Alexander Richter: Pictures on My Wall
Photos by: Alexander Richter (click photos to enlarge)
“I used to be that kid tearing out Method Man photos from Rolling Stone and hanging them on my wall,” says Alexander Richter. When not pillaging the pages of Rolling Stone, Richter was “bugging out to Ricky Powell pics of Run DMC & the Beastie Boys on tour.” It must be something of a trip for the Queens based photographer, who finds himself behind the lens with some of Hip Hop’s biggest artists, including the aforementioned Method Man.
Richter’s own journey into photography didn’t start at childhood however, it came later in life after Richter moved back East from a stint on the West Coast. He told us, “My story doesn’t start at 12 years old when my mother gave me my first camera. My deal is that I moved back to NYC after being out in the West Coast for a few years to help take care of my mother who was sick with cancer. Upon my return I discovered some old cameras that my father had. He passed away when I was 15 months old so I had never known about them or had any interest in being a photographer. Long story short, I put the cameras back together, started shooting some film, got some contact sheets back with a few dope frames and I was hooked. Photography has been my passion ever since.”
With multiple projects in the works, as well as inclusion in the new book, Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey, Richter is a busy man. We got him to take some time of out of his schedule to discuss his passion for photography, the Internet’s impact on his craft, his motivation for portraits, and much more. Check out the full interview below.
RubyHornet: Often times many artists have a word that they think best describes their form of art. You being a photographer, how would you characterize your particular shooting style?
Alexander Richter: There is no one word to describe my style. I’ll leave that up to other people to look at my work and put the words to it. My pictures and my style are unique because no one else sees the world the way I do. Imagine how boring it would be if we all took pictures the same way.
RubyHornet: I noticed that most of your work are portraits. Why did you decide to go that route with your photos instead of landscapes, or more commercial work? Or are the portraits just what we see most?
Alexander Richter: I’m a portrait photographer who specializes in music & celebrity portraiture, but if you look at my blog you will see that I’m also a very dedicated street photographer. I’m that guy who never leaves the house without my camera because I always know that there is something going on outside.
RubyHornet: The internet has completely changed the work atmosphere for most individuals. How has the role of a photographer changed seeing as though many websites are moving to photo heavy layouts compared to text heavy types?
Alexander Richter: To be honest, I feel that the internet has people less interested in the still image. Video is king right now. That being said, I know there are still a ton of people who dig photography and the web has been a great place to discover new work and to promote your work, but it’s also done a lot to really crush the business of photography. These days clients want me to shoot video in addition to photos because they know that the video is going to keep people on the site.
RubyHornet: Along with this change in the work atmosphere, we have had a spark in entrepreneurship. Everyone with a camera is titling themselves as professional photographers, journalist (bloggers), and social media marketers. In your field how has this affected the quality of work that is put out?
Alexander Richter: For me the mantra is “quality over quantity.” I just focus on what I do and try not to pay too much attention to what others are doing. I think my work speaks for itself. Either you will connect with it, or you don’t.
RubyHornet: You also have a project in which you photograph many bloggers such as Eskay from Nahright, the guys from 2DBZ, what sparked that project and what did you learn about the people behind the scenes at these sites that the average person may not know? What’s up with an RH shoot lol?
Alexander Richter: “The Internets : Faces Behind The Screen” project came about from my interest in the internet. It all started out from a natural curiosity as to who were the people responsible for a ton of the content that I pay attention to online. That’s why in the project you see bloggers like Eskay (nahright.com), Shake & Meka (2dopeboyz.com), Karen Civil, as well as internet celebrities like Dallas Penn & Combat Jack, all the way down to the video makers such as Dan The Man & Court Dunn. You already know I’m down for the Ruby Hornet show – haha. The next time I’m out in Chicago or you guys are here in NY we’ll make it happen.
RubyHornet: Speaking of Chicago, I’ve seen the Chicago pics you’ve done. What do you think of our fair city, and can you tell us a little bit of your time here and where those pics came from? I know you also just shot LEP.
Alexander Richter: To be honest, my trip to Chicago was like that of an assassin. I arrived at night, worked two days as a lighting tech and then bounced so I didn’t get a whole lot of time to really explore the city, nor did I have a local person to really take me around the city and show me what’s what. But I still managed to wake up early and walk around the streets a bit and snap some pics. The pics that are on my site are a mixture of some of the landscapes that I saw downtown mixed with some of the places that I saw while we were working in West Chicago. I would definitely like to return to Chicago and just focus on shooting. I know that the city is rich in history and it would be amazing to be able to go back there and really tap into that and make some pictures.
