Article Submitted to the Polaroid Originals Magazine by Stella Gelardi Malfilatre.
Photographer Ramona Deckers’ intimate and revealing portrait photography was inspired by Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and Rineke Dijkstra – whose personal works spoke so clearly to her they changed the course of her career forever. They helped her realize how varied and broad the medium of photography could be, and how it could provide a way for anyone to express themselves. We chatted with Ramona and two of her featured models – Jody and Kenneth – to discuss building trust on set, having fun, and most important of all, trusting your gut.
Whether it’s during her regular adventures in the great outdoors or an intimate portrait series commissioned by the likes of i-D Magazine, Ramona’s work possesses a strong narrative that offers a glimpse at the otherwise hidden world of intimate interpersonal relationships. “Back in the days, I used to take a lot of pictures when I was traveling. Now, I notice that I need some time off from taking pictures. I always bring plenty of cameras and film with me on the road, but I use them less and less. I always carry one in my bag when I’m on the move since you never know. You should always be prepared! But I definitely need my time off and to take a step back.”
For this particular shoot, Ramona selected up-and-coming models who fit with her photographic approach of capturing people and their surroundings in an authentic way. She works to form a genuine connection with her subjects. “There has to be a connection between us for my personal work, but also for them to feel comfortable around me so we create the images we want,” Ramona tells us. “I do sense that people feel generally comfortable around me, which I [wanted] to explore. I have a way of getting close to them and giving them their space at the same time. Plus, the dialogue, not just me telling them what to do, is crucial. It makes the picture.”
Ramona was drawn to the strong and unique personalities of the models and wanted them all to learn from each other through the course of the shoot. “I feel lucky to have met all of them,” she says. “Jody is such a power woman – a strong personality who knows exactly what she wants. She wowed me the moment I saw her. I feel like I can learn from her. Kenneth and Jun are just amazing. I love how they don’t care what people think of them. They are so free-spirited yet very driven and artistic. Lara-Leh and Lorenzo are my favorite couple. I have photographed Lara-Leh, and them as a couple, many times. I could photograph them forever. They are the sweetest and a great match. It’s great to document people over time as you go deeper, like peeling an onion, and friendships grow through these encounters.”
“Ramona and I just clicked the first time we met. It never felt like we were doing a shoot because we always have loads of good chats about everything in life,” Jody explains. “I have never thought about how I’d like to be original. I just always did what I wanted to do. For some years that was go-go dancing for amazing DJs like Joost van Bellen and Doppelgang at the most intense parties. Now I’m in a super healthy phase throwing 12 pieces of fruit in a blender every morning and I can’t even think about smoking. And I’m really focusing on my body and mind before I move on to the next phase in my life. After all of that partying, I just wanted to focus on modeling. I think when you’re doing just you, that is when you’re the most inspiring and original.” Jody is in the process of launching her modeling career and exploring the feeling of being in front of the lens whilst working with Ramona. “When I’m shooting with Ramona I feel like we’re almost doing it together. I want to be my best for her at that moment. Especially while shooting Polaroid film, because you just want to get a good shot right away. We get out of her car, and we walk and walk until she sees the right place. Then she focuses on location and lighting, and I’m already laying down or just goofing around and suddenly we have the picture. So I think it is all about trusting yourself and each other.”
Ramona regularly uses analog film formats, but saves Polaroid film for the more intimate moments that she captures between her subjects as keepsakes and souvenirs from her photoshoots. “It doesn’t matter who is in front of my lens. At times I would use three or four cameras. Polaroids are quick, the colours are amazing and super fun. I don’t show a lot of Polaroids on my website, but I have heaps and heaps of Polaroids in shoe boxes – mostly from my trips to the States and of the Amsterdam Girls at home series,” she explains. “Storytelling in whatever shape or form is important, because it sheds light on a particular topic, person, culture or community. We need it to understand one another. We need stories to gain knowledge and perception: to play with interpretation and to get to know other people’s truths, but also to look into a world – a fantasy world someone else has created – that we have never seen before. People have such rich imaginations. Stories heighten the senses whether they’re visual or textual. We need them. They fascinate us and, hopefully, inspire us to do something.”
“I don’t really follow trends, I like different styles and mixing them. I wear a lot of second hand stuff, like the sweater I’m wearing in the pictures. I like the idea of wearing something unique. On weekends I like to wear lipstick, crop tops, skirts and heels,” Kenneth says. “When Ramona asked me to be part of her series, I was super excited because I really like her work. We had a relaxed and fun afternoon where we were hung out and talked, changing outfits and thinking about different spots in my apartment building to take pictures.” Kenneth doesn’t feel like a model per se, but was happy to step in front of Ramona’s lens for the series. “Shooting Polaroid film feels a lot more personal, and there is more connection with the photographer. I really like the magic of waiting to see the result coming through. And the authentic look of the Polaroid images. I think in our shoot the Polaroid camera really added to the vibe and the scene of the pictures. The fact that we didn’t have more attempts to take a picture really kept it super spontaneous, which creates an overall relaxed flow.”
See more of Ramona’s Originals on IG: @ramona.deckers