Get Behind The Scenes with Renell Medrano

It’s cliché to say pictures are worth a thousand words, so Renell Medrano offers a thousand and one emotions instead. Her film-like photographs provoke an “in the moment” ambiance, where you see yourself wearing high-end chic clothing, sitting at a Justine Skye concert, or looking at a subway bench as one of the most thought-provoking pieces of art.

The Lens Blog Award winner and published New York Times photographer has built a repertoire as the minimalist you need to know, but she embarks a new journey to become a true artist and creator. “I just want people to appreciate the work and I don’t want to be put in a category where it’s like, ‘she’s another photographer.’ I want it to be a bit more.”

What inspired you to become a photographer?
RM: When I was younger my parents tended to buy me little digital cameras all the time so I had a little Sony point and shoot at the age of 13 and I use to take photos all the time. My parents are big on traveling so I would bring it everywhere. So one time for Christmas my dad bought me my own DSLR, my first canon at 15 and I’ll always bring it with me everywhere and I was always infatuated with shooting everything that was around me all the time. Through the years I started getting better and I felt like the stuff that I was shooting was a reflection of who I am. I was in high school and people were like you should go actually go to the Parsons Art School. I was like I’ll try it out, but it’s very competitive, I got in with a full scholarship. Parsons change my whole perspective of how I shoot too.

How has going to Parsons changed your perspective on photography?
RM: It’s all about fine art, they’re not really into fashion and models. Parsons basically had me look at things completely different, a Parson student will end up taking pictures of chairs and find it interesting to them. I would bring in my whole fashion aspect and my documentary work and combine it. I felt like Parsons shifted me and made my work neater throughout the years.

What’s one thing you wish you knew that you didn’t know when you started?
RM: It’s competitive. It’s super competitive and it’s also because it deals with who you know to make it where you want to be and it kind of sucks because there’s a lot of good artists out there that are not put out there because they don’t know anyone or they’re not out there.

When you go out to shoot, what do you typically take with you?RM: I just literally bring just my camera with me and my boyfriend is always telling me you didn’t bring your lighting. I’m so used to natural lighting because that’s how I shoot unless I’m in the studio. I use a LED light consistently just in case the subject is too dark or anything. I tend to keep it natural and clean.

How do you prepare for a shoot?
RM: I must get the vibe from the model, to be honest. If I don’t get the vibe from the model that I’m shooting, I’ll get stuck. If I go model scouting to see who I’m shooting and I don’t feel like I can get a vibe from it, it usually goes so wrong for me.

When I go and shoot, I’ve probably been looking at the model’s page for a while and I observe the way they move, so when I do get on location I have to the connection with the model too. Since I’m not used to getting makeup artist or stylist, I tend to keep it really natural and clean. I’ll go shopping and I tend to buy all of these things, but I never use them for myself, I use it for my models.

Location wise, if I know where I want to shoot, I can pick a perfect girl right away for the shoot. Recently I’ve been shooting for myself, so it’s always people I prefer to shoot.

Documentary vs. Fashion?
RM: I like my documentary work more; people don’t know that because I’m always shooting fashion. It’s what people pull me to shoot more, but to be honest, I’m stronger at my documentary work and when I do shoot documentary work it’s like based on my lifestyle [and] childhood memories, so it’s a little more comfortable. On the other side, documentary work is rawer.

The documentary plays a big part in what I shoot now, fashion can get a little boring. I feel like Fashion has to be high-end wear [and], high-end models. I feel like you can find beauty in a lot of stuff. In the documentary it’s not about beautiful models or anything, it’s what you create that makes the image beautiful. I never really got the whole fashion thing.

Do you think it allows more artistic freedom?
RM: Yea, it does because it actually makes me play around with location, it doesn’t really matter where I’m at. Fashion is really strict. It has to be this location, this model, this look. I didn’t have a stylist until now.

Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
RM: A lot of old-school photographers like Diane Arbus – I’ve always been obsessed with her work, Nan Goldin, and Paul Jung.

What’re some of your works that you’re most proud of, where you said, ‘yeah I killed that?’
RM: My strongest work would be the work I did with these four teenage girls that were the one for Milk, but just for the fact that I was basically living with these girls and documenting their lifestyle and I felt like I had an amazing connection with them. I got to see their real lifestyle and captured it, but every time I shoot I feel good about it.

How did you get into shooting celebrities and events?
RM: I’ve never been about shooting celebrities or even music artist, but my friend Justine recently got signed and I’ve been working with her more, so it’s kind of interesting working with artist and musicians as well, they’re also creative and again I feel like I can always bring artist into my work because [of] that whole documentary aspect. Working with them and bringing my creativity in it plays a big role, it’s kind of different, but I like it because again it’s not high-end models. I get to create and make beautiful photos of these celebrities.

I’m kind of going towards that because I’ve been meeting new celebrities and working with them is actually cool. For example, I just got introduced to A$AP FERG and we’ve been wanting to shoot and his ideas and my ideas. It’s kind of cool how their creativity and my creativity could come to one.

They’re people who want to shoot celebrities because, “omg they’re famous,” but I never been the type, but now that I’m seeing that they’re actually creative themselves, you can create a lot with them.

How did you and Justine Skye become friends?
RM: Her ex-boyfriend use to go to my school [and] we were following each other for a while on IG, she always liked my photos as well, we just met and we got so close and now she’s always telling me to shoot her professional photos and I’m always down. I’ve known Justine for a while, and until this day we have yet to get makeup artist or a stylist for our shoots. It’s us just playing around.

Photo by Renell Medrano
Photo by Renell Medrano

What is the goal?
RM: I wanted my work to be in galleries and it’s one thing that I always wanted. I want a space and I want people to come in and feel the connection with the photos. I don’t want to just be thrown in magazines, but for now, I do want to shoot for all of these great magazines, but I don’t want it to just be that.

Are there any galleries specifically you’d like to have your work featured in?
RM: Paul Kasmin gallery would be nice, because space is very minimal and has an intimate feel, which would work well with my work because I would want my images to stand out, and the viewers to be engaged with my subjects.

What’s next for you?
RM: Right now I’m freelancing and just shooting as much as I can, but I shoot because it makes me feel good. I’m not really worried about where it’s going to lead me at the moment, but I should, because I’m 22. I wanted to be a photo editor for a magazine, but it’s like that whole sitting in the office 9-5, its like I can’t even be creative, so I kind of quit on that because I always wanted to do that.  I just want to be the person that’s creating.

What advice would you give other photogs on taking a perfect picture?
RM: Don’t worry about how the picture will turn out while you’re shooting — you should be connecting with your subject. Be yourself – don’t try and mimic someone’s work because it’s not going to work out because you have to feel it within yourself, and find your comfortability. Shoot in manual mode – you can control what you want to see. Have fun!

What advice would you give to the subject being photographed
RM: I tend to tell them to give me what they feel; I don’t need them to be fake or anything, whatever intentions they have I go with it. It’s about confidence as well.

How can we become selfie Gods and Goddesses?
RM: You don’t have to do the most, it’s all about the angles and lighting.