Art & Design

Photographer Elizabeth De La Piedra on Documenting Trans Tumblr Sensation Rashida

Art & Design

Photographer Elizabeth De La Piedra on Documenting Trans Tumblr Sensation Rashida

Photo: Elizabeth De La Piedra
Photo: Elizabeth De La Piedra
Photo: Elizabeth De La Piedra
Photo: Elizabeth De La Piedra

Given that Chicago-based photographer Elizabeth De la Piedra is best known for being extremely followable on Instagram and Rashida Renée, a transgender woman from Oakland, is best known for her extremely followable tumblr accounts, it makes sense that the two would meet online. Theirs is the perfect modern photographer/muse story, consisting of a long-distance courtship leading up to a stunning collaboration in which De la Piedra documented four days in the life of the trans Internet star (it seems De la Piedra meets all the most important people in her life online; she and her husband, Josh Young of Flosstradamus, also met through the magic of the Internet).

The resulting photos became RASHIDA, an glance into Renée’s world through the lens of De la Piedra. A collaboration with ASOS via their new program, ASOS Supports Talent, the series debuted at Gallery 151 in New York on Tuesday at an exhibition-come-dance-party that fittingly coincided with Rashida’s birthday (yes, there was a cake).

It seemed only fitting that our chat with the photographer about her inaugural IRL exhibition would take place over electronic mail.

When did you first pick up a camera and why?

I was 12 when i picked up a camera. I was definitely experimenting since I loved drawing and painting so much. I began to take pictures of things and use them to reference scale when drawing.

In general, what draws you to a subject?

A universal truth and beauty. I pay close attention to the emotional reactions I have to the things I am exposed to. If I can’t stop thinking about a concept, I have now come to trust that feeling as a process of creative development. It means the work has already begun really.

How did you first meet Rashida? What drew you to her as a subject?

I discovered her blogs, like the one she runs now, years ago. Through this I became aware of her online presence and between her contribution to online content and her vocal point of view, my admiration for her grew and grew. As an artist, inspiration is the most valuable thing, and Rashida is my muse.

Naturally the series is super intimate; did the two of you have a great rapport off the bat or was that trust/intimacy something that grew over time? Also, do the pictures on the fourth day differ from those on the first day?

We had been communicating over the phone and online for months about the project before we met to shoot. We shared references and were very clear with the intention of the work. We have a creative connection that allowed for organic collaboration. It didn’t feel like the first time we had met, so I’d say from day 1 to day 4 it was consistently a space that was sensitive to Rashida and open to my presence as a photographer.

Do you think your presence altered the way Rashida acted/carried herself?

lol NO!

What was her reaction to the images? 

Her reaction to the images was strong and invaluable to the process. Together we created the final edit based on my selections and her approval. Her eye is genius you know – just reference her blogs. The collaboration made the body of work what it is.

What’s one thing you learned about Rashida’s experience or the experiences of trans people in general through this series?

The project more then any other project I have worked on showed me how important creating an authentic, respectful narrative is. Four days isn’t a lot of time to walk away and speak on someone’s experience as a transgender woman, specifically from a CIS gender woman’s point of view. However Rashida is very honest, as are her friends and we were able to communicate like old friends.  Sharing with me in their own words the emotional stresses of navigating the world in terms of safety and social pressures was something I considered very important to the universal impact of the work.

I recently saw a photo that your son took of you. Do you think he’ll follow in your footsteps and become a photographer? Is he also musically inclined on account of your husband?

He’s having a lot of fun discovering everything right now which is beautiful to watch. I would have to say he’s a pretty amazing little drummer which is definitely from his dad.

Do you read your Instagram comments?

Sometimes! I like to reply when I get a chance. That’s not a humble brag like i get a thousand comments lol I just find with work and family, especially a toddler, life gets busy.

Did the exhibition purposely coincide with Rashida’s birthday or was that just a cool coincidence? 

Actually it was all a fluke! It was Rashida, Chris and Lotus’s (who are both also pictured in the series) birthday this month. Definitely another way to celebrate my beautiful friends.