I’ve been a fan of Roni River on Flickr for a long time. Her style of strongly emotive Portrait Photography always appealed to me strongly. She manages to capture the essence and feelings of the human body in a way that is quite unlike any other photographer I have come across. Thanks a lot Roni, for this wonderful interview… amazing experience for me. All the best for your future endeavors.
Q) Hi Roni, Welcome to 121 Clicks. Please introduce yourself. Could you tell us where you’re from and how you got started in Photography?
My name is Roni River and I’m 32 years old. I’m from Israel although I am half South African and I have lived there from the age of 9 till I was 14.
Those years away were very hard for me, I have always suffered from something called Social Anxiety and being in a new environment was very scary and I have spend most of my childhood being very depressed. Coming back to Israel at 14 was great but having to fit back in was hard. At 16 I dropped out of school and I was sitting at home going crazy. I was scared for my future and I was so depressed, no one knew how to help me. Until one day my grandmother said to me when I was 18 ” I’m enrolling you into a photography course!” and she booked us an appointment with the course manager and we went. He gave me a black and white film and my mom got me a camera from a friend and I started shooting. But I only enrolled into the course 2 years later. And I fell in love. I fell completely in love with photography although I still knew nothing about how to expose. The technical side was Chinese for me at first and I was too shy to walk down the street with a camera shooting away like most people or ask my sisters to pose for me as I was way too shy to even try. So I just shot myself eventually but that too took a few years for me to get into more seriously.
Q) How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of feel do you try and create in your photos?
I definitely try to tell my story, I think my photos do give off the feeling of what it is I’m going through in that moment in time. Allot of it is directed and styled; my work isn’t documentary exactly as I have a hard time accepting reality and the ‘Truth’ of my life and who I am. So I tell my truth in a way in which I am comfortable with. I suppose I still hide allot in my photos in a way but as I evolve that will change. I never have it completely planned out, I have an idea and I go with it. While shooting things always change from the original idea I had.
Q) Most of your Photos are like self Portraits. How do you define Portrait Photography?
I always said I never try or attempt to define anything. When you define something you put borders for yourself and I have a hard time with borders. I just close my eyes and let my tummy lead the way. During my 365 project in 2009 I would shoot until my tummy would say ‘ you’ve got it’ and then Id stop. It never failed me. I can’t explain it but we all have that voice inside that knows better and seems to be leading us to where we need to be or to create that image I don’t even know I want yet.
I have boundaries for myself but if a photo seems right I’ll shoot it I won’t think ” that’s too or provocative for me” Its has happened that I shot something I felt was too personal to share with the world but I still took the photo. I’ll never, not shoot something if it comes to mind and feels right no matter how the idea for the photo is.
Q) Nature has a strong presence in a lot of work, for example you have many portraits taken outside. What role does nature play in your photography?
While I was shooting my 365 project I was indoors 90% of the time. I was too shy and too scared to go shoot outside just in case anyone walked by or drove by and saw me. But after a few months into it I got my courage and went out to very secluded places and took some shots and it felt amazing to be able to overcome that for me. Now I try to make a real effort to shoot outside. As I live my life closed up indoors and I don’t go out much during the day I don’t want to have that in my photos anymore. My apartment bores me already after taking so many photos in it. I want to go out into the world more with my life and so I want to be outside as often as I can in my photos. Bottom line is nature is life. And I haven’t reached that place where I chose to live. As a depressed and lonely child I was obsessed with dying at one point and that was all I would fantasize about. And that is something that is still an issue for me. I don’t think I reached that place within where I chose to live. I do what I do but I stay very secluded and I turn down allot of things because I get too scared to try and venture out of that safe place I created for myself at home. And so Nature for me is choosing life. And so I want to shoot in Nature more so than I use to shoot indoors.
Q) I personally like your face expressions in Portraits. There is lot of pain and depression; you want to share with us?
I am a very melancholy person I always have been. I think moving to live in South Africa when I was 9 had a huge impact on me in terms of my depression. I took the move very hard and I was clinically depressed at a very young age. It’s something that never shakes off completely. I actually have a really hard time when it comes to my eyes; I usually shoot myself faceless or with my eyes closed. I don’t know why that feels more comfortable for me. It might change in the future, who knows.
Q) Your works are very creative. Where do you get your ideas and inspiration from?
