We've been fortunate to spend the last couple years working closely with Elena Ricci. She has helped DNO in all capacities, from managing inventory and orders, to merchandizing and running our retail spaces. By far, her biggest contribution to the team has been through the willingness to bring her art and sensibility to the creation of editorial and product photos. We're still so grateful to be graced with her talent and skill. Her attention to detail, years of expertise, and effortless presence in the moment have created photos that surpass expectations and elevate the visual standards of DNO.
My name is Elena Ricci and I’m originally from Massachusetts outside of Boston
What brought you to New Orleans?
I knew I wanted to move as it was, and my best friend and I went on a cross country road trip to check out different cities. We’d also just graduated from photo school so it was an excuse to take some time out and take some pictures – kind of figure out what the next step was. And we both came down here, and we both felt at home immediately. And it was halfway through our trip too, so we were like, this is it, but I guess we have to keep going, then get our shit and come back! (laughs)
I didn’t have a job when I came, I hadn’t seen my apartment, I just came. Yeah (laughs) people thought I was crazy -- my family at least (laughs)
Did you find that you met so many other people with that same story?
Yeah, a lot of people. Even more so. Like we were here, and we left and came back after some time -- I’ve met a lot of people who are like, I came for Mardi Gras and I never left, or I came here to play a show and that was 5 years ago, and I never left. It was nice. It was reassuring -- I knew I wasn’t like, totally nuts.
I’m sure on that road trip you must have seen so many places that totally contrasted with New Orleans.
Oh, yeah! I mean, Massachusetts where I’m from completely contrasted with New Orleans. Which, I think is part of the appeal for me -- because it is so different from what I was used to. Even going into the trip, I thought I’d probably fall in love with Boulder, Colorado or San Francisco and… New Orleans caught me by complete surprise. It was so different… The only other places where I was completely taken aback were like the middle of nowhere New Mexico. You know. It was like New Orleans for the city and the only other places that even came close to being that intriguing or mystical were, like, these open spaces, and I wasn’t about to live in the high desert by myself, so… (laughs)
How did you originally get into photography?
I really started to become interesting in photography, I think, when I was 14. I was lucky enough to have a photo program at my high school. We had a darkroom, and it was an elective, and it just felt like a natural way to do something creative. I'd done art classes before, and I liked them, but I'm not like a great painter, I'm not great at drawing, so it was this other way to express myself, in this different medium. So I started when I was 14 in this class and I never stopped. There were definitely lulls. There were years when it wasn't something I was doing, and then when I was 20 or 21 I decided to go to photo school -- a trade school strictly for photography. I think that's when I became serious about it as not just like something to do in my spare time, but as something I'd like to do as -- I guess you could say career, but -- I just wanted to master it. You know, start to master it, because it's not something that just happens. So, I guess it's been about 15 years that I've been shooting.
And you're still learning, right?
Oh, constantly. Yeah, constantly… Photography hasn't stopped evolving. When I started it was 35mm film in a black and white darkroom -- black and white film. That alone -- you could spend your entire life just mastering black and white film in the darkroom… When I was in school we were lucky enough to have a color darkroom also. I think they're almost obsolete at this point because digital has taken everything over. But, that was my zen space. That was what I did -- color darkroom… And then there's digital, which is an entirely different workflow. I dabble in a lot of different things. Definitely color film and digital are my two go-tos.
What is your absolutely favorite tool, process or part of your photographic process?
It's definitely the shooting aspect. Having… I use a Pentex 654 as like my go-to, and putting the film in that, and… I think, it's really two parts. It's seeing the picture -- having that moment of seeing the picture and then taking the picture and then, what I think is the fun part of working with film is that you have to wait. Sometimes it can surprise you because you have this idea of what you took a picture of in your head and then you get the film back and the image far surpasses your idea or the image is a piece of shit, and you're like, “Oh, I was totally wrong about that.” (laughs)
You ever decide on site to retake a photo because you know it wasn't done properly?
Yeah, definitely. And I think with film you have to move a lot slower. Like, I think the nice thing about digital, but also, for me, sometimes can be a negative thing, is you can take 20 pictures of the same scene and pick the one of the 20 that looks the best. Whereas with film, every shot is… in every roll I think I get 15 shots, so before I take a picture I have to be really careful about what I'm actually doing. I'll try to give myself two shot max of the subject. And if I don't get it, I don't get it. That's just kind of where it is. I get overwhelmed by options.
Dealing with these options and being selective is definitely something you have to practice. Like, I've taught workshops and we'll use digital cameras, and we'll do exercises like, treat every picture like you're shooting film. Take one or two and spend more time thinking and moving your body and moving the camera so what you take a picture of is exactly what you want to take a picture of. It's hard!
You've mentioned some great mentors in the past. Do you currently have anyone like that in your life?
Yes, definitely. I am in a photo collective called Southerly Gold. The other women in it, Aubrey Edwards and Ariya Martin have both taught me a lot. They've become like older sisters and photo mentors for me. We all shoot differently and our workflow is all really different, so, working with them on such an intimate level, making photos and working on projects together, definitely gives new perspectives – Understanding how they do photography and the work that they do, not just using an art medium, but also as a way to create community, create outlets for students, and teaching, using it for social justice -- all these things. It's really inspiring and reminds me that I can always do more.
What's the story on your polaroid project?
Polaroids for me have become… I believe in mixing up your mediums sometimes. Things can start feeling really stagnant in one area, and you can just hem and haw, and sometime for me it becomes really easy to pick up another camera and just like go and try something new. For me at least, I inherently see differently, so I'll bring my Polaroid and film camera and I'll see something and will know right away if it's a film or polaroid picture, or even one of each. So, yeah, it helps me mix It up and see differently. Polaroid is essentially unpredictable. I've been working with Impossible Film and sometimes it's impossible -- you have no fucking idea what's going to happen, and sometimes it's like yes!, the elements were perfect, and sometimes it comes out as a blob of blue. (laughs) I think polaroids have taught me to just let go. Like, you can't control everything, and they're these one-offs, and that's it. I've shown some polaroids in a gallery that have been not for sale, because I haven't been able to let go of them. But since then, I've slowly loosed my grip and started to let them free. I think that's the really beautiful thing about polaroids: like they are photographs, but they're also these objects, and they're like these one of a kind and unique objects. I've been able to see them as not really part of me and have been able to let them go.
What else have you learned about life through producing art?
Letting go has been a big one, and also learning to let go of the ego a little bit. For me, photography was always a creative outlet, and when it became a way to also make money, that was a strange transition. At first I would take every job offer, and I'd do the gig, and it would be so boring, or I'd be so not into it. It took me a while to figure out that it was OK to say no to things I wouldn't be into. I think when you're starting in any field you can feel compelled to say yes because of a fear of missed opportunity or missed chance to network with someone. But, I forget when it was, but someone contacted me about my work and wanted me to shoot their band, and it was the first time someone had seen my work and was simply asking me to do what I do, but for them. And they were like give us a quote, and I did, and they came back and wanted to pay me more than I asked for. That was the moment where I realized I can really say no to this garbage I don't want to do. I don't have to shoot if I'm not into the work because there is someone else out there that's going to pay me to do exactly what I want to do -- they appreciate it. And so, I think that when you do have to commodify creativity it's important not to lose sight of your creative voice. Which is hard. It's a hard thing to come to terms with. You'll have to pass up jobs and money, but at the end of the day I think it's more important to
sacrifice like 100 dollars than to sacrifice your vision.
More at Elena-Ricci.com