Reading the Cards © Liese Ricketts
Reading the Cards © Liese Ricketts

“Oh, it’s how I think about the nature of our medium. The photograph seizes a sliver of time, a moment that is at once gone and yet remains.  It, most magically, sustains the unsustainable.

That is why I use the acorn and the oak leaf as symbols as well; life and death fall to the earth together”.

                                                                                                                                                                                 Liese Ricketts

Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work and words of photographer Liese Ricketts.

Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

I think these five facts, non-photo related, give the bigger picture.

1. I am a married mother of 2 middle-aged men who have families.

2. I am ½ Peruvian. ½ German, both parents being immigrants.

3. I am a senior citizen.

4. I have a dark sense of humor.

5. I am 6 feet tall.

How did you get started photography?

When I left Peru in late 1982 after 13 years living there, I came to the US with my little boys.  A friend loaned me his camera equipment, telling me he thought I might like photography.  He had no idea it would become the great passion of my life.  I enrolled in grad school, did an MA and then an MFA, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Which photographers and other artists work do you admire?

Oh, there are so many. Hard to choose the most influential but I will try.  I like lists.

1. Robert Frank, in “The Americans”, who made me understand what is personal documentary.  He did not pretend to tell The Truth, just convey his own sense of what he saw, images filtered through his own past and personal experience.

2. Eugene Richards, whose humanity coupled with his dynamic composition, blows me away every day.

3. Graciela Iturbide, for the magical realism in her work.

4. Robert Doisneau, for his use of visual relationships between things in the image.

5. A non-photographer, a writer whose rich imagery and humor fills my head, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


Cleansing the.House © Liese Ricketts
Cleansing the.House © Liese Ricketts

If no one saw your work, would you still create it?

Absolutely. I make work, like the characters building mountains in their living rooms in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  I am compelled to do so, driven, despite the inevitable downsides, huge expense, uncertainty, insecurity.

Please tell us about your process. 

It generally starts with an idea and one image in my head. The content and my approach drive the use of materials, the scale, and, lastly, the search for venues. I have a great deal of work that no one has seen.  I have not felt the need to share it or I feel it is missing something and I can get back to it.

I use any material that fits the work, any format, from film to digital and anything in between.
I do love film and see in black and white. I like looking at color photographs but, unless I am working with collage or some other medium, I do not use color.

An element that is perhaps different about me is that the presentation of the work is critical to the images.  The viewer needs to experience something differently.  I do not matt and frame a print and then slap it up on a wall. I love trying to find a form that weds the content.

What challenges do you face as an artist?

1. Poverty. I rarely sell my work, and that is fine with me.  I hate the very thought of working with moneymakers. This year, as I have retired and live on social security, I laugh about having to eat dog food.  But, it is a nervous laugh.
2. Storing the vast quantities of work I have.  Does that motivate me to sell? No.
3. And, the corollary is the mind-boggling fear that my work will wind up on a blanket on the ground at a flea market.

If you could go out and shoot with another photographer living or passed who would it be? 

I would hate to go shooting with anyone, living or dead, (especially if they are dead.)

How do you view this time in the history of photography?

With some despair.  There is very little respect for personal documentary work.  What contemporary photography I see in galleries emulates stock photography, not vice versa.  Bland, blank, big, compromised, good on a wall.  I am harsh.  I don’t talk about what I hate much, but I hate a lot.
Nonetheless, the advent of cell phone cameras has changed things and there it is.  Will they look back and think of this era as the Disco Era of Photo?  Rhetorically, who knows.

How do you over come a creative block? 

I never have had one. I did go through a period when I was poisoned by non-silver processes in 1985 and was afraid of any chemicals for a while.  Hans Haacke wrote me a postcard, which I saved, and he said to get over it.  I did.

What do you hope the viewer takes from your images? 

I hope the viewer feels the spirit of the intimate encounter I had in the taking or making and meets us in that triangle of connection.


Reading Coca © Liese Ricketts
Reading Coca © Liese Ricketts

Would you like to share a story about one of your images? 

In my series, “Moving Spectacles”, I was shooting the annual parade of acute schizophrenics in Lima’s Larco Herrera.  The patients dress up on Independence Day, July 28, as historical Peruvian personages, and march throughout the hospital premises.  The joy of the ladies I photographed filled me with their joy and I can tap into that each time I remember the moment. Uplifting.

How does your art affect the way you see the world?

I am not sure it is not the other way around.  My photographs reveal how I feel, and the intimacy, as well as I think I am experiencing with the subject. Unlike someone like Robert Frank, who images his own alienation and distance, I image and experience a deep connection.

Where can we see your work, and would you like to share any upcoming projects?

I am exhibiting different bodies of work in solo shows here and in South America this year and next; but audiences are limited to having to be there.  I have a website, DeadPhoto, and some of the work I have done in the last five years is there.  I really enjoy being able to share online, despite the fact the object/image always has a greater presence when seen face-to-face.

The images here are from a very new series called “Santigüeros”, benign healers who use nontraditional methods to cure ills; this is an ongoing project in Perú which may take years.  I am printing on Japanese tissue paper, as well as making tintypes and ambrotypes now.  I am in the process of discovering a suitable marriage between content and form.  It will be important to have stories accompany the images, to shed light on the rituals, incantations, and cures.


 © Liese Ricketts
© Liese Ricketts


Thank you Liese for sharing your work with us.

To learn more about Liese please visit her site at Deadphoto.

Banana Cabana working space of Liese
Banana Cabana working space of Liese

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6 thoughts on “Liese Ricketts, Photographer

  1. One of the things that happens when I am unplugged from FB to work on my work without distraction is that I miss this. Years ago, Liese reached out to me to trade images. She was a FB stranger whom I instantly felt connected to, and I was right to feel that way. Liese is generous, honest, and brilliantly talented. I am so glad you featured her.
    Honey Lazar

  2. I just want to say, I have known Liesa just under 50 years now and always counted her as a friend, even during the years we temporarily disappeared from each others lives. Being back in touch now, and witnessing her accomplished in her art has been at once thrilling and extremely satisfying. I can tell you first hand, she has always been endowed with the creative sensitivity, intelligence and sardonic humor present here in this insightful interview. I’m so happy to see those qualities finding their home in her chosen medium.

    P. Maggini (a proud admirer)

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