Photographers on Photographers: Aaron Ortiz

Posted: by The Editor

While many photographers cannot photograph their subject of choice due to the global pandemic, we wanted to make our photography section more about photographers. Even before lockdown, there were many artists using the medium of photography to showcase their work. We wanted to highlight these photographers and speak with them about their work, creativity and even motivations to keep making art. Photography is not just about the photos we produce, there’s so many factors behind it, and the identity of the photographer lends a key insight into why they make the work that they do. Sarah spoke with Brooklyn-based photographer Aaron Ortiz about his photography.

How did you get introduced to photography?

As a kid I would always be at family parties with my mom’s point and shoot. Eventually since I was the only kid of my age, everyone else were babies or cousins who were older and didn’t want to play with me. I would run around and take pictures. 

What do you love most about photography?

Being able to tell stories about people in my community. Being a person of color, it is nice to tell stories about people in my neighborhood that more or less would not be able to tell their story. 

Can you discuss a little bit of your photographic aesthetic? What subject matter are you attracted to and why? What/Who are some of your photo inspirations?

When it comes to my photo aesthetic, I like more portraiture. It kinds of has a documentary feel to it. It also is intimate, I know that’s not a genre. I feel that a lot of my work seems to feel really intimate between me and my subject. A lot of my inspiration comes from the LIFE magazine photographers. I bought the photo book of all of the LIFE photographers. John Dominis specifically is one of my favorites. He did a little bit of everything but there’s something about his photographs that makes me think “I would’ve shot it exactly like that.” or “I would’ve lit it the exact same way.” Right now, there’s so many people. Renell Medrano who is another POC artist does some amazing work. My mentor, Don Brody. His work is very low key but their aesthetic is so eerily similar to myself that I think I found the perfect mentor to work with. 

You’ve worked with some really talented performers and artists. Can you talk about one of your favorite shoots and the process behind how it came to fruition?

So Joey Bad$$ is the most famous person I worked with. How it came about was that I was actually shooting for an interview for a magazine for his videographer, Levi. Me and Levi connected automatically and were chatting the whole time while shooting. Eventually he was like, “hey I live over here” which was walking distance from my place which was crazy so we became friends. He asked if I wanted to shoot some behind the scenes stuff and of course I was like “um, Yes.” With the help of Levi that would’ve never happened. 

Can you talk a little about how you came up with that concept?

So since it was behind the scenes for that video, the photo came out of that. How the DOP set it up I was really trying to find the right angle or moment. I felt like a snipper just trying to figure it out. I was glued to my camera’s eye piece like it was an extension of my eye. I think I went home with almost 1000 photos which never happened. I try to treat my photos like they’re film. That’s how the labrum cover came about. The concept was about Joey being reintroduced to the limelight since he went through some personal stuff. It was like cleansing his spirit to move forward. 

Let’s talk gear. What is your go-to camera? First camera you shot with? A camera you carry with you always and the camera you want to get if money didn’t matter?

My go-to camera is my Fuji XD II with a 35mm, F2. The first camera I shot with is the Canon T3I which I feel like everyone had one. I always have my XD II because it’s so small and is so light and I bring it everywhere. I would want a Hasselblad. It would be so much fun to shoot with especially the digital back with the insane 100 megapixels for no reason. Fuji made their own but having a Hasselblad would be so ridiculous. Or a 4×5. 

What are your opinions on digital vs film? What do you prefer and why?

It depends on the job for me. If I’m doing studio work I prefer film. It helps me slow down and not take a whole bunch of unnecessary shots. You’re not rapid firing, you’re more inventive with what you shoot because it’s a lot of money. If I’m at a concert though I will shoot digital because I want that range of being able to bring back things that are over exposed and under exposed. 

Do you have any “hot takes” on certain things in photography?

I feel like everybody thinks they’re a photographer and as much as I love film, I think some people are into it for the wrong reasons. I feel like if you learn film properly and you know it properly you’re a master of photography. Most of these people like it for the feeling which is fine, but with social media it seems more like an aesthetic than an art form. 

How have you managed to keep up the creativity during the pandemic?

I feel like I have a more stable head on my shoulders. This is the time. Before I would say I don’t have the time to do this or that, but now I can do what I need to do. Eventually I just looked at everything I‘ve written down before in my notes and tackled them one by one. I worked with people who are willing to work like makeup artists and hair stylists. I tried to take it one step at a time. 

If you had to give any advice for photographers just starting out, what would you say?

That’s always a tough one. Shoot what you know. Shoot your family, your friends, really get to know yourself through the photographs you take. Once you have some that you like take a look at them and think about all of those photos together. For me I only shot people of color and I realized that they’re intimate for a reason because these are the people around me.

You can follow Aaron Ortiz and keep up with his work, on Instagram.


Interview by Sarah Knoll

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