Ava Rikki is an extremely gifted and talented photographer based out of Brooklyn, NY. Her latest work "ROJO EN LOS OJOS", which was shot exclusively for Lomography, explores color theory with shades of red and dives deep into the exploration and significance of the female body and identity. Her influences span a mile wide to include some of the best minds of the last century. We got to speak with her about this latest body of work and what she aspires to communicate with it. Working with The Belair, the photographs Ava makes are a visual treat.
Hi Ava, we're so excited to introduce you to the magazine. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself as an artist?
I have been immersed in art since I was young. Both of my parents are artists, so I have been fortunate to have strong artistic influences from a very young age. I am a Brooklyn based cinematographer and photographer. Currently, I am a Film/Video Major at Pratt Institute, and I work as a prep tech at Panavision. Last year I worked at NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) and assisted on Sports Illustrated Swim 2018 Edition. I appreciate working with creative people who genuinely push hard to surpass the status quo. I am very influenced by artists and filmmakers such as James Turell, Hiro Murai, Rachel Morrison, Chayse Irvin, Roger Deakins, and Khalid Mohtaseb.
What made you want to get into photography?
Photography allows me to manipulate a world view and mold it into something that offers viewers a new or different perspective. My dad studied Photography at Cooper Union, so from a very young age I've seen the world through the lens of a camera. I still have the first photo I took, back in 1999 with my dad in our Harlem apartment. I see photography as one of the most eclectic and diverse art forms. It is accessible to a wide range of people, on many levels, which makes it a very inclusive medium.
Working on this series, you said you were inspired by a poem by Sarah Kay titled “If I Should Have A Daughter"? What about this poem inspired you?
One day, when I came home from high school my mom called out at me that I need to watch a TED talk that she’d just watched. Of course, I rolled my eyes, since this was not the first time that I had to see something that moved her, but I sat down and watched with her. Sarah Kay's poem is the first poetic, spoken word piece that I heard that brought me to tears. My mother and I have always been extremely close and hearing these words, spoken by someone else, captured what I’ve always felt. Sarah Kay is a woman I highly respect, she represents a strong and confident woman that can profoundly reach people and make her experience an opportunity for the audience to create it as their own.
Maybe, unintentionally, but viewing Kay speak these powerful words in front of three, giant, blood red letters (TED) felt extra powerful, juxtaposing the uniquely personal with the broadly powerful. The poem is funny, and touching, and supportive, yet brutally honest. To this day, 7 years later, the poem still gives me goose bumps and I think of it often. My mother and I still repeat the lines " I'm going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, ' oh I know that like the back of my hand' ". My own mom is one of the most powerful, amazing women in my world, and Sarah Kay's poem just makes me remember how incredible it feels to be a woman who is supported by other women.
What other works did you draw from in this series. To me I see a lot from the movie "The Dreamers", but we'd love to know if you drew from any films, artists, etc?
I mainly work as a cinematographer, so a lot of my photography is inspired by cinema. For the Rojo En Los Ojos series I was inspired heavily by American Beauty, Twin Peaks, The Shining and the work of both Roger Deakins and Reed Morano. I am a huge fan of The Dreamers. Although I did not consciously draw from that film, I am very honored that my work would emulate it. I really love films that shake the standard narrative up a little bit, just as how I love photography that breaks into uncomfortable scenarios and poetry spoken from a grand pulpit but reaches us in a personal place that we call our own. I hope that Rojo En Los Ojos feels warm and inviting, while still portraying an uncomfortable and awkward sense. I think everything involving gender should feel a little uncertain and have space around it, as it is a fragile and somewhat of an unstructured concept.
The color red has such dominance in these photos, yet the color is a signifier of so many different things, can you speak about what the color red means to you?
Red is a symbol for many things, and red is often a symbol of extremes. Red can symbolize love, hate, death, warmth, blood, attention, stop and so much more. There's an expectation that many artists have of the color red, that it provides a very specific impact or inflection. One of my favorite things about the color is that it has this incredible sense of ambiguity while always remaining strong and dominant. For this project, specifically, I used red as a symbol for women; all women. There's a connecting strength that all women and female identifying people share. The color red is used as an important symbol in all forms of media, from literature to photography to cinema. Red is a color of extremes, it’s the most passionate, adventurous, violent, seductive color.
