Ra Kai Photography: “I want to see such emotions that will raise hair on your head.”
“I believe in magic. I know it is real.”
Rasa, can you tell us about yourself please. Where do you live now and where are you from? How did you discover photography and what motivated you to get started? Hi! I am originally from Lithuania. For the last 15 years I’ve been living in Helsinki, Finland. My photography journey started about 4 years ago with books. I have read several gay novels where the main characters were fashion photographers. Those stories opened my eyes, literally. I realized that yes, it is exactly what I want to do! So I enrolled into short studio lighting course, and started to shoot.
You have a very unique style. How would you describe your photography to someone who has never seen it? I tend to think that I am still at the stage when I want to try different things out. On other hand, I could describe my images as sensual, brave, proud, free, queer, glamour, male, mysterious, fantasy, romantic… I would love to add more “brave” and some “erotic” to the list, but I am yet to find models for those ideas.
What is your favorite thing to photograph? Apart from my models, that would be flowers during a summer. I am also totally in love with small raindrops or dust particles in the air.
Why are you attracted to male models as a subject? When you create male nudes what are specific emotions/visions you are trying to achieve? Uh, tough question. I have very deep and personal reasons for that. Let’s say, through male models I realize my wishes and aspirations. I also find them much more visually and emotionally attractive than females I guess. Also it may be a form of my rebellion against the society. You know, “everyone shoots females so I want to shoot men”- kind.
When I create nudes, I want to see in my images not only naked body, but also naked soul. I want break through all “macho” walls and to reach the deep, with all its angels and demons. I want to see such emotions that will raise hair on your head. And I want to show the nobility and grace of naked human, especially during this time, when censure in social media made human body a shameful thing.
From your own experience, what is the fundamental difference between a workflow of shooting female models vs. male models? Female models usually start with “sexy” looks, and I ask them to be more natural. Males, on other hand, start with “macho” or “awkward”. I have to ask them to be more sexy.
You’ve clearly worked with a wide range of models, what tips can you recommend to male models looking to expand their portfolio? Please do your homework and study the work of your photographer. Another advice would be to be creative in front of camera. Good picture depends on both, photographer and model. If you are too shy to show your emotions, try performing. Just do not stand still, unless it is required..
Tell us a bit more about your project “Human With Animal Mask”. Is there a particular message you would like to get across to the viewers? This was a collaborative project with my model David Frankovitch. He studies performing arts here in Helsinki. David approached me first with this particular idea. He was inspired by the painting series by Brian Donnelly. We previously have discussed the possibility to make a photo project involving some kind of masks, so it was not unexpected.
There is no particular message here, at least conscious one. This is not original idea, and everyone can interpret it according to their own experiences.
What projects are you working on next, and what are your goals for the future? I am continuing with my huge list of ideas that I want to photograph. In the future I want to see myself as a photographer of men/gay/queer fashion or lifestyle that focuses on recycled, unusual materials and accessories, eco-fashion and similar. Basically I want to shape the way people dress, be part of the world process of getting rid of old and stagnant fashion and style (and political, and cultural) attitudes that I see now. The 20th century was all about minimalism. I think it is time to drastically change our styles again.
In your opinion, what makes photography an art? The ability to invoke visual wonder, mystery, satisfaction, awe, joy. My criteria for a good photograph (or art in general) is when you can hang it on the wall and be able to see something new every time you look at it. When it amazes you for long long time.
Is there one piece of equipment or prop that you cannot live without? Not really. To have camera and lens (and light) are maybe the only requirements.
What is typically in your camera bag? That would be my camera and 2 or 3 lenses, depending of what I am going to shoot. If you want technical details, they are Canon Eos 6D, Canon 50mm 1.8, Canon EF 40mm 2.8, and sometimes big Sonnar 2.8/280 lens.
What is your mental checklist before a shoot? The only list I do is for my photo equipment, and if required, a huge list of props.
What from your point of view makes the shoot successful? It is complicated. There are many points when I might feel that it was great, and then it might feel not so good after all. The main requirement is for me and my model to be in sync.
Rasa, what motivates you to do what you do? How do you stay inspired? I have ideas popping in my head constantly. There is always a motivation to build my skill and portfolio, to be noticed, to get a job. Apart from that, the realization of my ideas is also the driving force for me.
Do you do your own styling and makeup or do you work with a team? I do styling myself – could not find any interested stylist yet. Good thing with male models – there is no pressing need for make up artist. Until recently I’ve managed to do minimal muah myself, except few times, when muah was crucial. But now I have found wonderful muah artist Sini Silfvenius-Bart. Very creative and skillful, just what I need. I hope I have plenty of future collaborations with her.
What is your retouching/production philosophy? In your opinion, is it fair to alter reality by adjusting images in post-production? Oh, that was the source of my constant frustration trying to decide what kind of images I want to make. I adore simple and clean studio shots, but on the other hand I am awed by heavily processed images that portray some magical world or story. Now I am trying not to be involved in such discussions. But overall my position is this: imagination is the major asset in human evolution. Why to constrict ourselves?
From your experience, would you have any tips for aspiring artists or photographers on how they can develop a style and vision of their own? It is hard to give any tips, as everyone has different journey. I do not think people are much interested in usual cliche advises such as “be true to yourself”, “work hard”, “do not give up”. I have started and continue my photography because I know exactly where I want to go. If the path is not clear, best is to relax and to listen to yourself. And continue with things you enjoy to do most.
What has been some of the best advice given to you by another person? Cannot answer.