Who: Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: Madewood Plantation (Napoleonville, Louisiana)
Q: How would you visually describe sound?
A: I feel like a lot of sound comes through visually in expressions. There can be a daze where the audience is totally into the sounds or music, and their faces are almost expressionless. Then there’s the other side where people are totally part of the sound. I see this at Jazz Fest, where people get so into it. There are so many ways to interact with sound and then capture that, and you can subtly hear sound through the visual reactions of people.
With Birdfoot, for example, when photographing the performers, you can see how intensely they’re experiencing the music. Their movements can be so strong, and you can get that in a photo. You see their interaction with the music in a very upfront way, and what’s really interesting is that when I photograph the crowd at Birdfoot, they are less expressive. They’re just taking it all in. Compare that to Jazz Fest where the crowd is very expressive — dancing, feeling it and seeing the interaction with the music.
It goes the other way too. I love to go hide away and edit photos while I listen to WWOZ or recordings I’ve made from Birdfoot or other festivals. I can experience the music and the sounds while I’m visually working on photographs, and that brings it together in a way.
At Jazz Fest this year, I avoided all the stages on purpose in regard to photographing. I wanted to get portraits of the people that work the festival — like security guards, people who help with recycling or people that do garbage pick up. For Camellia’s Beans I went into the kitchen and photographed the people who make the red beans.
My focus has changed a bit so now the music is the soundtrack for what I’m photographing.
Q: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever bought?
A: I’m not exactly sure. I bet my wife could give you a long list.
In childhood I think I got a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily need, so I’ve gotten to a point where almost everything I buy is very well thought out.
Q: What’s a story you often find that you tell about yourself?
A: I have some good stories, but I usually tell stories when they’re triggered — a ‘this relates to that’ kind of situation. A lot of my stories have to do with whatever I’m into at the time. When I’m hanging out with Mardi Gras Indians, I tell people about those experiences.
Lately, I just photographed Frank Relle’s show that he did at Felicity Church, which was so incredible. I’m really into his work and really inspired by it — he’s working on film and does these amazing shots using lighting — so I’ve been telling a lot of people about him and his work.
I might be too much of a lone wolf because I feel a bit weird imposing myself verbally. In a way, photography is so imposing, especially currently when everyone is shooting pictures. No one knows who is doing what with the photos. Often when people want to know what I’m about they get a description of what I’m doing currently. My perspective is constantly changing while the focus is always on community and nature.
I became really interested in photographing community when I started going to music festivals and focusing not on the stage but on the people that make up 95% of the whole festival. I look at the society that forms around the event. I call them flash flood communities. I have gone to polka festivals, indie/punk-rock festivals, experimental festivals, Jazz Fest, bluegrass festivals and more to find different communities that revolve around a love for music.
Beyond that, I am about being somewhere near the center of attention, but not the center of it.
Q: Tell me about when you’ve been served something by a host that you didn’t like?
A: I’m pretty flexible. I can make most things work. Unless it’s undercooked. Then it would have to be sent back. I’m not going to be happy all the time, but I’m not one to put my foot down.
Although, there was one time when we were in San Francisco for a hip hop festival and we went to this brewery. It was the most epically horrible service. I watched two of my friends have breakdowns. We were the only people in the whole restaurant, but the waitress would come over and take one order of beer flights for one person and then go put that order in. Then she’d come back and take another one.
My friend ordered a Kobe beef burger, and it came with chopsticks. We all looked at each other and we were all wondering ‘what are the chopsticks for?’ And the burger was completely charred as well.
Q: Do you think eye contact is more difficult when talking to someone or sitting in silence?
A: Sitting in silence. There’s nothing being said, so when you’re looking at each other you’re wondering ‘What is it you’re saying? What are you thinking?’ It’s like a draw where you’re seeing who is going to talk first.
I’m not a big talker, I guess. I can get into talking when I know what I’m talking about. I can’t schmooze. I’m terrible at it. I’d rather be a receptacle of what’s going on around me rather than be projecting myself.
My photos project what I’m trying to say.