In 6th grade, I sat alone in my room with the epitome of cliché fashion magazines between my chubby 11 year old fingers. Flipping through the pages, I landed on an issue about why and how a woman should always wear red on a first date, and how red was the sexiest and most daring color. I remember how ridiculous I found this. Thinking back now, there are aspects that I agree with. Red is a sexy color, but it bothers me that we push the desire to feel beautiful and powerful only to please others. Color theory is an extremely important aspect of visual art. Colors communicate non-verbal stories with an instant visual impact. The psychology of the color red varies with the pigmentation. Deep red generates feelings of richness, elegance, luxury, sumptuousness - all cultivated and robust sensations.
There's also a strong female presence within this series. What about the female body or the female identity are you attracted to?
The female form, whether cis gendered or not, is an extremely beautiful and thing with unlimited variety. It is such a powerful visual image because it can represent something so soft and delicate and simultaneously portray a great strength. After working on this photo series, I was lucky enough to work on a shoot with Aly Raisman, one of the women who inspired this project. I have also been fortunate enough to work with women like the photographer Taylor Ballantyne, who has become a voice for supporting and beautifully representing other women. Taylor gave me the opportunity to work on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, In Her Words, which was a project that promoted women having their own voice. There’s beauty in strength, this is, of course, not a new concept but it's something that's easily forgotten and often manipulated. We need to constantly remind ourselves as a society to be open, and willing to try and understand each other although we’ll never be able to truly see from another person’s POV.
Why do you think female empowerment is so significant in today's culture?
Female empowerment has been a prevalent issue since the 1920's, well... likely, forever. It’s something that we, as a society, have to continue to push at, to tear at and to build from. I'm not sure that it's more significant today, but I do feel that our current use of social media and stream of incoming information allows us to aware, to be in communication and stay constantly informed. The platforms we have access to allow people, and especially women, to voice opinions and provide information that was harder to get out there and harder to hear before.
Can you talk a little bit about your compositional thinking in this series? Did you have a plan of what you wanted the shots to look like or did you just dive into it?
I wanted to frame around the subjects, since it's a piece about femme people I thought it would be cool to work around the people I was documenting. I felt this allowed for me to give them a voice as opposed to simply being imagery that I manipulated for image sake. I did, however, have a plan of how I hoped the shoots would be framed. I set out a framework and conceptual structure, and also brought additional props and objects for the subjects to use to express themselves freely. The majority of the red clothing is personally owned by the people in the photos, so the work includes their interpretation of the color red as well.
How was working with the Belair?
I loved shooting with the Belair, it's an extremely lightweight medium format camera, which is hard to find. I found the interchangeable lenses quite helpful and that allowed me to actually use my friend's handmade extension in order to create certain looks. Although I did not add any of my tests, I really loved the 6X12 option as well as the 35mm back. I think the Belair is a quite innovative camera and I'm very impressed with it.
What does being a woman mean to you? How do you define it?
I think being a woman is an extremely difficult thing to describe. I would define it as having an understanding to other people who may share similarities to yourself, and not merely on a physical basis. This may sound a little trite, but I’d like to believe that women and femme identifying people, have a soul connection. There’s something welcoming and warm about being a woman, which is particularly expressed when we are with other women. It’s a shared understanding and strength, a sisterhood. Being a woman almost means you don’t have to define yourself, you are free to continually create.
What would you hope people get out of viewing your series?
A sense of community mainly. Women (and all people) should feel powerful, strong, human and naturally beautiful, just as they are. In a time where many of us are feeling powerless and weak against some alienating political forces around us, I want people to know that what you have to say does make a difference, that who you are counts, and that feeling strong is your right.
What can expect to see from you in the future?
I'd love to work with Lomography again soon. I'd like to become a strong voice for women in media. I'd like to shoot a feature within the next year. I intend to continue to work on and with supporting fellow female filmmakers, and anyone who’s interesting in breaking down barriers and creating great films.
Any advice or messages you want to say to our readers?
Let’s get more women behind cameras. I’m so ready to not be surprised that a woman is nominated for a cinematography award. Also, treat photography like the art form it is. You can do anything with what you have. Lomography is a perfect example of being able to make something incredible with simple, elegant tools.
TED Talk with Sarah Kay: