Reuben Radding is a Rfotofolio award winner. His image Cinco de Mayo Brooklyn, NY 2013, is timeless and captures the energy of the moment. It is an image that has stayed with us.
Thank you Reuben for sharing your work and words.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I live in Brooklyn, New York, where I take pictures, teach photography, live with my lovely girlfriend and two cats, and continue to maintain a career as a musician. My personal photo work is street photography, and commercially I do a lot of work related to music: promo shots, concerts, head shots. Music was my first love—I play the bass—and it’s always a part of my life, even if I’m obsessing about photography eighty-nine percent of the time.
How did you get started in photography?
As anyone who’s lived in NYC can tell you, it is like being in a movie, 24-7. You’re constantly bombarded with surprising moments that defy description, or grand spectacle beyond anything you could imagine, and then, in an instant it’s gone. I used to see these things and go, “damn I wish I had a camera.” Around the time I turned forty I decided to go ahead and buy one, just to capture those crazy New York occurrences. Fortunately, this was before everyone had a camera in their phone or I might have simply started an Instagram account instead of becoming a photographer.
Anyway, then I went through the same development a lot of people go through. First you start carrying the camera in your bag, missing a lot of shots because by the time you’ve dug for your camera the moment has passed, so you start carrying it in your hand. Then you get hungrier and start going out in search of things to shoot, instead of just settling for the material you encounter in your normal day-to-day. Then, you start getting interested in being good at it, solving problems, developing a voice. I’m not sure what comes after that; probably finding ways to direct that voice into particularly fertile directions, in terms of content and story.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
My biggest inspirations have always been the great photojournalists and documentarians, more than so-called Street Photographers. I do love early Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Elliott Erwitt, but my biggest heroes were/are people like Eugene Richards, Philip Jones-Griffiths, Larry Fink, Leonard Freed, Koudelka, Benedict Fernandez, and Louis Stettner. My favorite current photographer is Jason Eskenazi. I think he’s just incredible. His book, Wonderland really knocked me on my ass.
Growing up I also absorbed a lot of important music photography that affects how I see things. A lot of my aesthetics were formed by looking at the work of John Cohen, Anton Corbijn, Pennie Smith, Jim Marshall, David Godlis and Lynn Goldsmith, to name only a few.
New York has an astonishing photo community. I’m lucky to have friends like Lauren Welles, and Richard Sandler around. Richard has a book coming out next year and I’m so glad his remarkable work may finally get the distribution it deserves. I’m looking forward to Joseph Michael Lopez’s upcoming book, too. I admire him, for sure.
Did you have a mentor?
I never went to art school. I spent one year at an alternative high school in Virginia that had a real photo lab, and a great teacher named Lloyd Wolf, who mentored a number of my friends. I never took his classes though! Lloyd has been very encouraging to me in recent years, but all of my experience of his teaching was second-hand.
I was lucky to take a workshop at ICP early on with Barron Rachman, who turned me on to the work of Eugene Richards and Louis Stettner. If that had been all I got out of the class that would have been a lot, but he also spent a lot of time explaining techniques of composition. He is also a master black & white printer and often spoke about photos from that point of view, about how he would approach printing images and it really spun my head around. He challenged me on my approach in ways I was uncomfortable about at the time, but looking back he was right to question my willingness to get closer to subjects and to be more intentional about what I was doing.
Later I ended up in a fairly life-changing workshop led by Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb. A lot of things came together for me after that time with them. Coming into the workshop I was still struggling with issues like whether I should continue to mix shooting in color and black & white. They looked at my prints and murmured to each other for a couple minutes, and then told me, “yeah, you don’t need to ever shoot in color again.” It was such a relief. From them, I learned a great deal about editing and sequence. It was also from Alex that I learned about Charles Harbutt. Recently I’ve become friends with Larry Fink, and it’s overwhelming to me how deep and articulate he is, and how laser-sharp his understanding of life and art. He’s the real deal, and I learn a lot from being around him, no matter what the topic of conversation.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
Nikos Economopoulos has this photo in his book, IN THE BALKANS from Epirus, Greece in 1993 of a Roma musician smoking a cigarette, and playing a a riq, or some kind of tambourine. The light is poking through the planks of the shack he’s in and the smoke is almost covering his face, and something about this image haunts me and continues to inspire.
If you could spend the day with another photographer living or from the past who would it be?
Philip Jones-Griffiths. I wish he was still around.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
Does anyone really ever say “no” in response to this? I shoot for me, but showing the work creates an exchange that is also meaningful, and rewarding.
Please tell us about your process and what is the perfect day for you.
A perfect day is one where I spend more than three hours photographing. The first hour is usually spent feeling grumpy and incompetent, and then I let go and become present. Lately I try to do my photographing in places that I simply enjoy being in. That way if I don’t get any photographs I don’t mind, and if I do get some photographs it’s a bonus!
What challenges do you face as an artist?
Other than the challenges of making a living? The challenge of trying to develop a language, a way of seeing that feels specific and recognizable. I feel like I’m on the verge of discovering what I may really have to offer. For me it’s been challenging to become more project-oriented. All of my greatest heroes committed to long-term projects, and that’s not really been my path so much yet. Sometimes so-called “street photography” feels like a bit of a dead-end in terms of growth. I may change my mind, but I feel the urge lately to get closer to stories, to find a closer relationship to my subjects. Always though, I am simply seeking personal growth. Through photography I get to know who I am a little bit better, and that’s key to my becoming a happier citizen of this world.
What is next?
Next I need to understand how to connect certain rare elements in my best photographs to my future work. I’ve relied a lot on serendipity up to this point. That’s not a bad thing, but I feel like something more directed is brewing. I’m striving to connect the worlds of my street work and commercial work, and that seems to be going well. As far as careerist ambitions, I have some, but all of them hinge on my getting a lot more work done to justify those milestones. Continuing to photograph is a self-justifying pursuit, so I’ll do that.
To learn more about the work of Reuben Radding please visit his site at Reuben Radding.