Mood To Shape

Photographs by Brian Ulysses Ortega
Interview via emails, November 2016

What compels you to make photographs?

I’ve been consistently taking photos every day since I could afford a camera, so it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that I’m dependent on the process. I hold the process of creating a photograph very close to my heart. For me, it’s a very rewarding form of self expression and relaxes me.

I’m not 100% sure if that's the answer but my friends say I can be difficult to be around if I haven’t taken a photo for a while. My mind gets fogged by thoughts of creating my next image, if I can’t translate what I’m thinking or feeling into a photograph my days feel off.

What do you look for in subject matter?

I look for honesty—it’s the first thing I look for when connecting with a subject I don’t know. It’s much easier to find honesty in close friends and the people I surround myself with. Most of my portrait work consists of people I’m familiar with and have a deeper connection with. I often find myself staring at people on the streets thinking to myself, “can i bring out the real in them?” I’m not really interested in a surface image. When I’m making a photo, I want to understand that person deeply.

How important is the role of light to your work?

Crucial. Especially in a studio, light makes the image—from mood to shape to quality, literally everything. Having spent time manipulating it in studio, I understand now more than ever how much it dictates how I make a photo. I’m constantly studying and learning from light every day.

Who are the artists that most inspire your art practice?

As far as photographers go, Viviane Sassen is probably my number one, but I could go on and on about big names like Saul Leiter, William Klein, Richard Avedon, Frank Ockenfels, William Eggleston. Friend photographers really inspire me too, like Tatum Mangus, Jason Henry, Andrew Paynter, and Go Tanabe.

What is it that drives you to keep making work?

I’m not sure where the drive comes from. Maybe it’s my desire to create something everyday, or my insomnia—thinking about the universe and how it all relates to everything. Maybe it’s a need to make something from the nothingness between all of us.