I first came across Elizabeth Raab’s moody and sensual work while doing some research on, of all thing, motorcycles. I was awestruck not only by how she celebrates the beauty of the human form through her photography but also by how she was able to bring that same level of sensuality to objects or products that are not typically classified as “sexy”. To do that requires a special gift and there’s no doubt that she has it.
Today you’ll learn about how she finds inspiration in that sexy dive bar known as New York, her motorcycle maintenance fantasy and what it takes to make her truly happy. Enjoy!
Greg Coutu (GC) – I’d love to hear about your journey? Please talk about the road you traveled to get from the Elizabeth in the cradle to the Elizabeth you are today. Feel free to include any twists and turns that have added to the complexity of character that is often necessary in order to construct a great photographer.
Elizabeth Raab (ER) – Well let’s see how well I do at compressing 30 years of artistic life into a nicely knit paragraph…. In the small Northwest town I grew up in I was surrounded by dramatic landscapes of rocky cliffs and the straights of Juan de Fuca. Impressive Victorian mansions overlooking the sea. I’ve had the same best friend my entire life. We have a baby picture of us holding hands. My parents chose to have one wood stove for heat in our 2 story Victorian, and no tv until I was 10. As a child I learned the proper way to build a fire and spent most afternoons playing with my massive Barbie collection or recording what would eventually be (in my 80’s childhood fantasy life) my famous solo rock band. My sisters were teenagers when I was this age. After they moved out of the house I took over their sweet Billy Idol posters and poured over the amazing art they’d left behind. Drawings, paintings, style, I was inspired. When I was a teenager I met my first true punk rockers traveling through town and my world opened into a whole new realm of possibilities. At 13 I fell in love and its name was photography. It spoke to me in a way that no medium had ever done before. Taught me to take risks and enjoy or learn from their rewards. At 18 I moved to Italy to live/creative/conspire with my American cousins, learning language and love in a foreign land. At 20 I moved to Seattle to go to school and hone the skills of my trade. Started working commercially, met my husband and I’ve been rocking the free world here and there ever since.
GC – New York is magnet that attracts edgy creatives from all over the globe. How has The City inspired your process and your work? Do you ever see yourself expatriating, so to speak, to some other city or country?
ER – New York for me is like a sexy dive bar. All passion, all lust, all intrigue, a hot mess that cleans up beautifully. Or at least that’s my west coast perspective. Whatever I’m inspired by at the moment (and this fluctuates all the time) it’s here in spades. What I love most about it though is that its inspiration does not lend itself towards time wasting. It’s a place to make things happen. The thought of living here forever seems exhausting in many ways, but for now it’s right where I want to be.
GC – The photos that I’ve been privy to fall heavily (though not exclusively) into two categories… intriguing-looking people in attractive settings and beautiful woman on beautiful motorcycles. What’s the story? What is it that inspires you to put your soul into this subject matter?
ER – I’ve always been, and expect in many ways that I always will be, a portrait photographer. I love finding the beauty in my subject and showing it off. I see the passionate side, the dark side, the exciting side and that is what I show. My motorcycle imagery is the same, it is a portrait of the motorcycle, not a product shot. Every image ever taken is an interpretation. My images are the way I see things through that medium. How I choose to show the world. Not documentation but interpretation.
GC – Much of your work, in my opinion, has a fantastically moody and ominous feel to it. Is this an internal or external expression? If internal, what fuels it? If external, what or where is it drawn from?
ER – Imagery is where I express that side of my personality. Dark, dramatic, sensual, vivid. I do this in images, I do this in dance, I do this in cooking. In private I’m a girly girl, step-mom, wife, pal. In my social persona and my images I’m the vixen and thus my subjects are seen through those eyes.
GC – If you were given two weeks, airfare to any location in the world, and access to anyone or anything, what would your dream shooting adventure be and why?
ER – My fantasy shooting adventure has been for many years, to first take a simple mechanics course. Then head to Australia, buy a bike and travel through the outback photographing my way across the country. My family has history there so its culture has been rich in my memories since childhood. And there is something alluring about the desolation of the desert. I would love to take that same trip to many places though. So many places I want to see in this short life.
GC – It’s hard to interview an artist without asking them which artists before them have fueled their desire to create. So… which three artists, from any medium, have made the greatest impression on you and why?
ER – I’m lucky to come from a family of artists so my influences are far and wide. But three additional sources that immediately come to mind:
-Anais Nin opened my teenaged mind to style and sexuality in a way that has definitely influenced my work ever since. Maria De Medieros played her in Henry and June showing off that dark sultry 1930’s style, those dark lined eyes, the scandalous affairs, the art, the scenery. The way she described the world is both beautiful and heart breaking. I left her work in the past for awhile, but have recently found myself returning to it again for further inspiration.
-Nick Cave’s music has been fueling my moods for years. I first heard murder ballads and loved the strange juxtapositions and the raw energy it expelled through its truly melodic nature of disturbing subject matter. His other work deals with other equally intense content matter and he has a way of hitting those low lows and high highs that really describe the personality of the passions of an artist.
-Edward S. Curtis’s portraits of Native Americans. They are so beautiful and expansive, iconic. But all staged. Taken past the time frame they appear. Amazing portraiture, moving. I find the passing reality of them endlessly fascinating.
GC – If you were told that you had to put down your camera for the rest of your days, heaven forbid, and start a new career, what would it be and why? Is there anything that has been nibbling at the corner of your brain just begging to be expressed?
ER – I doubt there is anyone on earth who doesn’t fantasize about no longer doing their job. I however am married to my profession. Sometimes its good sometimes its bad, its always work, its always rewarding, its a true relationship. But like any long term couple I fantasize, generally about archaeology, art restoration, curating, historical society, art criticism, writing, riding, lounging, riches from nowhere, you know…
GC – Imagine Elizabeth Raab 10 years from now. What does her life look like and is she happy with what she has brought into the world and what she has been given from it? Explain.
ER – I spend a lot of time looking at this very question. Answering it, revising it, working towards it. It’s always fluctuating with where I’m at in life. It isn’t something set in stone. But having a personal goal, and allowing yourself to change it is what keeps us all sane I think. The consistency is to simply be happy. Today what that means for me is to have regular work, regular travel, and a life of at least medium leisure with those that I love.
Thank you, Elizabeth!
Greg Coutu – Circle One One
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ELIZABETH RAAB PHOTOGRAPHY
New York USA