Photography is an Orchestrated and Momentous Beauty
Born and raised in Japan, Reylia Slaby is a photographer with a talent to create culturally diverse and intrinsic imagery, whilst still incorporating a ‘storytelling’ element to her work. Using art and photography to help her see things clearer, Slaby uses both mediums, like a lot of other photographers, to express herself in ways words cannot.
The result is a series of images that are both beautiful and powerful. Below is our interview with Reylia, talking about the cultural separation she feels in Japan and how she incorporates her life experiences into her work.
Hi there Reylia, how is life treating you at the moment?
Life is great! Spring is ﬁnally coming, so that means cherry blossoms here in Japan. Deﬁnitely Excited.
‘Reylia’ is an interesting name, what’s the meaning behind it?
Thank you! I was named after my grandmother; her name was Aurelia, which means ‘Gold’. My mom tweaked it a bit to make it more modern.
So tell us a little about yourself and how photography has helped you grow as a person.
Well, I was born and raised in Japan, but both my parents are American. Growing up I had a rather unique childhood, but as I got older it became increasingly difficult to express myself or understand my identity. At times it was quite frustrating, and still can be. Art helps me see things clearer. It gives me a way to express things I’m unable say with words, and also, in a way, it is a tool to use against people’s preconceived ideas on who they think I am. Those preconceived ideas are formed from how I look. Every single time I leave my house I am ﬁghting against it, because to everyone around me, I don’t belong. Art has helped me come to peace with a lot of the negativity I felt. I now use it as a tool to show that my racial heritage and my culture are not intertwined.
You dip yourself into a lot of conceptual photography. Tell us a little about how you ﬁrst incorporated that into your style?
It was a gradual and quiet process. When I ﬁrst got into photography, I had no idea that there was a category for conceptual, yet I still tried to take “conceptual-ish” photos. But because I wrongly thought that the industry was mainly fashion or portraiture I felt I couldn’t combine them. Then gradually, as I’d go online more, I saw artists who were doing the exact things that I wanted to do. So one day, I decided to have my ﬁrst intended conceptual photo-shoot. Before the shoot I was a bit nervous because it severely deviated from the norm and involved my personal emotions. I had all the regular fears, “Would people care?”, “Will I be able to pull this off?” , or “Are people going to understand the concept?”. But all those fears subsided once I got into shooting. I knew right away that I had found something special. That piece I entitled “Our Lives”.
After that wonderful photo-shoot, I had another one that I expected to be just as inspirationalーit wasn’t. The idea was chosen indiscriminately and I didn’t feel any passion or love for it. It was a bit of a downer, but I didn’t want to be too hard on myself.
This journey was still inchoate. I didn’t understand that I couldn’t use emotions that I’ve never felt and expect them to become a beautiful piece of artwork. I didn’t know that I could use the simple feelings I had for inspiration, but instead searched for a cause that was more relevant globally but didn’t effect me personally. I needed to use something within my own mind and heart. I didn’t have to wait long for a new sorrow to help me come to that realization. Even if it might sound mundane, I had an extremely difﬁcult break-up. That single event propelled me into that direction of creativity. I didn’t want to waste any more experiences.
Photography is very different for each person who practises it. What makes it special for you and why do you like to take photographs?
I love photography because of how it makes me feel. In the past I’ve experimented with different types of art, mostly graphite pencil realism, but it didn’t fully captivate me the way photography does. With photography, it is in one moment that the idea is manifested. On set, on location, everything is captured at that singular place. It is something completely different than being at a drawing table. Besides the slight adrenaline rush, there is a rawness that exists with the experience. A beauty you orchestrated to live for a moment, that you must now capture before it disappears.
What is one of your favourite photographs you have taken and why?
I deﬁnitely switch back and forth between my favourites, but for now I think it might be “The Art of Hiding”. It is my current favourite because I realize more everyday how much people hide. They have practised pushing back their true feelings so much to the point where they are almost now incapable of expressing them. I deﬁnitely struggle with it, because it is so much more comfortable not to. The fear that comes with true expression is so intrinsically bound into us as humans that it is viewed as natural. That is my current battleーhonesty. Not pretending to be something I’m not.
Tell us a little about “Collecting Dust” and how your ideas came to life with it..
The idea for it, actually, came out of being sad for my generation. Not everyone, but a lot of young people are so unmotivated and they’ve lost that child-like sense to dream. They are contented to stay where they are and personal growth is a thing of the past. In this picture, the girl is lying on the road, the dust is collecting over her. She is alive, but she chooses not to move. It is a tragedy. Yet, above her lies a shadow of a winding road.
There is a better future, there is a path, but so often we don’t take it.
How do you adjust to the weather and have you had any interesting experiences such as getting caught in the rain whilst out photographing?
I definitely embrace any weather! I like to think that if the day turns out differently from how I imagined, it was meant to be that way. Sometimes I will get sun when I wanted clouds or rain when I hoped for sun, but I always try to take it how it is. I also try to take opportunities to shoot in “new” types of weather. There was this one time when we were going through typhoon season here in Japan, and I asked my twin sister to go out with me to shoot. It was extremely windy, raining like crazy, and was slightly dangerous, but we both agreed that is was an awesome experience. Shooting in raw elements like that is a wonderful feeling because you lose your sense of control and you leave it up to fate to get a good shot.
Do you like to plan your images before you construct them? If so, how do you go about that?
I do! I learned the hard way that I need to plan out my photos as clearly as I can. They will always turn out to be slightly different from how I drew them, but planning is definitely a must. It starts off with a sketch, and from there I branch out to figuring out the props, a location, the model, the outﬁt, and the desired emotions.
What do you like to use for inspiration and how do you come up with new ideas for each shoot?
My experiences and the emotions that stream from them are probably what I use the most. I also use words from books or songs, and proverbs in both Japanese and English. The people I’m around, my art blocks, and struggles. These days I get a lot of my inspiration from Japanese art. To me, it is easily the most beautiful thing in the world.
Tell us a little about “Life Threw Me” and your inspiration behind that image?
My inspiration behind that was partially from the break-up and partially from having one free month to create. Since I had one whole month and I was up in the mountains with little internet, I was free from time restrictions, so even if a shoot didn’t go well, there would always be tomorrow. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to create at the time, but I wanted to express the idea of how life sometimes throws you down, and you never expect it. The feeling like you lost all control and you are spiralling down into a new world of uncertainty.
Where would you like to go with your photography and what are your ambitions?
At the moment, my goal with my art is to work in series.
One series that I am contemplating is called “Sakura”. Once a year in Japan, the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) bloom and last for two weeks or less. I want to be able to take one or two pictures a year of a concept with the sakura, but have it go on for a span of 5 to 10 years. Besides that one, I have several other series going on at the moment!
I also am looking into galleries overseas. I also hope to be able to teach photography more. That just might be my new adventure!
How do you like to incorporate the environment and culture you live in, into the photography you create?
When I ﬁrst got into conceptual photography, I was hesitant to use it. There is a lot of detail that goes into Japanese tradition so it is a bit scary if you make a mistake. Even the way you wrap a kimono around yourself can change the meaning. So it is definitely a learning process for me as well. But I found that it ﬁts my aesthetic, so I think I will be using a lot of Japanese elements in my future pieces.
Thank you so much for the wonderful interview! It was definitely a lot of fun!
Photographer interviewed: Reylia Slaby