Raúl Diaz, best known as RRRDIAZ, was born in Santiago de Chile in 1968 and miseducated in the United States through his adolescent years where he studied at the New York at School of Visual Arts and eventually graduated from the Corcoran School of Arts in Washington with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in photography. In 1990, he moved to Paris, France and began his career as a fashion photographer where he became the assistant of big names in fashion photography like Mario Testino or JB Mondino. In 2009, after a short but busy career in fashion photography, he decided to open En Face, a boutique-gallery devoted to instant photography. His store was the first store to sell Impossible Project film locally in Paris and he hosted numerous exhibitions featuring artists from around the world at his location. Diaz has has since become one of the major players in the international instant film community including being apart of the renowned 12:12 Mens' Polaroid Project. Diaz's current work focuses on the female nude which allows him to tell his imaginative stories with a softness and mood that he would otherwise be unable to obtain. His images display a combination of glamour and nostalgia, resulting in incredible and evocative photographs that blur the line between the sexual and sensual.
PRYME Editions had the opportunity to sit down with Diaz and talk about his newest project and first book Cadarve Exquis, published by Les Petites Editions in April 2017. Cadarve Exquis is both the look into the female form in an attempt to glorify all of its beauty and the confidence and relationship between the photographer and model, shown to us through the experimentation of different films, lighting, colors, and Polaroid techniques. Diaz's book contains 12 photographic essays inspired by the themes of the 2016 12:12 Mens' Project and is displayed over 150 beautiful pages in the 8" x 8" format. It is limited to just 200 copies and it is almost sold out! You can pick up your copy here! Connect with Raul Diaz on his website and on Instagram!
Hi Raul! Thanks for taking the time to speak to me this morning, I know its about Dinner time there? How are you?
Good & hungry jejeje ...
Before we get talking about your newest work, can you tell me about your history with photography in general and when you started shooting in the instant format as a medium?
I started shooting Polaroids at the age of 14. I got a Polaroid One-Step for my birthday and it was love at first feel. Then, at the age of 16, I started working at Tower Records and started to shoot the peeps that worked with me against the different color backgrounds that the shop had. I used the camera we had there that was usually just used for when we caught someone stealing. Later in art school, I got tired of the technology brainwashing and decided to make Polaroid my thing. No retouch, full frame, and honest photography.
Do you use any specific cameras to capture your images?
Polaroid cameras are as cool as the process. I collect them really. I have and use all sorts. Different ones for different projects like the Macro 3 (normally used by dermatologists), the CU-5 used for dentistry, and of course the classics like the SX-70, the Specta image system, however my real love is for the Polaroid SLR680. This camera is the one I use almost always. It really gives me what I want as far as framing , sensibility, and film speed. It's an auto focus and flash camera, but it also lets you turnoff those features to create your own lighting and focal points. I have 5 of those just in case. They used to be sold at about 120 dollars but now they run from 400 to 500 bucks.
Your work is centered around the female form, generally in the nude. What draws you to their figure and what inspires you to present it in your unique fashion?
Well ... I love women in general. I love their sensibility, their strength, and their softness. I think that if I treated the ideas I shoot with men, the images would relay a different message. My stories are sometimes too strong and with a guy they might come out as to aggressive. Women inspire power in me. I like to put them in charge, to let them take control. They can take on difficult subjects and render them more positive and relay a message in a softer way.
Your work is sexual, but not in a pornographic way. In my opinion, your work is not ABOUT the nudity, but the use of it to share ideas, stories and themes. What would you say to others that may try to put your work into a box, say an overly sexualized one?
Yes my work is a lot about the body. The nude has always been an artists fantasy. In painting, sculpture, and even from the beginning of photography, the nude has been used to express everything from love and sensuality, to loss and despair. The emotion that comes from a woman's expression is just more honest. I really don't think that my images exploit women and I don't really try to express sexuality that much. Sure an uneducated audience might just see tits and ass, but the message I try to relay is not about sex. I would say that before you judge, learn a bit of art history.
