Oakland photographer Ramon Felix captures the very essence of his subject’s unique personality; drawing viewers in to a deep and rich relationship with the photographs. Starting out as the family photographer and shuffling from one place to another as kid has given his photographs a beautiful nostalgic character.
How was growing up in L.A.?
We mostly lived on the east side of LA and it was amazing. Even though we moved around A LOT as a kid. It was still exciting every time. We lived in run down huge apartment complexes to small guest houses and then finally a permanent house. But no matter where we ended up at it was always exciting in someway. LA is a huge expanse but as a kid I would take the bus by myself across town. I think that is what made traveling as an adult so natural.
How would you describe Oakland, CA and living there/the lifestyle.
I think I read this in a book but I can’t remember what book it was: “Oakland is a Midwest town on the coast”. It’s totally right. There are parts that are definitely a lot rougher than others but all in all it’s a small town kind of vibe. I started coming up to Oakland to visit my best friend Jason. I fell for the place the first time I visited. But it took some years before I actually moved up here. I think it’s been close to 3 years now. I don’t really work much up here (by choice) it’s mainly hanging with friends and riding motorcycles. Fixing them too. I think the main attraction is the nature part of it. I can drive 15 minutes one way and I’m at redwood tree area. I can also ride a bicycle 10 minutes the other way and I’m at the bay. Definitely more a green space than LA.
How have places you've lived and your heritage influenced your photography?
I think it’s made me more able and willing to see the non glamorous part of life. The everyday people and places you pass by on your way to work or home. There is real beauty in that… opening your eyes to the moment.
What inspires you and your work?
It’s a cheesy answer I’m sure but I think LIFE inspires my work. It’s what I was talking about before. The everyday things that we all tend to overlook. I like looking at them everyday and imaging what that photo would look like. I think the fact that I like to travel so much makes it possible to see the everyday in different places. I like shooting photos on the go. And I really like to go! I commute to work from Oakland to LA or NYC. I drive 350 miles to LA regularly either on a motorcycle or my truck but always with a camera. I think overall what drives my work and life is wanting to get out and see things.
How and why did you enter the world of photography?
I always loved photographs. As a kid I was the family photographer when we had a camera. Then I kind of lost track of that growing up. Once I was an adult I found the love for it again. By this time I was work for the telephone company as a line man (climbing poles). I had a little money to buy a camera so I did. A Canon TX I think. I got over that one so I bought a Mamiya Universal. I started to really get into it as a hobby. And then I fell off a pole about 28ft in the air and really hurt myself. I took about 1 ½ years off work to get better and in the mean time I asked some friends in the photography world to let me assist. So it was on. Right off the bat I was working with some heavy duty fashion photographers. I learned so much from the people I worked for and I made some amazing friends too.
What is it specifically about photography that appeals to you?
I think it’s how intimate it can be. A fraction of a second can hold so much emotion. You can’t hide your emotions in an honest picture. I have no filter when I speak and to me photos are the same. Its like a free flow of an idea that you get to freeze and look at over and over. Sometimes it’s a tiny passing one and sometimes its huge! You just have to be there to capture it.
Portfolio 2 is filled with American nostalgia. What is it about this style that appeals to you?
That goes back to my love of being on the road. Those photos are just what I see when I’m out there. To me its not really nostalgia when I’m shooting. Or I should say I don’t go out looking for nostalgia.
Going through your instagram I noticed you own/ed quite a few old film cameras. Which have you has the most history/crazy adventures with?
I’ve had a lot of film cameras throughout the years. But if I had to pick the best ones it would the Mamiya Universal. That thing has been with me for about 10 years in one form or another. It has a look that can’t be replicated with digital. Although I wish I could put a digital back on it! But if we’re talking adventure it would have to be the Olympus Stylus point and shoot. The little black one! That thing has been all around the country with me. In a truck or my motorcycle! It has a strip of Velcro on it which is attached to another piece of Velcro on my motorcycle gas tank. So I can shoot on the road.
What's your favourite city to capture? What draws you in?
I think it would have to be New York. It’s a huge melting pot of things and people. Its like anything you could ever wish to shoot. It’s there and on the streets! It’s full of all sorts of energy. A train ride could turn into the most amazing thing you do that day. Los Angeles would be a close 2nd.
What key details do you look for when taking photographs of people and/or of landscapes? Do they differ for you?
I think for me it’s just a feeling that its going to be a good picture. In people having a striking face helps a lot. Not necessarily classic beautiful but just a striking face. There is something that goes off in my brain when I see someone I want to photograph. It screams “that one”! As far as landscapes go it’s the same type of feeling. When the light is just right, when trees are right, when the trash in the streets is in the right place. It just happens.
What key elements do you feel are necessary in taking photographs of individuals on the streets versus posed photographs?
When I shoot someone on the street candid style I’m not looking for anything other than a feeling I get from the subject. That feeling has nothing to do with me. I’m just lucky to be there to capture it. When it’s a posed photo its controlled. You are looking to make the photo that is in your head. You need your light to be right. Your hair to be right. It has to be right. There should be no accidents if you’re taking the time to plan and pose the shoot. At least that’s my take on it.
Do you have any projects you're working on now?
I’m trying to get some photos together to make another magazine mag. I self published a photo magazine of photos shot while I was going to or from work. I want to make another one. There are a couple of portrait projects I want to shoot but I don’t want to jinx it by talking about it.
Favourite human and why?
My mother Mayela. As a kid I was angry at her because we didn’t have the things I wanted to have. Like certain clothes, food, and stuff like that. You know angry teen shit. But now I can totally appreciate all the work she did to keep my sister and I healthy, fed, and taken care of. She really is my favorite human.
All images © Ramon Felix