Borough Gallery: Anyone who’s driven an all-nighter through that mid-Atlantic void of I-95 feels drawn to South of the Border.  But the kitsch found there rarely makes one think of art.  Most snapshots only intend to say, “look at this funny shit.”  So how does SOB become a subject of one of your photographs?  Or anything else for that matter?

Raychel Severance: To be honest, the first thing I felt when we arrived at SOB was an overwhelming sensation of “Holy shit,” and in the best way possible. We drove back and forth, up and down the stretch no less than five times before we finally had the capacity to exit the car, and when we did, it was a struggle to put my camera down long enough just to keep up with my company. The place was a gold mine, and there were times when I wasn’t getting the photos I quite wanted when my swashbuckling companion had to remind me, “it’s OK, Raychel, some things are just too damn easy, ya know?” And she had it spot on; there were some things at South of the Border, be they abandoned bumper car rides or two-story gorillas with chipping paint, that were so out of this world that doing it justice with a photograph seemed impossible.

I think what draws artists and adventurers to places like SOB, or places riddled with abandonment and loss, is our ability to recognize artistic gain in what the rest of the population overlooks as uninteresting because it is deceased. While we see the abandoned bumper car ride as a golden photographic opportunity, others see it as nothing more than bumper cars that don’t bump into each other anymore. So we grant ourselves elite access to a place that’s no longer overseen, facilitated or secured in any way, and we turn over every stone in search of that thing that those not looking would never find. We see it as a brilliant representation of so much more than a place nobody goes to anymore. We ask ourselves Why, instead, and then we portray it.

Raychel Severance "Tokens Sold Here" Digital fine art print, 24"x36"

BG: Photographing both what goes literally unseen and in ways people rarely see is a helluva combo, but what about when you photograph something familiar?  As a photographer, what qualities do you catch at first glance in the everyday that others might miss or ignore?

RS: I’m lucky in this regard, because I’m normally a candid portrait photographer; I shoot a lot of bands and performance, but not your average rock band or smiling face. The people I’m surrounded by each day have an exuberance that goes unrivaled by that of most average everyday life. It’s easy to take a good picture when your subject is a beautiful person doing something eccentric and exciting. So a familiar picture for me is still usually out of the realm of the ordinary to most people who I am usually trying to show them to. I am fascinated with gypsy culture and life and strive to become a bigger part of it, not because I want to live a life without work or responsibilities and eat donuts out of dumpsters, but because I’m determined to uncover a world of incredible characters and lifestyles that often go entirely overlooked. It’s become a good outlet for me because not only do the personalities themselves appeal to me, but the photos I get usually have people asking themselves “what the hell is going on here?” which I like, because to those pictured, it’s really just another day in the life. I’ve got more photos of accordion players than I know what to do with, yet people outside the social circle are still drawn to each one because it’s something they’re not used to.

I try to keep my eye out for not only the things I know most people don’t get to experience, but especially the things that are new to me. I’m still young and there’s still so much I haven’t seen, so the curiosity I have is ferocious and I couldn’t ignore it even if I wanted to; I see these travelers and gypsies and hobos and swashbucklers all around me and they’ve all got different things about them that separate them from the rest, and that’s what I usually try to capture when I’m shooting them doing their thing. I don’t like to pose people and usually like to catch them in their natural element, so with candid photography it’s almost as if everything is new. When I see someone busking for some beer money by stomping on a suitcase drum, juggling hackey sacks and playing the banjo, obviously there is an appeal. I feel like not everyone is as lucky as I am to have become a part of this kind of culture, so it’s like a duty of mine to show them how incredible it really is. I’m always looking out for joy and the circus in everything, so that’s what usually catches my glance and gets my camera out.

BG: The subjects in the show are all inanimate, but how do you go about capturing candid shots of people and culture in motion?  Is it rapid fire or a careful waiting?  Any pointers about how to hone a photographer’s eye?

RS: I shoot and shoot and shoot. And then I shoot. And shoot and shoot and shoot. When I do band photography, for example, of fast-paced energy and motion, I’ll take anywhere from 100-300 pictures of one show, 80% of which I usually delete. I used to get down on myself over this until I realized that if I get anywhere from 5-10 pictures that I love from a band’s show, then it’s an absolute success. With things not music-related, I just shoot everything going on around me; like I’m participating in all the festivities only with a camera between me and everyone else. So it’s a combination of rapid fire and waiting; I wait until there’s something going on that I know will produce a good shot if I can nail the timing and placement right, and then I just shoot away. As for honing a photographer’s eye, I’m not sure; people saw I have a way of making people look like rock stars when they’re living their everyday lives which may or may not be exciting, but I think I just like the photos I’ve taken because they capture the way I see my subjects, rather than just the way they look. I see so much beauty in the people around me that I’m not interested in trying to convince others that it’s beautiful, but rather just show them exactly what I see. I guess you can’t take a good picture if you yourself aren’t passionate about what’s there in front of you. If I’m into it, the shots just frame themselves because I’m trying to accurately show other people how I saw it through my own eyes. Sometimes you’re successful, and other times you’ve just got to resort to mental pictures. A retina camera would help with this. I’m still waiting for the introduction of this invention to the world.

Raychel Severance "Ferris Wheel" Digital Fine Art Print, 24"x36"

BG: If you could have one prehistoric and/or mythical animal for a pet what would it be?

RS: A wooly mammoth. No question. I’d ride that thing everywhere and slay everything and at night we would snuggle because he would be friendly. But only with me. Everyone else gets slain. Kinda like a really big hairy pit bull.

See more of Raychel Severance‘s photographs in our current show “Entropic Restructed” before it closes May 9th.

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