As for L.E.P. I worked with Count & Moonie for vibe.com. They were great. Really nice guys who allowed me to do my thing and just play the wall, shoot video, and snap frames as they went about their day. While most of my work are portraits where the sitter is focused on the camera, I really enjoy shooting reportage. There is a real art to being able to make strong images without mixing yourself into the situation of the people who you are trying to photograph. I’m not sure if it will happen, but I would definitely like to link back up with those guys if I do make it back out to Chicago. They have a very interesting story and I would like to work with them again. Big up to L.E.P.
RubyHornet: When you go into a shoot is there usually a certain theme or characteristic that your are attempting to pull out of the subject? Or do you usually just let things flow?
Alexander Richter: I would say that it’s a mixture of both.
RubyHornet: What is a photographer of your caliber’s artistic process like? Do you just shoot a bunch of pics daily or what?
Alexander Richter: I am always shooting pictures. If you see me, you already know that I have the camera on me.
RubyHornet: How did you get into photography, was this always something you were interested in, or did you kind of just fall into the field?
Alexander Richter: I guess you could say I sort of fell into it. My story doesn’t start at 12 years old when my mother gave me my first camera. My deal is that I moved back to NYC after being out in the West Coast for a few years to help take care of my mother who was sick with cancer. Upon my return I discovered some old cameras that my father had. He passed away when I was 15 months old so I had never known about them or had any interest in being a photographer. Long story short, I put the cameras back together, started shooting some film, got some contact sheets back with a few dope frames and I was hooked. Photography has been my passion ever since.
RubyHornet: How did you find a way to link your love for music with another art form of photography, have they clashed at times?
Alexander Richter: Nah, they never clashed. I used to be that kid tearing out Method Man photos from Rolling Stone and hanging them on my wall. Or bugging out to Ricky Powell pics of Run DMC & the Beastie Boys on tour. So it’s very natural for me to take inspiration from someone’s music and channel it right back into making a portrait.
RubyHornet: I noticed that you have a nice amount of photo projects, many of them have social advocacy efforts. How difficult is it to promote social change through photography where words are not used?
Alexander Richter: I don’t shoot my personal work with other people in mind. When I was taking care of my mother I used my photography as a tool to help me cope with the fact that I was watching my mother die everyday, little by little in front of me. I knew I had to document the whole process because she was the bravest person I have ever met. She never complained, and just always moved forward trying to remain positive. As a result, I got inspired by her and wanted to document her grace, her beauty, her life. Now that she has passed, people have asked if I plan to use the pictures for a cancer project or something, and the answer is that I don’t know. I didn’t shoot it for commercial use, but now that I look at the photos, I know that there are millions of people going through this, just like I did. I think the pictures speak for me where I have a hard time articulating the feelings that I was going through.
RubyHornet: What do you enjoy doing more, shoots with musical artists, or more of your avant garde photo shoots?
Alexander Richter: I’m happy making pictures. The celebrity work is great, but I also really enjoy making a portrait of someone who is not used to being in front of a camera at all. I get along well with people, or at least I like to imagine that I do, and so as a result I enjoy taking pictures of people.
RubyHornet: Is being familiar with an artist’s music necessary to deliver them with a quality shoot? Does being too familiar ever hinder your creative process, where your knowledge of the music may put added pressure on you or you go in with ideas that may not actually work?
Alexander Richter: I think there is always pressure to make exceptional photos. I pride myself on trying to create images that are going to be timeless, so I definitely think that any good photographer would put a lot of pressure on him/herself to make the best work possible.
RubyHornet: What other portraits or projects are you working on for the near future?
Alexander Richter: I have a few projects in the works right now. I wish I could speak on them in more detail but as of now I’ll keep it on the low until everything falls into place and I’m 100% on the details. Aside from those mysterious projects, I’m headed out to LA for the launch of “Hip Hop: A Cultural Odyssey” on 2|8|2011 at The Grammy Museum. If you’re a fan of Hip Hop, and I’m sure anyone on this site is, then you will need this book. It’s a 13X18 large format photo book filled with original images and essays covering the last four decades of Hip Hop. I was very honored when they asked me to contribute 3 portraits to the book. Feel free to periodically visit my website. I’m always updating it with new work, as well as my tumblr, which is more of a visual diary / sketch book. Thank you to Alex & The Ruby Hornet team for reaching out to me about my work. Much appreciated.