Photos by Rayon Richards—
Short Folio is a recurring column album we’ve developed here at LargeUp to promote positive cultural exchange by engaging great photographers to share their visions of the Caribbean. For the latest installment, we reached out to New York City’s Rayon Richards. We’ve known Rayon for years through his editorial work for publications such as O: The Oprah Magazine, The Wall Street Journal and countless music magazines. As a commercial photographer, he’s also shot for Atlantic, Universal and Island/Def Jam Records, Footlocker, KORG and Ciroc Vodka. Raised by Jamaican parents in Brooklyn, Rayon grew up surrounded by Caribbean culture, a connection he has pursued, when possible, in his personal work. We asked him to share his photos from his travels, and his thoughts on shooting in the region. Read our interview below, view Rayon’s Short Folio here. and view more of Rayon’s work at his website.
LargeUp: Tell us a bit about yourself…
Rayon Richards: My name is Rayon Richards, and I’ve been a professional photographer for the past 13 years. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY by Jamaican parents. Prior to becoming a photographer, I spent most of my time immersed in the visual arts as an illustrator and painter. My introduction to photography came in 1996, shortly after my senior year in junior high school while on a family trip to Jamaica. Through a desire to record images of everything in the towns where my parents grew up, I discovered the power and function of the medium. Prior to that trip, I hadn’t been to the island in 10 years, and so much had changed since then. It inspired me to capture as much of my experience as I could, so that if I didn’t make it back there for another 10 years, I’d at least have photographs to remember.
LU: What inspires you?
RR: As a photographer, I’m most inspired by people. I often sit on the train and wonder about people’s lives; what makes them happy, what makes them sad. We are all the sum of everything that has transpired in our lives. When an image is made of us, it serves as a form of documentation of our lives thus far. I enjoy the privilege of getting to know someone through the process of photographing them and creating a visual log of their life that will live long after they’ve continued to evolve from the day it was made.
LU: How would you like to see the Caribbean portrayed?
RR: As a product of Jamaican culture, it’s very important to me that when I photograph people and places of the Caribbean, they’re properly represented. I want them to have personalities that don’t live in stereotypes. Far too often does it happen that the Caribbean is viewed from the vantage point of tourism. When I first began traveling to the islands with my camera, I noticed that my images resembled “tourist postcards” because that’s what I was used to seeing. Each time I visit, I try to connect with the people I photograph as opposed to just voyeuristically snapping pictures of them. Most of the time, what we know of the islands is what we see in advertisements and that isn’t always a realistic portrayal of people’s lives.
LU: What do you look for when shooting travel photography in general?
RR: A realistic portrayal is always what I’m after and, whether I’m photographing a subject for my personal work or a celebrity in my commercial work, my approach is almost always the same. In my commercial work, I’m generally afforded a short window of time when I can talk to a subject and create an image of them that tells a short story about who they are. I handle portraits of people from the islands in a similar fashion. Of course, in both scenarios, the more time you can get with a subject is always optimum. But, while that’s not always the case, it’s still important to be able to honor the person with a great portrait that documents the time we spent together, reflecting exactly where we both were at that particular moment in our lives.
LU: Is there an image or experience that particularly stands out?
RR: One of my favorite images is the one of the school children at a Jamaican primary school in Lucea. I was driving to Negril from Montego and noticed a bunch of children playing during recess. We stopped the car, and I ran over to talk to the children and their teacher. They asked me questions about America, and the things they’d seen on television. They were so full of life. I was so inspired by their excitement that I asked their teacher if I could take a picture of them. She agreed and, to this day, it’s one of the images I’m most proud of.