Life on Both Sides of the Lens: an Interview with Rie Rasmussen
By Alexandria Boddie
Fun fact about me: growing up, I wanted to work for Pixar. That’s how I ended up in Los Angeles after high school graduation. After two years of computer animation courses in high school, I attended the University of Southern California with a major in photography and a minor in animation (the major wasn’t available yet). It was the fulfillment of a dream for me - going to school, taking art and photography classes, drawing on cels, shooting with the Oxberry camera. Then, something changed during my 3rd year in school, and I was drawn more to making conceptual photography than being a Pixar employee, so that informed my job application and career choices upon graduation. I honestly never really considered being any sort of model, performance artist, or actress. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my favorite conceptual photographer, Gregory Crewdson, and challenge myself by continuing to shoot on film. That 35mm life was the one for me.
Then one day in 2007, I was on Craigslist. I was looking for a new job - preferably at a gallery or production house or photo processing place - when I stumbled upon a call for runway models. I submitted myself on a lark, not expecting a response, yet I was asked to attend the casting. I remember telling my mother about it, and she said “Pick up your feet, don’t swing your arms.” I walked for the people casting the show, and they booked me. And although I’ve never stopped shooting - editorial photography is what brings in my bucks at the moment - that night in 2007 set me on the course I’m currently on as a performer.
When you’re constantly self-submitting, booking jobs, and auditioning, over the years you get the chance to befriend really great people. This is how I met Rie Rasmussen: through my friend Hannah, a model whom I’d met through another model friend, Diana. A few years ago, Hannah told me that Rie was looking for interesting ladies to shoot and interview for content for the launch of Broadly. OF COURSE I friggin’ leapt at the chance! She got to star in a Luc Besson film! She ruled runways back when they were something to look forward to! She publicly tore Terry Richardson a new asshole to his stupid sleazy face! I had no idea that she had transitioned into being a professional photographer. Since then, I’ve shot with her a few more times, and on our most recent shoot, she was gracious enough to let me record our excellent conversation about her photography, her work ethic, her days as a working model, and more. As it turns out, she and I had a lot more in common than I originally thought.
Me: Why photography?
Rie: Well, it's an art form, [and] I'm an artist. I started with drawing at a very young age. My mother is a painter; I moved to painting. I then started traveling so much that I couldn't quite carry all the supplies with me but I could carry a camera with me. A camera paints with light, ergo, photography became the easiest way to express myself.
Me: So then really you are a photographer-turned-model. So what got you into modeling? Were you scouted?
Rie: I got scouted at 15 in New York on family vacation, and I left my home country for New York City. At that time I was only drawing, dreaming of a job at Disney I think [as an illustrator].
Me: That’s so funny because I wanted to work for Pixar!
Rie: That was definitely my dream for many many years.
Me: You call yourself semi-retired on Instagram…
Rie: Well... I modeled for a good 22 years and I did all departments of it. I started as a working model in the nineties, then a had an enormous success in the 2000s in the top tier of the models. Then I directed my first short film, then I starred in a film, then I starred in my own feature film that I wrote and directed; and [this] succession of events sort of lead to a certain point you might call “retired”, which is almost funny. And I just wasn’t modeling any more for various reasons.
Me: So let’s talk photography now. To start off, what five must-have equipment items must you have at every shoot.
Rie: Well I must have my Leica with me. And otherwise, all I must have with me is a sense of calm, a peace of mind. So I can make sure that everything is perfectly fitting together by the end of the day. That’s very important. But before setting foot on set what you must have - and which many do not have today - is a giant bag of wisdom. A big schooling in aesthetics. An awareness of light - a serious awareness of light and many do not have that today. An understanding for shadows, and understanding for the bodies modeling and positions of body and the energy that you’re putting in the photo. You must have composition, you must have many many things in your bag of wisdom. An understanding of color if you're going to shoot color, and color is not Kodak. That is a gross misunderstanding of color. There are many beautiful nuances in between the red and the yellow and the green and the blue, that, if you don't have aesthetic then you just don’t understand it. Therefore what people should do before going on a photoshoot is be educated in light, photography, color, body expression, movement. Then now you can go on set and all that you need to do is be calm, because then you can reach into your bag of wisdom and use everything that you know already.
Me: What past experiences as a model do you take with you as a photographer?
Rie: I would say the biggest thing I take with me, might sound funny, but it's empathy. I have enormous empathy for the model in front of the camera. I understand what it's like to be cold, or to be tired, or to not understand what you're supposed to be doing and have a full team watching you. I understand what it’s like to be full after lunch, I understand what it’s like to fly in and fly out, and all these kind of things. And that, in a sense, makes me really sensitive to the model. And I think it’s the biggest ally when I'm shooting with the models and then they can really relax because they feel taken care of. [If] you don't take care of the model, she feels like she's being persecuted, and it can very easily feel like that on the other side of the lens.
Now secondly, I love to give them characters and things to work with. I think it's very important that they feel like their imagination can roll and move with it. I also like to liberate them if they are stuck. I don't like models posing, because [then] you just get stuck and the picture’s stagnant and it might as well just be anybody pulling the trigger. So I generally like to liberate them if they’re stuck. And if she’s a great model then she's not going to get stuck.
Rie Rasmussen, by Me
Me: Last question: aesthetics wise, what photographers influence you the most?
Rie: Hmmm… Guy Bourdin… Richard Avedon... Peter Lindbergh, Steven Klein and Steven Meisel are all contemporaries that I think are really amazing. Mapplethorpe is probably a very direct influence of mine. There are many more that when I was younger, I would study endlessly. I spent my twenties absorbing photography. The last ten years, I would say I haven’t been looking at very much other stuff like I did in my twenties. The last ten years I’ve sort of just been producing, and I think you get to a point where you’re saturated with images coming in, and you need to put images out, and you also have compiled your bag of wisdom, and you know who you are. And a lot of that part of idolizing and looking at photography is part of trying to figure out who you are. So the last 10 years have been very little of that and much more of exploring myself as a [photographer].
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I will be so bold as to say that, as photographers, Rie and I are cut from the same cloth. In love with detail and composition, hyper-aware of light and shadow, defining our own aesthetic, having a sense of and respect for history. I can really identify with her approach to shooting models; taking acting classes and subjecting myself to being directed has made me a much better photographer and director. It has given me the language I need to pull out of my subjects the energy or performances that I need them to. I’m feeling generous right now, so I’m going let you in on my little secret: links to view my photography portfolio and my private art practice. And this will be the last time you’ll ever see me make mention of my legal name.
Me, by Rie Rasmussen
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