Do you feel like your audience is greater outside of United States? As an American myself, your work is a breath of fresh air. However, I know as a country, we have a (sometimes) uniquely conservative idea of what art should be. What has your reception been like in the states?
It's true that the US is way more conservative when it come to language and nudity. I live in France where they show underwear to sell cheese and wine and swear on TV and yes, even on Sunday. Again that is part of their education. If one is told that to show the body is bad, dirty or shameful, it creates a barrier between reality and fantasy. It frustrates. So far my American audience has welcomed my images and seems to look past the body to read the message itself.
How do you see the evolution of your type of work in the photographic community? I would definitely classify your work as on the "cutting edge", ironically using instant film.
I'm almost certain that among the first Polaroids ever taken, was a nude. Instant film cut out the middleman and let people be much more private in their photographic work. No lab, no other eyes, just you and me baby. And for that fact, I don't feel that my work is that much more original or cutting edge than the work that has been done throughout photo history. I am however very pleased that you think so.
Do you foresee a shift in the art world when it comes embracing the analog medium? Not in a "hipster" way, but treating it as a more "serious" art form?
Oh Yes! I have made my art a battle against the synthetic, the pixel, and the virtual. I really think that people have woken up and finally seen the value of the physical and real. Apart from instant photography, there seems to be a real tendency to go even farther back in history. Photographers have been rediscovering techniques like wet-plate collodion and other original photographic processes. In the US, there are people that have even taken on the task or reinventing old film emulsions like the crew at New55, a positive & negative 4x5 instant film. I'm damn happy about that.
Now about your series, Cadarbe Exuis. The opening of your exhibition for your book and series Cadarve Exuis was held at Iconoclastes Galerie in Paris was two days ago now. How did the reception go? How was the turn out?
Cadavre Exquis, my first book and latest exposition went very well. The opening was loads of fun, a very good crowd. Everyone tells me that I had a great time!
Did you select Iconoclastes Galerie for a specific reason, or have you had a relationship with them in the past?
Like everything in Paris, nothing gets done without relationships. I heard about the gallery from a good friend that told me that another acquaintance of ours was managing the place. Of course the work had to be up to their standards and I am happy to say it was.
How did you hang you and exhibit your series? Did you display prints or the original photographs? How did you display them? In traditional mattes and frames or in a more modern and unique style?
My idea for this exposition was to print one image from each of the 12 series, however, the show ended up with the original 8 Polaroid stories, framed story by story. I did 12 big prints at 60x62cm in a modern(ish) way, and had them printed and mounted on aluminium with anti UV and anti reflection protective film, framed in what is called here the "Caisse Américaine". I honestly don't know what that sort of frame is called in the States. Anyways, it was all pretty classic and what I consider elegant.
Do you plan on moving this exhibit to any other galleries to show your work?
The exposition is being shown in Montelimar, France as a slide show with music etc. during the month of April. Then the show will travel to Bretagne, France to be shown the month of June during the Art Rock Music Festival. I would love to be picked up by another reputable gallery though, here in Paris or elsewhere.
About the book itself. The idea for your book Cadarve Exquis started with just a poem that was created from the themes of the 12:12 Mens' Project. When did you decide to embark on this project, to combine all of your interpretations of these themes into one project? When and how did you become apart of the 12:12 project?
I've been involved with the 12:12 project since the beginning. I sponsored their expo here in Paris at EN FACE, and then started participating in the actual photography side since year two. Well, the second year, even though they had started the 12:12 Mens' Edition, I was asked to be part of the girls project. Long story. Anyway, last year I took part in the Mens' group, and it being my second year, was already very enthusiastic about it all, I decided to make something of a project with all my images. Not just image by image, like the first year. The themes were posted one by one on the private group page and as they came in I started noting them down. By the end of the list it read as a nice little poem, an "Exquist Corps", which is a writing game I used to do with friends way back in collage. I took all that a step further and decided to do stories for each theme, plus make it a book project.
When interpreting these themes, did you have have a model predetermined for each story? Can you describe the process of selecting each model for each theme? Did the model's selected have any input or contribution on how each series turned out?
