It’s finally December, we’ve made it to the final month of this wild year, and 2021 is just around the corner. Thanksgiving is over, every is leaning full tilt into the December festive seasons, and I myself am trying to figure out how to celebrate a birthday in lockdown.
December also means it is a new month, and a brand new creative spotlight is here!
My friend Leslie is my alternate universe self. We met through Ashley, as Ashley is not afraid of the paradox our friendship may create. Leslie is tall, where I am short, curly haired where I am straight, she grew up in the country while I grew up in the suburbs (but both in Texas). We have the same Starbucks order and miss all the same things about our home state, and left for many of the same reasons. She has a bull terrier mix named Zoe and a bearded dragon named Garrus because of course she loves Mass Effect just as much as I do. We all even bonded over one magical weekend in Palm Springs when the three of us got together to photograph Ashley, and at one point ended up chasing down Andrew Scott after he passed us on a crosswalk.
She has also been a massive support for me as I started my ADHD medication journey, and this journey with this blog, as the three of us had previously started another blog - that I wasn’t able to be consistent with. Lesson learned!
It is a great joy for me to able to ask her questions about her own creativity and endeavors, including the brand new podcast she just started called Bewitching Hour, talking about history and witchy-things. More that we have in common!
A Red Arrow: Let's talk about your projects! Your current work -- a new podcast? Any other projects or stuff you're trying to do?
Leslie Ranne: I am working on a podcast called the Bewitching Hour (available on Spotify) with my friend Julianne Turkel--we discuss topics related to witchcraft and the occult in a lighthearted but informative way. We run the gamut between history and pop culture, and try to find topics we haven't seen discussed anywhere else. For instance, did you know that Nancy Reagan had an astrologer she consulted EVERY DAY while she was in the White House?
I'm also researching for a biopic of someone I admire very much--but I'm a little superstitious about talking about it too much since I'm a perfectionist and insist on getting the details right--so it's been a long slog!
Since March I've been struggling with balancing out the extra time I have to be productive with the guilt I feel for not being productive because this year has been full of a lot of existential dread for me. I've been lucky enough to find collaborators recently who take the threat of COVID seriously and have been able to start shooting and testing out new concepts with other artists (without the endless stress of catching a horrible disease), and that's been getting me through the weeks!
ARA: The age old question for photographers - digital or analog? Pros and cons? Why one or the other?
LR: It's so funny because when I first started shooting, everyone was like DIGITAL, DIGITAL, DIGITAL and I was shooting film at that time and felt so behind the curve. Now that it is popular again, I've bought a few thrift shop cameras and repaired them and it's been an adjustment since I'm so used to that instant gratification. Ultimately I don't think one is "better" than the other. I think it really depends on what the photographer feels best suits their subject and what is logistically best for the project. I'm not big on poo-pooing one artist's choice of gear (like the eternal Nikon vs. Canon debate), but I do really enjoy the way that film makes me let go of my perfectionism a little bit. I still think about how Francis Ford Coppola told Sofia Coppola to shoot "Lost in Translation" on film because it's more "romantic", and I 100% agree with that. Digital can be viewed immediately, and film cannot. That is the biggest difference for me. There are a lot of film emulation presets one can use to make their digital images LOOK like film, so there's a give and take on each side. I'm not brave enough to shoot anything besides a personal project on film because I'm just not that brave these days.
I try to shoot instant film with every shoot, because I love the of-the-moment aspect of it. And if anyone out there is listening I wish Polaroid would start making peel apart film again, I haven't seen anyone able to recreate that sort of special something that the peel apart film has, and it's literally impossible to find or impossibly expensive these days. IT'S JUST SO AMAZING.
ARA: When we first met you were interested in Formula 1 racing and photographing races - is that still something you'd like to do?
LR: I would absolutely LOVE to do that. I'm a little bit of an anomaly though as far as racing photographers go, as I'm not particularly interested in photographing the cars on the track. I love the human element of racing--I went to film school and a race honestly feels like being inside the most impeccably designed movie. EVERYTHING you see has been designed by artists at the top of their game, so no matter where you look there's something worth photographing. There's already a protagonist, the stakes and emotions are high--I'd love to travel with a team and follow them over a season. Of course, I can't just invite myself into the inner circle of one of the most expensive sports in the world despite my promise not to touch anything so we'll just see what the future holds.
ARA: Other than racing, what are your favorite subjects to shoot?
LR: Definitely portraiture. My mom says (yes, moms are always our biggest fans) that my best portraits capture whatever is most interesting about a person and that's possibly the greatest compliment I've ever received. I have no interest in making my subjects look like everyone else, I want people to look at their loved ones in my work and say "This is exactly the person I love, looking how they look when I think about them." My favorite portrait of all time is probably "Migrant Mother" by Dorothea Lange. When I look at that photo, it tells me everything about the subject--she's not airbrush perfect, but she is perfection.
ARA: What do you like to do to replenish your creative well? What are your favorite mediums to consume when looking for inspiration or that little bit of help with a project?
LR: I LOVE magazines and I'm so sad they are basically going extinct. I also find that watching old movies helps me a lot because many of them aren't afraid to play with framing and color and be a little imperfect. I also love going to the Central Library in downtown LA when it's open and just burning the day there sitting in whatever section strikes my fancy and looking through all the books. It's so hard to know where to look for new things, so I find I have to put myself in a place to run face-first into them. I also love to visit Atlas Obscura - Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations to see if there's anything nearby I can visit, and I always have to check in on Messy Nessy Chic - Cabinet of Chic Curiosities as she curates literally EVERYTHING that is interesting about the world.
ARA: We've both shared struggles with ADHD as well and keeping on top of our projects, so what do you do to manage that with your creativity, getting things done without burning yourself out?
LR: I get anxious and overwhelmed and then spend the rest of the day playing video games and then wake up the next day MORE anxious and overwhelmed and it can perpetually compound and it's a bad time. I've found that writing things down helps me IMMENSELY. And if there's something I've been avoiding, if I set a timer for a short about of time (literally 15 minutes, I can't do the 45 minutes like the Pomodoro method suggests) I find that I realize that the project is actually doable and can usually finish it from there. It is honestly a daily struggle and it's not a perfect system, but I haven't played any games for a week so it has been working for me lately.
ARA: What advice do you have to photographers, writers, or any other creatives out there?
LR: It sounds soooo cliche, but just be yourself, ya'll. When I see other photographer's work that is an obvious emulation of someone that is popular on Instagram, it hurts my soul a little bit. Of course, I could also just be jealous of their productivity. Sure, take inspiration from people (There are a handful of photographers that inspire me and I obviously use a lot of their techniques) but I try to put it through the Leslie filter so it's my own thing. I'm not saying it always works, but I try. The world is just so big, and there's room for people to be their true selves and find an audience, so just do it. But also, please take your craft seriously. Don't watch 5 YouTube videos and say you're a fashion photographer. You wouldn't watch a few YouTube videos and say you're an electrician, right? Have respect for your art and other artists by taking it seriously.