A LOOK INTO THE GIFTED IMPROVISER’S EXPERIENCE
WITH HIS MEDIUM & THE MOVEMENT
The self-proclaimed gifted improviser and trapeze artist, Ramón Rik Singley II is an artistic wonder. He has worked with individuals like Gillian and Michael Jai White, Anthony Hopkins, Julia Stiles, Roc Nation, MTV and Universal Pictures and many more.
He refers to himself as a visual artist. Singley artistic journey began as a journalism graduate who found himself turning down the position of Editor at Honey Magazine to pursue art school in the early 2000s. In the last few years, Singley has been merging photography and writing together, has worked with notable celebrities and has even dabbled in front of the camera.
Visual stimulation is at the forefront of everything he does, paired alongside color theory, composition and narrative. But above all, he strives to help people see beyond the obvious by applying story and social relevance.
When capturing individuals of color, Singley strives to implement high frequency production value and hopes to use narratives within the next year to further equality and conversations of race through his work. Singley is an artist with heightened skill level and a passion to excel in all he does.
Ruby McAuliffe: Rik, you’re a writer, interviewer and photographer. What about all of those mediums drew you in?
Ramón Rik Singley: Well, I initially got into visual arts because I was a writer and I eventually became editor of a magazine in the early 2000s, right before I decided to turn that down and go to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. So, it was kind of a decision of, “Do I want to take this opportunity to be an editor and maximize my potential as a writer, or do I want to go into visual art?” I decided for the latter and ended up going to art school.
So, I was always really good at both. At this point in my life, I’ve just been bridging photography and writing together. Currently I’m getting my MFA at Claremont Graduate University. I’ve also been dabbling in front of the camera a little bit too. I’ve done some acting and modeling on the side to kind of coincide with what I’m doing.
Ruby McAuliffe: That’s amazing. Talking about your work, what’s your motivation?
Ramón Rik Singley: Visual stimulation, color theory composition and narrative. To give a person an ability to see beyond the obvious.
I’m trained in image making, so I look at it from a different perspective. A lot of photographers haven’t studied the craft in terms of the theory of photography and the history of it, whereas I have. For me, I’m always thinking in terms of how my heroes would have worked and their process, especially in the film age, when there was much less room for forgiveness.
Another thing with me is I don’t overly shoot. A lot of people shoot quite a bit to achieve their result. Back in the film days where there was no digital, you couldn’t shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot just because of the prohibitive costs associated with developing film. So, I always got in the habit of working a little slower, but then knowing when you get the shot, then you have it.
Ruby McAuliffe: You mentioned seeing “beyond the obvious.” What does that mean to you and can you describe it a little more?
Ramón Rik Singley: A photo can be thought-provoking. You can stand someone on a white background or you can put someone in an environment, but does it tell a story? Does it have a social relevance? Does it have something to it that goes beyond your initial interpretation of a person or a thing? So, you can go beyond the obvious by going beyond what’s right in front of you. If an individual is photographed a certain way, or if it’s lit or composed a certain way, the image can provoke a different type of sensation, whether it’s conscious or unconscious.
Ruby McAuliffe: Moving in a different direction, I read your piece on africana.org that discusses the injustices we’re currently facing. What does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you?
Ramón Rik Singley: Well, it’s a continuum. Nothing in our lives hasn’t been done – everything has already been done – and it’s really a passing of the baton of the Civil Rights Era. In the early ‘90s, when the Rodney King incident happened, it shed light on police brutality and you had the LA Riots. It sparked a lot of press and there was no internet and no social media. But what happened with George Floyd in Minneapolis, it really resurrected the echoes of the Civil Rights Era. It also resurrected the echoes of the Rodney King situation. So, it was like the baton was passed, but in the passing of that baton, you had this global explosion of interest, and you had so much more information shared. So many more people were able to witness what’s been happening for many, many years to Black Americans. It’s just scary to think how many people that’s happened to. It’s alarming to think of how many people have actually lost their lives and it hasn’t even been documented.
So, to me, Black Lives Matter is a tattletale because it tells what people can now see for themselves, and it wasn’t even a photograph. It was a real, live and direct moment that I think really shocked the psyche of an entire planet. That’s why we saw the reaction we did. That’s what Black Lives Matter is. It’s a continuum, but it’s also an explosion of interest and information that has been there all the while. It just wasn’t documented. It’s like a spotlight.
“Perception is also reality. So, if certain things are presented in a specific way, the perception of that is a heightened level of awareness, attention and respect.”
Ruby McAuliffe: Like you said, there has been an explosion of information on social media. How should Americans keep pushing forward to not let this movement diminish until there is substantial change?
Ramón Rik Singley: It’s difficult because one thing you’re dealing with is the media. The media decides how much coverage it wants to give something. So what’s going to happen is it’s going to become more localized and regional. With that happening, there has to be a responsibility, especially for the younger generation, to keep pushing and keep going forward —— but minus the violence. I don’t even necessarily agree with violence being the resolution or as a way to get people’s attention. But then on the flip side of that, well, how do you get their attention? Sometimes it takes violence. So, it’s a fine line between violence and nonviolence. But I definitely don’t think it should be at the expense of anyone’s life. People need to continue the fight in all the quadrants of the country.
There are also certain people whose voices ring a little louder than others. It’s incumbent upon those people to speak up because their voices are truly documented. That’s how you keep it going. You just keep the momentum and you keep pushing for change.
Ruby McAuliffe: On a personal level, have you utilized your work to push for momentum when it comes to racial justice? If so, how?
Ramón Rik Singley: For my work, I always want to photograph anyone of color in a way that I would consider high level and high frequency production value. So for me, heightened production value is one of the ways I exhibit how I feel about my culture without saying it out loud: presenting people in a way that’s very respected and without having to beat my chest and say X, Y, and Z to get my point across. Perception is also reality. So, if certain things are presented in a specific way, the perception of that is a heightened level of awareness, attention and respect.
I’ve also been thinking of ways to use narratives within my work as a vehicle and as a voice. These narratives can hopefully discuss these things in a very heightened, artistic way. This could be a still life, a short poem or prose. It doesn’t necessarily have to look like what many associate with Black Lives Matter. It just depends on if you can provoke some type of thought through the work.
Ruby McAuliffe: Talking about your work, how has being a Black content creator impacted your experience?
Ramón Rik Singley: Well, I’m representing James Van Der Zee, Gordon Parks and a lot of my heroes from the past. I represent a continuum in terms of Black image makers from America. They are some of the first photographers of color that did anything and were recognized. So, I represent those guys and respect the past and the craft. Being a Black visual artist has also been an interesting thing. I’ve heard some pretty incredible comments over the years.
Photographer: Ramón R. Singley II @thechalkfields
Model: Elsa Baldaia II @elsabaldaiaa
Fashion Stylist: Samira Frias II @samirafrias
Make-Up Artist: Juan Ramirez II @thefacesimakebyjp
Hair Stylist: Bibb J. Dickey II @whosbibb
Modeling Agency: Identity Models, NYC II @identitymodels
Shoot Location: Felix Restaurant, NYC II @felixrestaurant
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