Interview by Mike Polino

Ruben is a Senior concentrating in East Asian Studies.  This fall he took Sharon Harper’s Intermediate class. Two years ago he took Intro to Photography with Miles Coolidge.

Mike Polino:  In your class you can pick your own project, right?  So why portraits for you?

Ruben Davis: Well it started with… [laughs]… I don’t even know if I should go into this, but it started off with an interest in photos that people post online.  In particular the interest began when I saw these [holds up some prints] on Facebook. They’re called “R.I.P. my nigga” and show two friends that go to visit the grave of a friend who just died in a gang shooting.  Some captions say “Three musketeers say fuck the world” and “R.I.P. my nigga LOL haha” with the guys in front of the grave.  I think ultimately what I was interested in, which has ended up in my final project, is the way that people use the camera to process their own lives and the ways in which this can remove you from a situation and create memories that didn’t actually exist.

Then I realized that my photos were falling into three different categories: photos I took of people that I know, people that I don’t know, and then the found photography that I was incorporating.  So I started to put together these big clouds of photos, like 40 or 60, trying to make a visual connection between photos, in terms of content.  The ultimate goal was to treat each photo with an equal amount of dignity and importance, because I feel like I could be just as attached to photos that I found as ones that I took. The found photos could one day become their own project, but right now it’s not developed enough so I’m just going to use photos I’ve taken.

MP: In this set, do you envision certain characters and have your models act them out, or are you really interested in finding people and just capturing them?

RD: I think it’s interesting when the subject knows there’s a camera around, but not really.  This is my brother, he knows I’m taking a picture of him, but it’s not a prepared photo necessarily.  That’s just not what I was going for.  This reveals more.

MP: So how do you prepare these subjects? And how do you interact with them?

RD: I just keep talking to them. And the nice thing about this Mamiya [camera] is that you can shoot from waist-level, so I was just talking to my brother and taking pictures. Basically I just frame it and keep it pretty still. You use your eyes to see what’s happening, and hope that you hit the shutter when your eyes saw something.

MP: The only other thing I wanted to ask was about this mouse. Where do you see this fitting in? The images of people create narrative for themselves…but where is this mouse coming in?

RD: I thought it was important that I include this, because what I got from the whole exercise on found photography was the treatment of everything equally. I was Mt. Auburn Cemetery with this blind mouse running around in circles. I probably spent an hour with it. It probably died soon after that, you can see its broken leg and it was shivering. I think I had as much of a connection with the mouse, even though it sounds cheesy to say, than this kid that I know [another photo subject in the set]. So, I think with my final project I’ll also include a landscape or two. It feels like it’s mostly portraits, but I think it’s important to keep what I learned from the beginning of the project.


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