Looking back through the years (!) I’ve had this blog I realized I’d written about Ricky Flores more than once. So rather than continuing to wax on and on about him I thought I’d let him speak for himself. Happily, he agreed to talk to me about his work. Our Q&A is below.
Also, New Yorkers — information about the Seis Del Sur exhibit next month is here: http://www.seisdelsur.com/
You’re a self-taught photographer. What made you want to pick up a camera?
A friend of mine had brought a Contax camera and I fell in love with it when I was 17 years old. When I turned 18 I had come into a tiny inheritance left to me from my father of $600 and decided to buy a camera. I ran down to B&H camera with my friend and chose a Pentax K1000 with a manual flash unit and a 50 mm lens with a nice little leather carry all case. It was awesome. Needless to say some of the early pictures were horrible so I delved into any photography book that I could find and taught myself how to shoot.
What were your influences? Were there other photographers you liked? Did other arts, like music, also play a role in teaching you how to take pictures?
I was reading this really dreadful story in the NYT (I bet you read it too) about how sad it is that the Bronx isn’t like Brooklyn. How has the Bronx changed since you first started taking pictures? How do you document those changes?
The Bronx has become a melting pot of a variety of cultures and nationalities that wasn’t seen at the time when I was growing up in the South Bronx. Communities were heavily segregated by race in the Bronx of my youth, with predominately Blacks and Latinos in the South and more white communities up north in various enclaves. I haven’t documented the South Bronx as heavily as I did back in the 80’s and 90’s but continue to visit my old stomping grounds and take photos of friends of mine and of their families.
4) You’re also a photojournalist at The Journal News. How do you balance taking pictures for a newspaper with taking pictures for yourself?
One feeds another. I remember a point of time when working for the paper I was beginning to burn out. It is demanding producing photos 5 days a week and mostly on deadline for a daily paper. You have to produce a photo even in the most difficult of situations to meet the paper’s needs. Going back to the block allowed me to ground myself in my past and reconnect to how I used to shoot and incorporate that perspective back into my job. Same went for the shoots in the Bronx, I was able to bring in years of experience as a photojournalist to produce a higher caliber of work that I wasn’t capable of experience enough to do back in the days of my youth.
That experience also informs how I edit those images from the South Bronx. I remember dismissing various photos for aesthetic reasons or thinking that they are not valuable only to see them now and be completely floored by the significance of the image today.
5) What’s inspiring to you right now?
Like any other chosen profession, I continue to strive to get better at what I do which is always a constant struggle and battle with both internal and external pressures in play. Photography today is definitely not like photography back in the day. You have to be able to produce images for multiple platforms as well as be adept in videography, which is a powerful way of telling a story.
As photographers we always have to be at any given location to take a photo during events as they take place. With video we now have the ability to put that experience in a new format that in some ways better conveys the immediacy of the event. It has its own discipline and art form and it challenges us to merge a still photographer’s approach to a director’s.
All photos by Ricky Flores