Natalee Ranii–Dropcho, 24, is a New York based photographer who shoots intimate portraits and transforms every day landscapes. Working with film, she combines lines, forms and light to create nostalgia invoking imagery that captures the transience of a moment. Whether pairing images together or staging environments, she sets the props for the viewers to set their own stories and narratives. She has recently shot editorial for The Arrivals outerwear fashion brand, and shot her newest series, “Unseen”.
So tell me a bit about your background, Natalee.
I am from Pittsburgh and am Italian and Slovakian. Born and raised football fan, Steelers, obviously. I grew up in the city until the third grade and it was a magical childhood. All the neighborhood kids would just go outside and play, from the time you wake up until you go to sleep. So you run from backyard to backyard and make secret passageways. I was very close to my brother growing up, we were only two years apart and he was basically my best friend. I am a very nostalgic person. There is a certain feeling about childhood that you can never get back and being a nostalgic person thinking back to that feeling and the freedom to be and to exist and to create; it’s something that is hard to achieve as an adult.
That sounds lovely! Childhood is such a pure and unadulterated time and building blocks. So how did you start shooting?
I picked up photography because I found my mother’s camera in a closet that I had never seen before. It was the coolest looking camera, Canon AE-1, and it has this really beautiful Native American handmade strap. I was 16 years old when I saw this camera and I knew that it was something special. So I took a black and white photography class and learned how to shoot manually, process film, do my own prints, etc. I then got a digital camera and started to shoot my friends in college.
What’s your process like?
My process is trial and error. It's how I learned to shoot and sums up my approach every time I pick up the camera; there's no purer way to capture the moment than acting on intuition. As a person I'm so considered and think through everything to the point of exhaustion, so it simultaneously serves as a mantra and reminder to let go and just experience. We only become ourselves through the sum of those experiences, and I feel the same way about my work as it evolves.
So how do you see your work evolving?
I guess it is always evolving, but I also think I bring in elements of certain things that I am inspired by. I think my photographs are pretty consistent. I never thought that I would be able to think of something in my head and make it happen.
Do you prefer working digitally or with film?
I only shoot with film unless I am doing collaboration or working on a project. The process between shooting film and shooting digitally is very different. There is so much to think about when shooting digitally, so many buttons and you are always looking at your images after shooting digitally and it takes away from the experience because my photographs are all about capturing something raw as they are. My process is totally different when I shoot digitally and when I shoot film. For me, it’s all about what you see in that moment, and it’s so much more precious because every image is printed forever. Once you take a moment it’s there, it’s permanent and you move on to the next.
What would you say your themes and aesthetic approach are?
I think it is all about the moment and trying to convey the feeling of what that moment was about, that’s why when I started out all my work was in light, shots of my friends, things I would see. I would say my aesthetic approach is candid, nostalgic and clean. I love lines, I love shadows, I love light. I really like to eliminate distraction. In my images you know what you are looking at, you know what you are supposed to be looking at.
How do you pick your subject matter?
I shoot friends or people that I see and ask to take their photo. I try to establish a certain intimacy and personal dynamic with a subject. I will try to talk with them to bring something out and get them to forget that they are being photographed. As soon as people see a camera they change and I like to capture people as who they are.
So what inspires you?
Travel. My dream would be to travel with different people and take photographs. I travelled a lot when I was in London. It is so easy to travel there. You can jump on a plane for less than 100 pounds. I went to Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin, Barcelona, Vienna, Budapest. I took photographs there but I was shooting digital and I was still learning a lot. I learned more about light, setting on a camera and achieving images that I wanted to achieve.
As far as photographers, it always changes. Right now my favorites are Dafy Hagai, Viviane Sassen, then this conceptual duo, Hart and Leshkina, who manipulate the body and play with its forms. I am also inspired by fashion photography, but I like it when it is more conceptual, not just a straight editorial; it has a narrative behind it.
What is your most recent series Unseen about?
In shooting monochromatic portraits on planes of line and color I wanted to capture the inherent tension of simultaneously fitting in and standing out. It is something we rarely talk about as humans but is built into the constructs of social games, and I think it's something we are all conscious of as we try to find our place in the world. To balance presence and absence, elegance and influence is to possess a magnetism that both reflects and reinforces the harmony of our environment.
Why do you pair your images?
I like to be able to shape a narrative although then again it is all up to the person. What I really like about photography, or how I feel it is different from other mediums, at least for me personally, is that it invites a story. It is something that affects people in a way that is more emotional. You can see an image of a chair and one person can think “oh that looks like my grandma’s chair” or “when I was at my grandmother’s house I can sense the smell her of clothing,” it could take a person to a whole narrative of the past. They can see that chair and think about who was sitting in that chair, why is it empty, etc.
Would you consider your work to be in the realm of fashion photography?
Personally when I shoot I don’t consider my work fashion photography, there is certain style involved but it’s always for the purpose achieving an ‘aesthetic image’. The style is not the focus, it is just part of the narrative. The people that I shoot always have their own styling, the clothes comes from the subject’s own closets. If I am shooting editorial work, I still want to keep that separation, the clothes being a part of the narrative and not just showing off the clothes. In "Unseen", styling is inherent to the story in that it allows the subject to either fit in or stand out from the space. She is simultaneously at one and beyond, a subtle opposition that emerges with each photograph.