Thank you. I usually go digging in my past that usually will give me an idea for a photo. But really anything inspires me. If it’s a movie that sparks an emotion or a photo I saw a book I read a place I’ve been, Anything that leaves me with an emotion I can’t stop thinking about will probably spark an idea or an image I want to create. I make an effort to always learn more about anything and everything that interests me. I try not to live as if I know everything cause that closes doors and I want to be as open as I can to allow inspiration and ideas into my life.
Q) In your Flickr Stream, I found 365 Days Project Set and it’s very interesting. How do you compare yourself between Day1 and Day365?
Wow I can’t compare those 2 anymore. I really changed since then. I think the biggest gift I received from that project was realizing my ‘issues’ are not who I am.
I was so sure that my anxieties and anger are who I am and that can never be changed. I was finally able to see that I had more inside of me than that. Anxiety and anger where a big part of me, or a larger part than the rest but that wasn’t all I was. There was more to me than that. Realizing that made a big change in my life in terms of my depression and feelings of being less than everyone else. I discovered the woman I am inside that I couldn’t keep denying anymore. And she has allot of strength I can now lean on whenever I need to.
Q) You’ve published a book with your 365 Project. What response have you had and what is most important to you when it comes to your prints?
I never had any money to publish my own book so I used the blurb website to do it and sell it through them which has been an amazing way to get my project out there. The response has been amazing throughout the whole year as well as from everyone that bought the book. Its 416 pages with my journal entries as well. It’s a year into my life and it’s very personal.
People are emailing their personal stories to me all the time telling me how wonderful it is to see how I deal with my anxieties and fears instead of letting them control me and completely take over. Some women are happy to see a size 8 girl who’s happy with herself and they find inspiration just from that. So everyone takes what they need from my work and it’s just humbling and inspiring, and has given me so much strength and confidence to keep going.
Q) You have any idea to exhibit your work?
I had a small exhibition a year ago that got a lot of press and allot of people came it was amazing. I really want to exhibit the full 365 project and I have found 2 galleries that are interested but I couldn’t get the funding to do it. Which is sad that money has such a say but it does. I’m participating in a group exhibition next month which is nice but I would love to get the funds to exhibit the full year of 365. My flickr page of the project has reached 3 million hits which is insane, I think people would love to see it as an exhibition. I know I would.
Q) What are your plans for the future? Do you have any new projects on the go at the moment, or anything that you’re planning to do?
I do actually. I’m very happy to say that I have about 6 new projects I want to start shooting. It’s a bit overwhelming at the moment having all these ideas I don’t really know where to start. I’m also still trying to figure it all out for myself. Every time I have another concept idea or story idea for any one of the projects I write it down and wait for the rest of the pieces to follow. But I know I have to start shooting for it all to come together. I’m really excited about starting to shoot men for my men project. And I also have an idea in which I will shoot girls at young ages as I’m trying to reach that girl inside of me that is still so stuck back in South Africa. I can’t really say anymore at the moment.
Q) What cameras / lenses do you use and why?
I’m using a Nikon D300 which I am very happy with although I’m desperately saving up to buy a Full Frame DSLR. My lenses are my Nikon 17-35 f/2.8 which isn’t the best for portrait photography but it always does the job and it’s an excellent lens. And my Nikon 85 f/1.8 which is the one I use most. Although I was shooting not too long ago while a very strong wind was blowing and my tripod fell and the focus ring on the lens isn’t working anymore so focusing myself now automatically is a bit of a problem. I would love to get back to shoot Medium Format film photography. That’s where I have always felt at home and most inspired by. I have an old Yashika that’s stuck on f/3.5 so I can’t always use it.
Q) And, name your three favorite photographers and explain how they’ve influenced your work?
I keep finding new photographers on a weekly basis picking 3 is really hard. The very first time a photographer caught my eye was Zosia Zija, her portraits hypnotized me and I think that was what started to fuel my passion for taking photos in the first place about 6 years ago. Salva Lopez who shoots mostly still life is a favorite of mine. His photos have such calm and ‘correct’ feel to them and yet you can sense the storm that is taking place at the same time. Jo Shwab, I aced all over looking at his female portraits it’s so raw I don’t know how he does it. How he captures something that I can’t see but is very evident in every single image. Elinor Carucci, a fellow Israeli who shoots herself. She really mastered it in my opinion, her photos always look as if someone randomly walked by, snapped a photo and went on his way.
Q) Thanks again for providing 121 Clicks with this opportunity to interview you. Any final thoughts for our readers?
Thank you for this interview. I guess all I can add is do what you love, and don’t let anyone side track you. Listen to your heart and remember that NOTHING is as bad as you imagine it to be! Absolutely nothing.