Monday, April 13, 2020

Interview with Artist Ryan Cardoso


This past month the work of Ryan Cardoso has been featured in the Dirt Palace Storefront Window Gallery. While the Gallery is viewable from outside, or even from a car, we know that getting out these days is rough, so we wanted to give you other options for getting into Ryan's work.  Before sitting down to begin this correspondence with Ryan, we read a great interview that the artist Paris Paris did with Cardoso for the AS220 blog. Check out that interview HERE

XThe exhibit in the Dirt Palace Storefront Window consists of five photographs. Each piece is a portrait of one of more people. They are all the same size and almost, but not quite square. - Can you tell us about each of the people/groupings of people in the photographs and what decisions were involved in choosing to compose the shots in the manner that you did? 

R - All of these photos are in reference to Renaissance painting during the 15th & 16th century. So the process started with me doing a lot of research on the period and selecting pieces from the canon that were either iconic paintings or I felt had something in there that I could bring out more of a story in. All of the people in the photos are high school friends, friends who are currently around me every day, or strangers I wanted to know. A lot of my shoots are a way into form relationships with people who I want to have in my life, even if it is for a brief moment. 

“Not Raphael’s Angels but the Brothers who Skate Together Every Weekend,” are two brothers Henchi (@justhench) & Daniel (@tanavelli) who I’ve known since high school. They are skaters so they are usually hanging downtown a lot and cruising around. “Raphel’s Angels” by Santi is probably one of the most popular paintings so I knew that I wanted to reference this piece. My challenge in making it a portrait that speaks to me is how I could add story to it that was relevant to the two brothers. I had them bring in their skateboards to the studio and put the wings on them. We tried several shots some of them moving around, on the board, and other setups, but ultimately we stuck to the classic cherub pose. In the end I feel like the image still has their story through the small details. There are scars and bruises on their arms from skating, they are much older than the classical cherub, and have brought their own sense of masculinity to cherubs. 

“Slitty Christ at the Column” came from a piece by Caravaggio. The subjects in this photo are Sid (@slittywrists) a musician, and Paris ( an artist. This one again came together very naturally. They were already friends so I just got them in the studio with the reference and we started playing around. Since Sid is a rapper I was trying to figure out how I could turn this religious event into the style of an album cover. The cigarettes happened naturally when Paris said that he needed to step out for a smoke break and Sid joined him. I immediately realized that this was the shot. It was part of their relationship and how they spend time together. Also a lot of my aim in this series was to show that these people around me living their normal lives are to be payed attention to and learned from. I feel like a lot of the times in religion and spirituality we are so focused on one god, deity, or whatever we believe in that we focus in on that one idea and forget what is around us. We are surrounded by people who come into our lives to teach us things and show us ways, even if they are engaging in activities that aren’t considered ‘proper.’ 

“Angel not Madonna” was in reference to Madonna & Child by Duccio. There were several different takes of this shot and a lot of them included Otis (an infant) in them but in the end I felt like this one told the story best. It’s a straight on portrait with Angel (@3hournep) addressing the audience directly. The light is set right on her so the viewer is forced to stare directly into her eyes and deal with your thoughts on her. She isn’t sexualized but her direct gaze still seduces the viewer making them question who she is and why she holds so much power. 

“Chelsie Brooks 2018 A.D.” was a bit more of a general reference and made to comment on how the women in renaissance painting were represented. They were usually nude, in acrobatic like seducing poses, and white. Chelsie (@ychels) is someone I’ve been friends with since my freshman year of high school, but we lost touch for a while. Once I started shooting this series she was one of the first people to come to mind. I always thought of her as this tall, strong, grounded on her two feet, and firm person who always had control over the spaces she was in. This picture is very much about her and the power she has. The styling comes naturally from how I remember her when we were younger, chilling at home watching movies with her hair-tied and nails always sharpened and pressed. 

“Bribington & Bluebington 2018 A.D.” was definitely one of those photos where I have it all planned out and ready to go but it all changes as soon as I get behind the camera. For this photo I was working with Bri (@staytender) and their dog Blue. I was around them every day during the period of this series so I knew they were definitely a group that I wanted to document. It’s the first time where I was working with a dog onset and it was a challenge to get him to wear exactly what I wanted and pose how I wanted. I think this one taught me that I have to let go of things sometimes and let them run their own course. 

X - In Not Raphael’s Angels but the Brothers who Skate Together Every Weekend Downtown, obviously you’re in conversation with a famous work from the Western Art Historical cannon. Its really funny! And the way that you’ve posed the men in the photograph replicates the pose in the painting completely. Can you talk about your relationship to humor? 

R - I think humor comes into my work naturally. I am working with friends and family where we already have this existing relationship or are building one on location where we are shooting. A lot of the people I shoot are familiar with the same pop culture and history that I am working with. We grew up watching the same films, dancing to the same songs, and spending our time going to the mall or whatever kids do in city life so we get each other. So I think the humor just comes from us playing around while we are shooting. Despite the importance and the seriousness of documenting a figure to last forever, we still try to make it feel like a time to congregate. 
I think my style just always gravitates towards humor. A couple of years ago I wrote a script with a friend for a short film and set out for it to be a coming of age drama. By the time I was done I realized it was full of humor and was absolutely an unintentional comedy. Undertones of humor in my work feel like an accessible way to invite the audience to have a conversation about the more serious topics I want to discuss. 

X - These photographs all look like they involve really precise studio set-ups, very controlled lighting etc. Can you talk about what the experience of this kind of shoot feels like in comparison to some of the other shoots that you put together that are in very specific locations, outdoors etc. 

R - For this whole series of images part of the challenge was to execute studio work. It was the first time I had open access to studio space and I wanted to see if I could push myself to continue the tradition of storytelling despite being confined to one space. I felt like portraiture was difficult because the image has to be directly about what you see coming from the subject, and not the allure of the entire space, so it pushed me to learn how to better direct my subjects. 
The lighting in the studio also unintentionally affected my style going forward. Before this project I was used to working with natural light or whatever was around. Being in the studio and having control of exactly where the lights were coming from, how it came in, and how strong it was really influenced the photos. Some of the images are made to feel more natural with an all-around flat light vs. others where I wanted a heavy spotlight to make a statement that these are the important figures standing here in front of you, so pay attention to them. This spotlight has transferred into a lot of my practice outside of the studio now. 

X - Slitty Christ at the Column is a portrait of a musician, and it seems like you’ve done a lot of work with local musicians, some music videos etc. How do you listen to music when you’re thinking about art directing/photographing a musician? (I know this question might seem really basic or let me dig in a little more. I’ve found that the mode through which people experience audio has changed a lot in my lifetime. Twenty years ago I would literally sit around on the floor with friends when they brought home a new record and listen to it like 8 times on repeat. More recently I’ve found that I want to wear earbuds and be on a walk when really focusing on music in an intense way) 

R - Music is definitely a very important part of my work. Often the music comes in before anything else in the project. I find and download music obsessively all the time, but I also still have songs from high school on repeat daily. Songs have been imprinted into my brain in such an intense way that a lot of my imagery is created through songs. There are songs that I have heard so many times that I come up with a photo to try and translate what that specific sound looks like visually. I have also taken song lyrics and given them to my subjects so that they can understand the feeling and sentiment behind the photos that we are taking. 
I am definitely someone who still listens to a track 8 times, before I even start to really understand and feel the song and I think that translates into my work. Looking back at what I’ve created so far I can see a lot of repetition in my style. Whether it be repeating familiar props, locations, people, etc.. I feel like I can’t truly understand something unless I am digging into it repeatedly and getting different answers every time. 

X - In the interview that you did with Paris I really love how you talk about the relationship between your planning process and how the photograph actually manifests. You write: 

A lot of the time I have drawn out exactly how I want the image to come out. The pose, the background, lighting color et al. But there’s always a magic happen that happens once I am actually at the shoot, and the subject is styled, on location, standing in the directed pose, and I look down into the viewfinder and real life is happening and the image I drew up just turns out to be so much more alive and fluid then I imagined. I usually just have to throw out all preconceived plans and move with the moment. So the final image that I usually planned out is just a mock-up to show my subject, what I am hoping to communicate, and in turn they take it and put it into their own language

Your description of the tension between excruciating planning and being able to be dazzled by the “something else” that emerges in the letting go that’s inherently part of collaboration (and ultimately life), feels hopeful in a moment when I think a lot of people are feeling really overwhelmed by how little planning is possible. Would you be willing to share some of the photographs that you’ve taken that embody the highpoint of this experience? And to follow up from that what has this quarantine time been like for you? Are you hanging in? 

R - (“Happy House,” 2019) 
“Happy House” which I took at the Wedding Cake House in 2019 is a perfect example of letting go of planning and moving with whatever is happening. This shoot was like a 9 hour day with 2 weeks of prior planning, and was a complete mess. We all arrived at the house with costume, hair, makeup, reference boards, the whole production. Half way into hair-and-makeup I got a phone call that completely stopped me from functioning, I couldn’t think about anything else but that call. Once we started shooting all of my lights fell and broke, and the camera got damaged. All of my pictures that I had drawn out were falling apart and I was ready to stop and end everything. 

Thankfully I was working with my friends and they were there to push me and support me and figuring out how to make things continue. I had to take a deep breath and throw all the planning out the window. I realized these pictures were about more than what I thought I was going to get. This shoot is what taught me that the images are more than just about me. It’s about the environment, it’s about the emotion, and most importantly it’s about the relationships I have around me. 

This whole experience has also showed me similar lessons. This quarantine definitely began as a major shock to me. I was out of the country for a while and had my access to internet completely shut off so I was unaware of how things were building up. I remember returning and getting off my flight and one of the first things I said was everything feels so colorless and quiet here. A day or two later when I finally reached home I learned how serious things were getting, and by my 4th day back to the states I found myself quarantined. At first I was very bothered by it, it felt like I was coming down a waterslide and at the end of it I fell into a pit of ice instead of water. But after a month of being in I think I’ve accepted what this time is about. 

I’ve learned how important it is to check in with everyone around me. I’ve learned to take time to reflect on what has gotten me to where I am. Learned to assess what I need for myself and what I can work on or get rid of. I’ve learned that creativity doesn’t come from pushing myself until I can’t no more and that resting is a part of it. 
I haven’t really made any plans for what’s next when this is all over but I think this whole situation has gotten me to accept that I don’t have to know what’s next for me, but there will definitely be a next. 

Website  IG: ryanac

This Project was made possible through support from the City of Providence, Art Culture + Tourism Department

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