Life can be very hard when you don’t fit into some aesthetic canons. Being different doesn’t mean being wrong. The photographer and model Ryan James Caruthers stood out from those surrounding him, and became a target for bullies. With his series Tryouts, he’s liberated himself from demons of the past and has been awarded The British Journal of Photography Breakthrough Award earlier this year. But his talent and determination surpass everyone’s expectations: co-founder of a photography publication, and a model when Hedi Slimane ruled Saint Laurent, the twenty-three-year-old is a tougher cookie than the mean teenagers thought.
Masculinity, sensuality, homosexuality, lightning, textures; these are few of the main aspects that characterise the works of Caruthers, who says all of them come naturally for him because of who he is and how he feels. Settled between San Francisco and New York, the young photographer has had to overcome teenage struggles through artistic creation, which has provided us with beautiful, relatable imagery. In the end, every cloud has a silver lining. We talk with Ryan James about his award earlier this year, how does he combine all his works, and what are his plans for the future.
Let’s start by asking where are you from and what’s your background?
I’m originally from a small town in New Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia. I grew up always painting and drawing, and got into photography at the age of fourteen or so.
You’ve won The British Journal of Photography Breakthrough Award Recipient this year thanks to your series Tryouts, which is a pretty personal experience that you wanted to share. I assume you’re very happy! Has this Award been like a revenge/liberation to your adolescence?
It was really incredible to win an award for a project that I was so close to. I think creating the project was definitely a liberating experience for me, but I wouldn't say that it is in any way vengeful.
From your photos it seems that you studied the light precisely, giving a recognisable touch to each of them. What is the role of lighting to you?
I am attracted to natural forms of light. I tend to primarily photograph in naturally lit situations.
What other elements do you think are important to you when creating a personal image? And how have you developed your own style through them?
I think queerness plays a large role in my work. I think my personal style has been developed mostly from trial and error, and via exploring different paths.
Your photos are very intimate, maybe given by the sensuality expressed through them. What do you think about sensuality and sexuality? What does a person or element must have for you to think it’s sensual?
Sensuality and sexuality are a large part of my work, and I think this is because of how they are also a large part of my life. I think these things tend to show themselves in my work, even if it is not a direct intention of mine.
In addition to being a photographer, you’ve also co-founded, together with Shawn Lakin, your own magazine, called Close Journal, which is a new interdisciplinary print publication based in New York and California. How did you come up with the idea and what’s its aim? Who is your target audience and how is it doing so far?
My work is more focused on the creation of beautiful imagery while Shawn’s work is more radical and eccentric. This combination is really what attracted us to creating Close. I think we created this publication for any and all viewers.
Close Journal is a print publication only. Are you planning to develop online content too? Any expectation for the future?
As of now, our primary focus is the print publication. However, we do have an Instagram account (@closejournal). Edition Two is releasing very soon.
You are an editor, a photographer and also a model. How do you combine the three things within your work?
I really don’t think about these labels as I’m working, it's just naturally what I’ve fallen into.
I’ve read that you started to model for yourself when you were very young, as you didn’t have anyone else to shoot. How do you feel in front and behind the camera? Did you approach those pictures as self-portraits, or did you embody a character or alter ego and modelled for yourself?
I think when I’m alone I feel very comfortable behind the camera. With Tryouts specifically, I was kind of performing for the camera in a different way than I was typically used to. At the end of the day, I do see them all as myself, and as self-portraits.
You first modelled for Saint Laurent during the Fall/Winter 2014 fashion show in Paris, and then continued in the ones of Spring/Summer 2015, Fall/Winter 2015, and Fall/Winter 2016 at the Palladium. Can you tell us how did you get involved in these projects and how was working with Hedi Slimane? Any anecdote you can tell us?
I really enjoyed being a part of that family during Hedi’s time at Saint Laurent. I’m still very close with a lot of the other casted kids, whom I met through Hedi. Each individual in the group was incredibly interesting and talented in his own way.
To finish, what or who does inspire you?
Nina Simone, Lorde’s Melodrama, Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Luke Smalley, Steven Meisel.