Common Humanity: Ben Rasmussen’s Photography

Ben Rasmussen and I knew each other loosely in college. We recently ran into each other in Denver, after which I stalked him on the internet. Instead of digging up all kinds of dirt however, I found his incredible photography portfolio, which I now share with you. Ben has an eye for shots that tells stories. His photographs are artful without being “artsy,” they’re beautiful, humanizing and sometimes haunting. Ben graciously consented to being interviewed, and that hard-hitting exposé follows.

(All images © Ben Rasmussen. You can click on the photos if you’re curious about them, they will link to Ben’s website where you can read about his current projects. It’s definitely worth a look, and a read. In particular check out his Home series.)

Why are you a photographer?

I grew up in the Philippines, with an American mom and a dad from the Faroe Islands, a small protectorate of Denmark in the North Atlantic. And then I married a woman from rural Wyoming. I became a photographer because I loved the idea that through images, I could connect these different worlds to each other.

Growing up between those separate cultures, I learned how there is a common humanity shared between people, regardless of race or culture. And when I began pursing photography, I saw that it had the power to create emotional and aesthetic connections between viewer and subject, and communicate that common humanity.

How do you make a living at this? Do you work on commissions, personal projects, selling prints or books?

Honestly, I am still trying to figure that one out. Right now, I make a living doing a combination of advertising and magazine/newspaper commissions. But a lot of my time is spent on producing personal work and book making, which I lose money on directly, but which end up getting me more work in the long run. And it is setting a foundation for the future, when gallery sales and books will hopefully be a larger part of my business.

What are some goals you’ve set for yourself?

I used to set goals for myself that were concrete and very much based on the industry’s response to my work. Things like winning this competition, being included in that annual, working for this client or getting a write up in that magazine. But the more of those goals that I have met, the less fulfilling they are. And when your goals depend on other people, there is only so much you can do to meet them.

So I have changed my goals and separated them into two categories: promotional and personal.

The promotional goals are the things like winning contests, getting new clients and having my name out there. They are things that I think of in marketing terms, but do not have an emotional investment in.

My personal goals are about where I want my work to go. I know what I want my photography to be and I know the area in which it falls flat. I know what stories I want to tell and what aesthetic tools I want to use and that is where I focus.

What are some goals you’ve met?

I…start[ed] a large project focusing on my personal history that is called “Home.” It explores the meaning of home by looking at the connection people have to place in the three worlds I am connected to.

I [have also] created a series of promo books that both communicate my vision and separate me from the crowd. I started this last spring with my Wanderlust books, which are handmade artist’s book that focus on one body of work created in the last six months and then are sent out twice a year. It has forced me to keep creating work I am proud of and has taught me about what makes books work.

What motivates you to keep shooting?

…I want to see the projects I am pursing develop and grow. They are like children, and my role is to invest in them and nurture them until they are ready to be sent out into the world.

Also, I am motivated to keep growing as a photographer. And this happens through hard work, reading and looking at work, and good conversation. I developed so slowly as a photographer in my early 20s because of not working hard and not surrounding myself with other people and work that inspired me.

What do you fear?

Reaching a creative plateau. Being a young photographer is great, because you are constantly growing and developing. I end each year with work that is so much better than the year before, and so much closer to what I want it to be. But I am terrified of that ending.

That is one of the reasons that I do my Wanderlust books twice a year. It forces me to produce two bodies of work a year that I believe in enough to print, bind, and send out to dozens of people that I admire professionally.

Do you have like ten thousand pounds of gear when you’re shooting? What is the bare minimum you would take on a shoot?

When I shot digital, I used to shoot with just one camera and a couple of lenses. But now that I am shooting more and more medium and large format film, the gear has ballooned. I was just in the Philippines in January and had a huge backpack with a 4×5, medium format, and digital camera, and tons of film and film holders. And added to that was a big tripod and a light with a battery pack, a stand, and an umbrella. This way of working definitely slows me down, but that’s a good thing. I want to make slow pictures.

From the look of some of your shoots (in particular the Faroe Islands and Afghanistan), you’ve met some interesting people. Do you ever write about your experiences?

Nah, I am terrible at writing. I am a bit dyslexic and am much more visual than verbal. Making pictures feels like a very natural and fluid process, but writing is so slow and stilted for me. I ended up in photography because I realized after a year of studying journalism that I hated writing.

