“The idea that I can be a facilitator while still remaining an artist, someone who can amplify other people’s voices is the most beautiful thing.”
In your book, each image comes with the self-written stories of the people you photograph. Why was it important for you to go with this format?
It’s how I want my art to exist. Coming from an art history background and just loving photography, I often come across this feeling that I want to know what the person in the photograph was actually thinking and feeling, not what the artist was trying to imply. I didn’t want to lead the conversation so I kept it very open.
In the book, a lot of times the photographs and the texts really, really don’t match up and I love that. I love the fact that people were comfortable enough with me to make interesting images and then share stories that are so honest and uncompromised. The textual context totally changes all assumptions and how you view the work.
What was the story that stayed with you for the longest?
There’s a couple in the book, they gave me their text the day after they broke up. It’s the text this person wrote to his partner the morning after, kind of re-explaining why he needed to leave the relationship. It’s brutally honest, it’s filled with a lot of love, but there is also this very deep sadness to it.
There are a lot of stories like that in the book, couples that broke up, but decided to stay part of the body of work. Those ended up being the most fascinating to me, because they were conversations that show the complexity of what it means to be with a partner that has a different marginalised identity than yours and how this can affect the relationship over time. I think having access to these personal experiences is just very rare.
What is it that you personally take away from Holding Space?
I think this work really changed my practice as well as my future goals as an artist. I’ve always found it very frustrating that marginalized communities don’t generally have control over their own narratives. It’s almost always an outsider coming in to tell their stories. The idea that I can be a facilitator while still remaining an artist, someone who can amplify other people’s voices is the most beautiful thing. And I really hope that this mindset will come through everything that I do from this day forward.
Pre-order Ryan’s latest book, Holding Space here.