I often ask myself, “How can I normalize the black experience through my photography?”

Paige Ricks is an editorial portrait photographer and writer based in Oakland, California. Her work ranges from photographing inmates inside San Quentin State Prison to women beer brewers in Uganda.

When I saw Paige’s work, I was fascinated by how she had opened the space to focus on the human story, to break stereotypes of black and brown people. I consider myself fortunate to have come across her work and to share her thoughts on the creative process.

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What is the creative process behind your photography?

I am inspired by everything, from locations I find to movies I watch. Constantly being inspired is an imperative part of my creative process. I’m interested in diverse music and fashion, which I see influences my art. There are muses I work with consistently; working relationships that have turned into friendships, where we can come to each other with ideas — no matter how well thought out — and vibe through to a concept. I try not to force a vision, but let it come to me. I keep it simple.

Creating mood boards is important for every shoot, which helps me see a full vision from start to shoot.

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I often style as well or work with a stylist, so the fashion component of my shoots is just as important as finding the aesthetic. I am drawn to color and patterns, from the most complex, like graffiti or checkered walls, to the mundane, like a simple green house. Since getting a studio last year, I have been challenging myself to create portraits without relying on the location to add the value. My goal is always to show my subject in the most elevated light — literally and figuratively.

How do you dismiss all the conflicting thoughts in your head and focus on the singular process of creation?

Intuition is key for me. Whether that’s executing a particular color scheme, or shooting in a particular location, I trust my vision.

As cliche as it sounds, it just has to feel right. I will change things like wardrobe, and adapt if it isn’t quite flowing, but once I have an initial idea, I carry it out. As I mentioned before, I love creating mood boards, which I find helps me hold myself to the vision without being distracted.

P-10.jpgGive us a sneak-peek into your typical day. How does ‘a Day In Life of Paige’ look like?

I shoot every day, whether it’s for myself or a client. And for myself includes personal shoots with models or street photography as I wonder.

I usually wake up around 7 am and head to yoga. I find releasing that energy in the morning helps me be more productive during my day. After I make breakfast or tea, I edit at my desk for a few hours. I always have edits to do. Lots and lots of edits…

Between editing, I reply to emails, draft contracts, have phone meetings with clients, research imagery for upcoming shoots, and plan for my day. If I have a shoot scheduled, I head to my studio, but if I have a day to myself I utilize my time location or model scouting (I love finding new faces!), thrift shopping, where I find most of the wardrobe and props for my shoots, and prepping for the week.

I also find time for myself that doesn’t involve work, like hanging out with family and friends and visiting museums. Since leaving my 9-5 job to freelance, I try to be as productive as possible, but also take those mental breaks to keep my head clear.

P-5.jpgWhich is the concurrent theme behind your work – Humanitarian cause, Feminism?

In my photography, I strive to evoke feelings of reality, but also a sense of mystery that is tucked beneath the surface. My work has a humanitarian element in that I hope my images serve a greater purpose in highlighting black people in the most positive light. I work to illuminate the unknown. I often ask myself, “How can I normalize the black experience through my photography?” This guides me to think beyond myself and my camera, but instead, use myself and the camera as a tool to achieve this. It’s a journey, and it’s constant, but if I hold myself true to this, I can’t fail.

P-3.jpgIf someone issues a search warrant through your tools, what are they likely to stumble into?

My backpack is packed with my Canon 5d, and I rarely switch out my 50mm lens. There’s multiple hard drives, memory cards, and my MacBook Air (if I need to edit on the go). I love music, so I always carry my wireless speaker with me, no matter where the shoot is.

I always have a film camera on me, just for fun. Either a Polaroid or an Olympus point and shoot. Lately, I’ve been shooting a lot of Polaroids — so much so that my friend has coined me #polaroidpaige (haha!).

P-2.jpgTell us more about your side hustle/ other creative projects.

Although my work is mainly fashion and portraiture, I shoot many documentary projects. My background is in journalism and is the reason I began doing photography. I wanted to be a writer, but in having to photograph the stories I was covering in graduate school, I gravitated towards my camera. I’ve documented inmates inside San Quentin and Ugandan beer brewers, but recently I have turned my camera on my neighborhood. I have an ongoing project documenting West Oakland gentrifying, and recently photographed students at charter schools in Richmond and Vallejo.

These documentary projects are important to me to show underrepresented people and continue telling their stories in an authentic way.

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