How do you choose your subjects (both in a larger sense and also shot by shot)?

I am really drawn to stories about people’s connection to place. It is something that I explored in the whale kill and Afghanistan work, and even more directly in my “Home” project.

Within those stories, I am drawn to people whom I feel an aesthetic connection to. This can be based on they way they look, act, or carry themselves, and is very immediate. When I see someone I want to photograph, I know it immediately. But I am quite introverted, so the real process is not choosing to photograph them, but instead taking the leap and asking if I can photograph them.

Have you shown your work in any galleries? Is that something you’re interested in?

I have done several group shows, which is not something I am very excited about. At its best, it feels like an expression of the curator’s vision more than my own. And at its worst, it seems like just a ploy to get the friends and family of the photographers to go to the gallery.

But I have my first solo show coming up in Washington DC in 2013, which I am excited about. It will be work from my “Home” project, so that is pushing me to finish that work this year.

Who are your heroes?

I am really inspired by people who are creating interesting work and doing it their own way. For photographers, that would include Rob Hornstra, Alec Soth and Richard Mosse. They are all people who are creating powerful and important work, and taking ownership of the process, whether that is through self publishing or creative funding.

Another huge influence is Tom Waits. His music has completely changed the way I think about beauty and place.

Do you ever try to make a point with your images? Or are you concentrating more on documenting events, places, and people?

I definitely want my images to make a point, but it is a really simplistic one. I want them to make viewers feel connected to and gain a value for people and places they have not interacted with. Basically, I want them to make the world a smaller place.

Thanks Ben. Love the work!

Jeremy and Liz in Love: Wedding Photos!

Jeremy and Liz
Jeremy and Liz
We look like we're in a movie! Nice job, guys.

Our wonderful wedding photographers now have our wedding photos featured on their blog. Matt and Chatti, of Savady Photography in Denver, are really top notch. Check out their work (and a visual of Jeremy + my LOOOOVE) on their blog.

We just loved that the photos were an artful documentation of the wedding day, and we feel that the engagement photos really captured our personality. Matt and Chatti have got a lot of class to boot.

Click to see our engagement photos!

Click to see our wedding photos!

Digital Storytelling: “Joie de Vivre (Joy of Life)”

A couple of months ago, I (Liz) took a digital storytelling workshop through Digital Storytelling Asia, which is made up of Angeline Koh and Aurelia L. Castro, two women who love to tell stories! I really like digital storytelling as a medium because it is a unique way to tell a story visually. Basically there are three elements to digital storytelling: spoken words + visual images (video or photographs) + music and/or sound effects, and all of those components go into telling a compelling, personal, true story.

This was the result of the workshop for me. I created a story about my mother. I hope you enjoy it.


Our Story: Part 1

Featured Artists: Richard Seldomridge (photos), Elizabeth Charlotte Grant (writing)

Genres of Art: Photography and Creative-Nonfiction

All these photos were taken by a friend of ours, Richard Seldomridge of Wapangy Imaging. Check out his stuff!

And I, Liz, mentioned in the last post that probably some of the first posts we’d put up on here would be “our story”– our story of meeting, dating, and falling in love. Well, here it is. I’m taking this from my other website, so it may be familiar to some readers. As I’ve said before, this is a barely edited version of what happened– the point in me writing this was simply to get it all down on paper (so to speak).

More parts are coming… 🙂

A Meeting: Part 1

Where do you begin to tell a love story? Does it start on the day that you meet him or the day that he tells you he loves you, or does it begin much earlier, before either of you were born, with your parents and their parents, or even earlier, at the beginning of the world, when molecules were racing around and life was first created?

Jeremiah Edward Grant and I, Elizabeth Charlotte Graves, met in January 2009. I wish I could recall the day offhand, but of course, I can’t. It seems we always forget the days that are most important, because we never knew they were so important at the time. Jeremy was born in 1985; I was born in 1987. I was born in Illinois; he was born in California. He moved to Colorado when he was six, only thirty minutes away from where my aunt and uncle lived—they got married four blocks away from where his parents bought a house, and for years, my uncle worked at the MCI building near Garden of the Gods, only two blocks away from the house where Jeremy grew up.

Jeremy loved to draw, and his mother, noticing it, encouraged him. She homeschooled him, but had artists friends from church tutor Jeremy in art. By high school he was taking advanced classes and winning awards. He illustrated an entire series of Sunday school curriculum for Summit Ministries. He won a local art show.

