images to remember what was. I was raised by parents who saw the need to cultivate an interest in the arts in their children so I painted and did illustrations before I became a photographer; for me it was just another generation in a desire to reproduce and create work based on reality

How is your ethnicity a source of inspiration or strength in your work?
Or is it just sort of a default setting that has little bearing.

To be honest I try not to make my ethnicity an issue (good or bad) for me or my work. There are times when I come across situations where people may underestimate my capabilities as a photographer because of my ethnicity. They may assume I can't relate to anything outside of "my world" or that I wont "get it". It used to be a major source of frustration but I know myself and I know my work. It doesn't bother me anymore. I just have to work harder. I'm a multi-faceted person who loves people. I absorb cultures. I love it all. I am super thankful for the clients I have had who've supported my vision and don't always feel like you have to hire black photographer to photograph the urban subject matter only. 
Tell us about the challenges of being a photographer.

Photography has always been about problem solving. You are given a situation, a subject, a location, a time frame, a concept (in some cases) and an opportunity to connect with someone and show them to the world via the way you see them which is different from any other photographer whose camera they may stand in front of. Though its a happy problem, the solution is the resulting image created. These days other problems arise such as shrinking budgets in the media industry due to a shaky global economy. The challenge there is to find ways to allow the work to maintain the same level of integrity, not letting the quality of the image suffer because a client can't afford to pay what they used to. Another challenge is the whole premise of celebrity photography; make an image that looks like you've known a subject for 5 years as opposed to 5 minutes. I love that challenge most. You have to know how to read people quickly and judge character but the most important factor in that is doing your research. 

What aspect of photography do you really love?

What I love most about photography is taking what's in my head whether it's a concept, a feeling, a lighting set up or the mood I want to draw from the subject and translating it to a 2-dimensional image on paper
What I love most about the photography business is that everyday is different. I never work with the same people every time. Even if my team (assistant, make up, hair, wardrobe) is the same the subject is always different. 
I love the collaborative process. The idea is to take all of these creative minds and have them thinking as one in order to achieve the goal of creating the best possible image possible

What's your dream job/project?

Of course every photog has a list of people they'd love to photograph. Some of the people on my list include President Obama, The Dalai Lama & Bono but my dream isn't really a specific project or a job. My dream is to get all of the ideas and concepts i have swimming around in my head OUT!! I can sleep better at night. I get so excited about some of my personal projects that i just want to get them done, and put them out there.
Can you discuss any specifics about the process of creating a few of the pieces you sent.

These are just a few images of the many I have had the pleasure creating and people I have had the pleasure meeting.
Each experience was entirely unique. My process when it comes to shooting is fairly simple. Outside of knowing what I can about a person, not allowing gossip news to overshadow my view of them and having some kind of concept to give the shoot direction, I try to treat the shoot like a conversation and allow it to just flow. 
-I'd only seen Top Chef a few times before I photographed Tom Colicchio. My main goal was to create an image in one of his many restaurants that spoke to his prowess as a chef and also showed a bit of his personality without looking stiff, which in this case could so easily happen
-When I photographed Gabrielle Anwar it was less about the process and more about how quickly we bonded on set. We got along so well that by the end of the shoot while my assistant and I  were running late for our plane she offered us a room in her house to stay the night if necessary
-Kal Penn is Kal Penn. I went into the shoot expecting nothing but jokes and that's what I got. I wanted only to convey my laughter in the images of him through his own expression
Any advice for neophytes?

My advice to the Freshmen of Photography:
-Shoot what you love and do as much research on the subject or subject matter as possible before going into a shoot. You want to be as informed about what you are getting into as possible. Not doing your research is like going to battle without a weapon or going to the gym to work out and hitting the weights and skipping cardio, it just wont be as effective as it could be
-Also, probably the most important thing I can tell any new photographer is....BE YOURSELF ALWAYS, let "yourself" be the reflection you see in your will be happier in the end

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