Q&A with Atlanta Photographer, Iris Ray

Iris Ray’s photography is like a box of saltwater taffy, each individually wrapped confection a whipped candy concoction. Tottemo kawai desu ne, y’all. A self-proclaimed nerd with a fierce appetite for rebellion, her work allows her to fan girl out for all things cute, kitschy, and crude. I had the pleasure of asking her a few questions about her work and her living business.

Let's start out nice and easy. Tell the class your name, where you're from, and one thing we don't know about you:

My name is Iris Ray, I'm from Atlanta, and I have a lot of unconventional celebrity crushes (including, but not limited to, James from Team Rocket and Steve Buscemi).


Also, word on the street, aka your website, is that you went to private school. Secular private school? Religious private school? Spill the beans!

Yep! That is true, I spent all thirteen years of grade school in a private Christian school.


How does this upbringing directly make its way into your work? You speak of this rebellious appetite–what are the bones and structure this takes within your work?

[Laughing] My work is saturated with influence from that time in my life! All wrapped up in that rebellion we speak of. It's been a hard fight to deprogram so many lies that I believed about myself and the way I saw the world, deciphering what's real and what's not. Sometimes the rebellion is direct; skewing heteronormativity and disrupting the male gaze have become sort of a pattern in my work. But even when I don't have something to say and I just want to make something pretty, I feel like my aesthetic is innately a little rebellious, because I grew up always trying to color inside the lines, you know? I wanna make a mess! I want more color! I want to be silly!


Let's talk about influences, and by us, I mean you; not only what photogs and makers of visual material that drive your own aesthetic, but also what influences the way you interact not only with your audience but also your subjects. Which is to say, who taught you to see the way you see and how did you learn to communicate that sight/vision to the world at large?

I'm going to take this opportunity to quote Chuck Palahniuk and seem cool and well read: "Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I've ever known." But seriously! So true for me. My artist crushes currently are Laurence Philomene, Stephanie Gonot, Adam J. Kurtz, Lora Mathis, and You Were Swell. AND, I live in the digital age! Content is everywhere! There's always something new that makes me drool and say "I wanna do that."As for who taught me the way to see and communicate those things, I do have the give specific credit to the Creative Circus–arguably the weirdest, craziest, most brutal educational institution around.


Super seriously though, what mythical beast would you be and why?

A jackalope! No brainer. I once expressed my love of jackalopes to someone, and they accused me of being a redneck. But they're so cute! If loving jackalopes makes me a redneck, so be it.


Any series/projects in the work? Whatchu making currently–what ideas/concepts/abstractions are you attempting to portray through your visual medium?

Currently, my main focus is expanding on a few photos I took in my grad quarter at the Circus that take the hyper-sexed way women are often depicted and stuck men in their spot. Now I want to develop that into a series about the fragility of masculinity. It's just so silly to me the way men can absolutely lose their minds when their perceived manhood and the things that they've claimed are threatened. And when that emphasis on masculinity permeates a culture so deeply (and harmfully), what can you do sometimes but poke fun at it?

Side note, I'm also trying to develop my analog photography skills more. Not that I've done much on that front yet, but I'm saying this publicly so I have the conviction to really go for it. So keep your eyes peeled, or something!

How do you pick a subject or model / when are we shooting together?

I always prefer to cast "real people." I am just forever bored with conventional models. The stuff I conjure up in my brain is sually specific, so I don't want to cast someone who looks just like someone in another photographer's work. I've been told that it makes my work look unprofessional / lower production. But honestly, that's a standard that I'd love to change, at least a little bit. Back to that whole rebellion thing, I guess! I'm all about the micro-aggressions.

Seems as if a lot of your work is studio based. Assuming that this is a preference to shooting on location, why do you prefer studio shooting?

Shooting in studio was so intimidating to me when I began to learn. But now, I know how, and I'm pretty good at it! So there's this amazing feeling of gratification anytime I shoot in studio because I conquered this thing that used to terrify me.

Iris Ray

Iris Ray

Walk us through a shoot with you (and geek out for the photog techies out there). What do you shoot with? What kind of lighting do you prefer? What's your super secret recipe specialty? Are you hands on with your subjects, offering lots of direction or do you leave them to work in silence? Do you work with a team or is it mostly solo?

Whooo, this is a hefty question! I'm going to tackle this one bullet point style. I own a Canon 5D Mark III, a 50mm f/1.4, and a kit lens from my old 7D (plus some miscellaneous gear). But I'm so lucky at this phase in my budding career to work at a rental house where there is an abundance of goodies to learn and experiment with! My dream kit is the Canon 5DS, any Canon L-Series lenses (specs vary depending on what I'm shooting), and Profoto strobes. Profoto is just so intuitive and has amazing modifiers.

My secret formula is my ritual state of panic before I'm about to shoot. Not for any lack of preparation or skill, but I confess to being a little high strung. But truly, this helps! I get all my jitters out before hand, so I'm cool as a cucumber on set.

I always offer a lot of direction. I go into a shoot with a very specific image in my mind. Once I've captured that, or a satisfying version of it, then I have a little play time!

There are a few pieces in my portfolio where I've worked with a team, but most of it is done on a student / budding artists budget. And by that I mean, I'm mostly a one woman show. Still, I am abundantly thankful for the help I have had from wonderful stylists and MUAH artists that I have been lucky to work with!

One last one for ya; with the clamor of visual material and stimulus available to the regular hu-man in this digital age, what voice do you bring to the mix and how does this voice set itself apart?

Wow, I'm already exhausted from these awesome questions, and now you need me to get existential? I will take this opportunity to cop out slightly and use another quote; this time, Michael Keaton when accepting the Best Picture Oscar for Birdman: "Look, it's great to be here. Who am I kidding? It's just great fun."

But! In all seriousness. To bring it full circle, I want the voice in my work to be fun. I want to have fun! I hope that this sets me apart. But photography is so cathartic for me, if I can make work that I'm proud of, sustain myself with it, and make some people happy, then I have been successful.


For more on Iris Ray, click HERE.