Ransom Ashley is a young photographer and actor based between Austin and NYC that uses his photography as a means to explore identity and his tumultuous upbringing in the American South. Ransom who identifies as queer grew up in the Bible belt and admits that his he faced discrimination and bullying because of who he is. Now, Ransom uses his work to redefine identity and what it means for his work.
Born in Shreveport, LA , Ransom Ashley who is also an actor and a cinematographer, attended Parsons The New School for Design in New York City where he was concentrating on photography and went on to receive his Bachelor of Science in Psychology. He has shown work internationally (in New York, London, Brighton and Budapest) and been included in shows at the New Britain Museum of American Art, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, and Masur Museum of Art, among others. Ashley is currently working on a body of work exploring Louisiana subcultures and is set to appear alongside Oscar Winning Actress Holly Hunter in the upcoming southern drama Strange Weather.
How was growing up in the Bible belt?
As someone who was very different from my peers, it definitely had its challenges. I went to a Baptist Church that I eventually ending up being enrolled in for middle school (and eventually high school). It was a weird juxtaposition being treated so poorly in a place that you expected to be so much more loving and hospitable.
How do you identify as?
This is been a process of discovery for me because I find rigid labels to be quite suffocating as I grow older. I would say “Queer” sums up my own experience the best because I always felt and knew I was so different than everyone but it’s still an adventure for me.
How were your childhood years? Did you face any bullying or discrimination?
My childhood years at home were exceptional, but at school it was constant bullying that often got physical. There was such a contrast between my elementary school years and my middle & high school years. I was suddenly thrust into this incredibly hostile environment where I felt like I was a specimen under a microscope.
What does your identity mean for your photography?
I find that my identity and my unique process of self-discovery has given me certain things I want to say and explore through my work. It’s been such a process to explore who I am as a person through my work and also through my studies in psychology. With my current project, I am able to look out into the world and explore what this (identity) means for other people in my community.
What is the message you want to portray through your work?
More than a message, I attempt to create a conversation and connect with people. In my earlier work, I was really trying to unravel the emotions that were characteristic of my own coming of age experience as I grappled with feelings of isolation and loneliness. I find my way of working lately is more extrospective and that my primary goal at this point is to explore something more unfamiliar to me; the experiences and identities of other people.
Where do you find your inspiration and influences?
One of the strongest influences in the development of my artistic voice was cinema. I loved the emotional and narrative approach to storytelling; the way that so many frames pieced together became something so much greater. It informed a lot of the way that I work on my projects today, with each frame representing a different but integral part of the greater story.
How has the LGBTQ+ community reacted to your work?
I have received a wonderful response from the community. I wasn’t prepared for how healing it would be for me to connect with others that had similar experiences or could somehow find themselves in the emotions represented in my photographs.
What are the biggest struggles you have faced and what are your biggest achievements?
I would say that my biggest struggles were those in Middle and High School where I was incessantly bullied and dehumanized for being myself. It took so much work to get to a point in my life where I have greater compassion and acceptance for myself. My biggest achievements involved the shedding of those definitions people placed on me, essentially liberating myself from the bitterness that I had given the way that I was treated and learning how to channel it constructively in an artistic and emotional way.
When did you start taking pictures?
I started taking pictures in a professional capacity in High School. I believe I was a sophomore (15 years old) and I got my first DSLR camera for Christmas. Funny enough, my mom recently discovered some baby photos of me toting a camera around and taking pictures so I guess my answer to this is “who knows?”.
Where do you find your models for your work?
All of my models are people that I have personal relationships with in some capacity but the vast majority of them are good friends of mine that trust me and largely went on my journey with me. It makes the work so much more sentimental because these photos are so characteristic of my relationships with them.
What are your future plans?
Right now, I have a few film projects and exhibitions in the works. I recently graduated with my Bachelor in Psychology and am working hard on a photography project that will explore some of the marginalized subcultures (trans,gender queer) in Louisiana so I’m incredibly excited about that.
Follow Ransom Ashley here:
*all images are courtesy of Ransom Ashley.