Ryan Carville loves to live life in the moment. Whether he’s shooting on location, or in a studio, he’s happy as long as he has a camera on his hip and time to burn. This Manhattan based photographer does it all, from portraiture, to product shoots, to street photography. Comparing his life to a day of shooting on the street, he says that he’s driven by opportunities that are presented to him in the moment. In his Women of Mexico series, Carville captures images of older Mexican women, showing that many are still important figures in the community who resist the stigma that goes along with old age. In this interview, Ryan Carville talks about his experience in Mexico and the meaning behind his striking images. Visit Ryan’s website at www.ryancarville.com
When and how did you get started with photography?
Such a loaded question. I dabbled in the art form my senior year of high school. It was kind of a blow-off class for me at the time as my life was in a tailspin with my mother coming to the end of an eight-year battle with cancer. It quickly became therapeutic for me, capturing my mother’s image in her last few months with us. I was told by my instructor I had a “natural eye,” but for me it was more about making the memory of my mother outlast my own mind. It was then time to walk the college career path. Photography was still an interest, but I was not pursuing it seriously until I was about 20. Something just clicked. It was then that I changed majors from business to photography which came with a slew of two cents from family and friends—not that encouraging at the time. However, it was that sole decision that started the life path that has brought me to where I am today.
What equipment do you typically use?
Whatever I have on me! I have built a solid assortment of gear over the years—Canon, Profoto, Polaroid, classic Kodak, Mamyia, Fujifilm, iPhone—but the best camera is the one you have on your hip.
What inspired you to start your Women of Mexico series?
I grew up in Texas so Mexico was always a neighbor to me. Some people find it a scary place, but I see a long-standing tradition of respect for elders, especially women. It is something the Western world finds little to no value in, which is the quickest way to erase your past. After traveling to different parts of the country, I started to notice a large population of elderly women still hitting the pavement every morning. That was the inspiration. They were spending their golden years being an active role in the communities they helped build by selling their goods or just being present at the local coffee spot. They reminded me of my own grandmother. Not letting the stigma of old age get them down. Now, granted there were some women I came across who were not in such stable places, like the women in black sitting on the street begging for change, but I feel like to present the whole story you need to capture all of the facets.
Was it a big change to do street photography after shooting portraits and products?
Not really. My foundation is street photography with a fine art approach. It wasn’t until I moved to New York City that I began to really focus on my commercial work. Studio work can become a creativity killer in some respect, but the perfectionist in me loves studio work. You are like God! Every aspect of the image is controlled and planned out. The beauty of street photography is none of it is within your control. I thrive on the energy of not knowing what you will come across that day. When the universe presents a fraction of a second to capture a moment, you better be ready.
Do you prefer being on a set or shooting street photography?
I prefer my subjects. Location doesn’t press much on my attitude towards the shoot. I can be in a beautiful penthouse studio or in the sewers of a third world country, it is all about who and what I am shooting. You have to bring out something in them. Yes the setting does amplify the story you want to tell, but if you can’t get that subject to leap into the lap of the viewer then it was all for nothing.
Can you take me through a typical day of shooting in Mexico?
Mexico is a maze of beauty, but not traditional beauty we see in fashion magazines. It is the beauty of life. Of people. Of love. Typically I will start the day with a strong cup of coffee at a local shop. I find it eases you into the vibe of the city or town. You see people walking to work or the market, kids on their way to school. There is a surprisingly high energy in the morning air. Then I just explore. My objective is to get lost in the surrounding streets. If you have an agenda then you tend to have a narrow field of vision. So I walk. And walk. And walk. Markets are a great area to view people in their element. A lot of objects to hide behind and they build a nice structure to frame subjects. I usually will grab some street food and chat up the vendor in my broken Spanish about what else is going on in the area. It is a game of patience and alertness. Some days I bring home three or four powerful images and some I don’t take a single picture.
How do people react when they catch you taking their picture?
It is sporadic. Some invite it and are complete hams, jumping in front of the lens even if I wasn’t aiming it in their direction. Others find it very offensive. It is a human trait though. We have all experienced our own friends covering their faces when the iPhone comes out. The most memorable experience was when I had a shoe thrown at me, people don’t normally throw a shoe at you if you look at them through sunglasses, but replace it with a lens and there is a paradigm shift.
What’s the message that you hope to convey through your Women of Mexico series?
Humanity. You look at these women and see their emotions. We live in a world of separation and it doesn’t work. Every soul on the face of this planet is connected through emotions. It is the one thing that is a constant. You will feel multiple emotions in the span of one day and you aren’t alone. Happiness, sadness, envy, joy, fear, anger, trust, kindness, surprise, friendship, love, we all experience these things and it is what shapes our lives. If we truly understand and accepted that fact our world would become a much larger place.
You’ve done a lot of traveling for your photography; do you have a favorite location that you’ve shot at?
The location that is on my next transportation ticket! My passion for travel sometimes outweighs my passion to make pictures. I generally am planning the next trip when I am editing the photos from the last. I can say I am currently planning a large trip to India. It is a trip I have been set on taking for the past three years. Let’s hope it pans out.
What are your plans for the future? Would you consider doing another street photography series?
Every day! I am a photographer. I make images. Sometimes good, sometimes awful. That is my future and I used to try and answer that interview question “Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?” but I could never come up with an answer that was based on reality. That may be why I am not a lawyer or doctor. My life is driven by what opportunities are presented to me in the moment, just like a day shooting on the street; in life you can’t have agendas. You get a narrow field of vision.