I really count on my models for input. I love to work as a team. I want for everyone to get something out of what we do. The process is very spontaneous in fact. As I met the models, I proposed different themes to each of them, and depending on their inspiration and mine, we proceeded with the images. As I said before, I like to give the ladies the power! The result, to me, was prefect.
Do you have any specific reason that you shot each series with a different type of Impossible Film? How did you decide which type to use for each story? When did you adopt Impossible Project film as your medium of choice?
I've been involved with the Impossible project since its early beginnings. My old shop En Face was the first to sell there film and products here in Paris. For me it was only natural to work with their emulsions. I sometimes get the chance to try out new films before they hit the market and since they have been very productive, I decided use a different film for almost every story. Their "Duo-Chrome" films were just perfect for the interpretation of certain series, the dominance of certain colors really helped relay the message is was aiming for.
How did you come to work with Les Petites Editions for your first book? And how is it that after 30 years of shooting photography, you have just released your first book?
Clément who runs Les Petites Editions is a good friend and has been a supporter of my images since we meet almost 7 years ago. We've organized several Pola-events together. Who else could I count on for my first book? And yes, my First Book! I do have 30 some odd years of Polaroid history behind me, and as time has gone by, close to thousands of Polaroid images to my name. When it gets to be that much, it really is hard to make a selection for a book. I played with the idea a few times, but how to go about it ? What story to tell ? ... a best of? Who the hell is going to care ? No one knows me and only a select few know my work. Fashion ? art ? portrait ? abstract ? It only became clear to me through the 12:12 Project, that I had to create something new. It all fell into place then. New work that very very few had seen. To make an entrance with something fresh.
Who designed your book? Did you have any influence did you have on the way it was presented in it's square format? Can you describe the creation and layout process?
I am very lucky to have a copy of Bruce Weber's 'O Rio De Janiero book. It has influenced me in so many ways. From the layout, to the story and the colors. It has just such a great vibe to it. I though a lot about this book when putting together Cadarve Exquis. I did 99% of the layout and directed Clément for the 1% that needed his help. I don't want to sound cocky, but this is MY BABY! And you know the saying, "If you want something done right...". Anyway, I wanted a certain rhythm in the layout, and as for the square format, it was just a natural way to go as far as formats.
Do you have a favorite "chapter" of your book? Which one and why? Which one is the most meaningful to you and which was the funnest to shoot? What is the story behind each?
I do have a few favorites. For instance the very first story Loose this Skin. It started this project on the right foot and I only used one pack of film, every shot was a winner. It motivated me and gave me the direction for the rest. I also really dig The Dark Night of My Soul story. It was shot with a duo-chrome film that was never released to the public and I lit the series only using 2 smart phones. Other stories like The Addictions I Get Lost In and Doppelgänger where fun to shoot because I used filters in front of the lens to double up the images and give them a bit of movement and blur. A very tricky soot, but I loved the challenge.
What projects, series, and exhibitions are you planning on working on after the dust settles on Cadarve Exquis? Have you started already?
I have ideas galore and so many stories that I want to illustrate. The one problem is a place to shoot them in. All of the stories in the book where shot at En Face, and alas En Face is no more. I have shot two new ideas in my buildings parking lot, it has interesting light and mood. Unfortunately, it is hard to do work there because, nudes in public... well, you get the picture.
Can you tell us about any other photographers, instant or otherwise, that you admire, respect, or inspire you?
I always recommend young photographers to study up on photo history. For me, it really is the most important part of art school. Once you know what has already been done you can borrow, change around, and twist things to your own perspective. I have many photographers that I admire, respect, and that inspire me. They are all from different schools of photography. To name a few: Lee Friedlander, Carlo Molino, Guy Bourdin, Duane Micheals, Chuck Close, and of course Bruce Weber. Oh and the great and sad to say, late, Ren Hang, a young and inspiring artist that took his life just a few months ago.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
Apart from my images, I guess I'd just like to say that the older I get, the wiser my mistakes are.
Thank you for your time Raul, it has been a pleasure talking to you!
The pleasure was all mine Michael!