MIXED MEDIUM: RAYMOND NAVARRO

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Words by Justin Fulton.

This edition of Mixed Medium takes us to the Chinatown digs of artist Raymond Navarro, whose ever-evolving work is an an extension of his own sensory experiences in and of the physical world. A distinct focus on details, thoughtful juxtapositions, and the exploration of silent moments packed with nuances that scream visually as much as they have intimate stories to tell, are hallmarks of Navarro’s photo narratives. We briefly peered into the mind of the budding photographer/graphic designer, who reminisces about his time assisting renowned photographer David Armstrong and shed light on the real perks of being a wallflower in city that never sleeps.

JUSTIN FULTON: How was your experience assisting a photographer like David Armstrong?
RAYMOND NAVARRO: To be around someone whose life is such a natural expression of creativity had a profound impact on me and those around him. I would go over to his house, he had a brownstone in Bed-Stuy, and being right there in the place he ate and slept was such an immediate dive into his world. I remember being super overwhelmed my first day. I arrived and David had to run out to pick up fabrics and supplies in the city for a shoot and I was left to arrange and set up. I’m in this new space by myself and it was so emotional for me. I thought of David and everything he’s been through, the intimate moments captured of men, and couldn’t help but imagine all of the moments in between and for some reason I got pretty sad.

JF: What exactly was bringing up these big emotions?
RN: I had contacted David in the summer prior to working for him. I saw his show at Half Gallery and messaged him online. I basically told him how much I liked the show and how it made me recall the time I started college — certain friends, a lot of drugs, and a a lot dealing with sex and ideas surrounding it. A period of defining yourself but loosing yourself at the same time. I found this group of people and we were all in something together, but all so alone at the same time. Those thoughts just resurfaced being in his home.

JF: What did you take from the internship?
RN: I got to see how someone applies their creative self to a profession, something I’ve always had a hard time with. You know doing things that aren’t personal and may not be your pride. It was also nice just talking to David. Everything he had to say held so much depth being everything he’s been through in life.

JF: Currently working on any projects?
RN: I’ve been working on this photo series. Basically a narrative about the body directly relating to clothes. How we put them on, take them off and the intimacy of that. I find empowerment in the way certain fabrics feel against the skin.

JF: I definitely notice a nod to fashion imagery in your photos, but a subversive approach comparable to what we associate with early Raf Simmons or a magazine like iD. But maybe these aren’t fashion images at all and I can’t disassociate due to the focus on garments. It’s nice that your work rides that line.
RN: Someone recently asked me “So what are your aspirations? Do you want to do fashion photography?” and I told them “Not Exactly.” I would like to broaden what that means and do more than sell an image of commercial value. What I have to offer is something personal and that is a reflection of myself. I actually learn a lot about myself by looking at my photos, which in-turn helps me progress and evolve.

JF: What has your photography revealed about yourself?
RN: Well, and maybe this isn’t anything new and perhaps totally cliche, but just being attracted to the darker side of things. And just recently I was feeling really scattered and started to feel a little bit more centered when I realized how comfortable I am when I’m alone. I started heading out alone and confronting strangers with this lone presence. Like when I go out, I go out by myself half the time because it’s just me, I’m there and you can talk to me, though it seldom works out that way.

JF: How do these lone outings usually end up? I for one get a certain anxiety about going to a bar or club alone. I don’t know, it feels weird showing up to a room a strangers like “hey dudes, I’m here, I’m queer…” [laughs]
RN: It usually ends up with some looks, some smiles and every now and then someone bold will approach me. I’m not afraid of talking. I’m really open and honest and I try to give that away obviously, but most people aren’t like this. So I wanted to confront others with this comfort I found in myself and started photographing strangers on the street.

JF: So these people don’t know you’re photographing them?
RN: Not at first, but at some point they did, like in these shots of the person looking directly into the lens. It’s this moment, the initial encounter with a stranger without words that I’m after. People see me with a camera and immediately think of being captured. They start thinking about their looks, which is all ego.

JF: It really puts the person in a vulnerable position, which can be beautiful in and of itself.
RN: Yes, and everyone has their natural reaction. Some poke their chest out, modify their stance or posture while others get shy and tilt their head. If they’re with someone they may pull that person closer or distance themselves and I’ve always been very receptive to any nuances. And being queer raises a lot of suspicions. I may be giving something away by just looking at someone. Say it’s a guy with a girl, the guy will become so self aware and clutch his girlfriend or step further away. Their mind can go somewhere else for a moment and you took them there without saying a word.

JF: Well you’re just the natural born voyeur.
RN: Right, and it somehow brings out the exhibitionist in others.

JF: With you going out alone and not being afraid to put yourself in a vulnerable situation, would you consider yourself an exhibitionist in some respects?
RN: Yes. Though I’m definitely introspective, the way I dress or the fact that I’ll dance alone may come off as extrovert behavior. It makes me think of the time someone told me that to put yourself in a situation that makes you uncomfortable is good because you’re going to come out of it and I always do. I tend to make myself an open book and some think it’s too much.

JF: You value genuine interactions opposed to superficial small talk is all.
RN: And why not offer yourself and your gifts? It’s why I came to New York. To meet people from different places who could share their perspectives. I don’t know why it seems that people in New York want to adapt some “New York” attitude.

JF: As far as your human subjects, are you drawn to those who appear to relate to your isolated disposition?
RN: Yes, I tend to gravitate towards the queer, in the sense of those who don’t shoot for normal. Sometimes it’s the quiet individual in the bunch or a certain brand of body language.

JF: Do you use a host of cameras and lenses in your work or are you a ‘less is more’ type of guy?
RN: I’ve been using some old Pentax. I’ve always been about doing what I can with what I do have and not seeing it as a limitation. Whatever you have, work with it and be grateful because the intention and message behind the work will always reveal itself.

For more visit www.raymondnavarro.com

Follow Raymond on Instagram @_mond
Follow OAK on Instagram @oaknyc

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