My parents noticed that I loved stories and read to me when I was young. In elementary school, I wrote stories (which I also illustrated, of course). In my second grade report card, my teacher told my parents that I was an excellent story-teller and that I had a wild imagination. By high school, my father, who was educated in journalism himself, was teaching me that editing was a part of writing. I still remember the day when he read one of my papers during my sophomore year and told me he wouldn’t change a thing.

Jeremy went to a college in Arkansas; I went to a college in Illinois. My grandmother started pestering me to do a program called “The Institute” at Focus on the Family. The pressure increased around the end of my freshman year. She wanted me to apply for the fall of my sophomore year (2007). I refused. That fall of 2007, Jeremy attended the Institute after he’d graduated from college.

During the summer in between my junior and senior years in college, I went on a school trip to England. We studied literature at Oxford, hiked in the Lake District, and visited art museums in London. That summer (or was it the summer before?), Jeremy also went on a school trip. He visited London and France, studying art and culture and eating lots of European cuisine.

We never met. In spite of all these funny coincides, we never met– not until the January after I finished college. My last semester had been hard, the hardest one yet, and instead of following through on my original plans to stay around the Chicago area, I felt that God was opening a door to come to Colorado Springs. My aunt emailed me and said, “Liz, I know you already have a Plan A, but in case you need a plan B, you can come live with me and your Uncle Ron for free out here. We’ll feed you and you can work with me at Goodwill.” I told her that no, thanks, I already had my life figured out. And then two weeks later, I emailed her back to see if the offer still stood—it did.

Three weeks after I’d taken my last exam, I drove halfway across the country to go live in their basement. I knew only three people in Colorado Springs: my aunt (my mother’s twin), my uncle, and my grandmother. I cried on the way to Colorado, because I knew that my life would change forever. And it did.

Meanwhile, Jeremy had graduated from college, had finished his time at the Focus on the Family Institute, and was looking for graphic design jobs. He started pursuing a job working as a graphic designer for a ministry in England. But as the process stretched out for months, he started to realize that he really wanted to stay in Colorado Springs to connect to his church. “Sorry,” he told them. “I’m not interested anymore.” And he planted his feet in Colorado Springs.

However, I came to Colorado Springs ready to move away. I didn’t want to make new friends or live in a new place. I wanted what was familiar. But before I’d come, I’d made a commitment that I’d try anything out here, that I would say yes to everything (within reason) in this new place. So when my aunt started dropping hints about a guy named Chad—“Liz, he’s really cute and smart and not dating anybody…”—I sighed and said that yes, I’d go to the Mill with him. I wanted to see what it was like anyway.

(What’s the Mill, you ask? It’s a young adult church service put on by New Life Church. Yes, that New Life Church. Basically it’s a gathering of 1,000+ young people in Colorado Springs, and at the time, I thought it would be a great way to make new friends.)

My aunt and uncle arranged for Chad to take me to the Mill on the second Friday after I’d arrived in Colorado Springs. I met him there. He brought a friend, thank goodness. We sat through the singing and listened to a man talk about one of the ten deadly sins, and then, another man came up to say hi to Chad. “Liz, this is Jeremy.” I was distracted. We shook hands and smiled, and excused myself to go ask one of the New Life people to pray for me.

Just that morning, I’d been struggling with God about staying. I’d just arrived, but already I wanted to leave. He kept impressing on me the story of Abraham and Isaac, how Abraham was called to give up Isaac to death, without knowing the reasons of God. I did not know God’s mind. But I went up for prayer and the prayer minister said, “I think you need to give something up to God. I’m reminded of Abraham giving up Isaac…” I knew that I needed to be open to staying in Colorado Springs and not leaving at the first chance I got.

I walked back up the aisle toward Chad and the other guys and passed that guy Jeremy on my left. We saw each other and smiled, and I congratulated myself on not being attracted to him, even though I knew he was an artist.

Chad and his friends decided to take me to dinner. We went to a restaurant and talked for two hours. Chad kept mentioning that Jeremy guy—“Man, I wish Jeremy were here. Do you know what he’s doing, Evan? We should call him.” And he told me stories about Jeremy—about his art, about his spiritual life. It seemed odd to me, but from Chad’s stories and high opinion of Jeremy, this man I hardly knew intrigued me. I tried not to think about it.