Gallery Talks: Diverse beauty fuels this young artist, who shows with Nataal and Red Hook Labs at New African Photography III

Born in east London, Ronan Mckenzie, became a photographer after dropping out of a BA in fashion communication at Central Saint Martins in 2014. In just four years, she’s put on a solo show, created her own publication and shot for i-D, Wonderland and Vogue Paris. She also counts Nike, Stella McCartney and Adidas among her clients. Her work offers a frank and intimate celebration of the female body and soul.

You started out as a stylist. How did you make the move to photography?
I met the photographer Piczo at a party and agreed to style a test shoot for him. On the day I brought my camera and started taking my own pictures. He was so generous, he gave me the space to experiment. That was my lucky break.

How did you begin working in film?
My boyfriend had an old film camera so I borrowed it and started shooting on the auto setting – I wasn’t technical at all. I taught myself by watching photography lessons on YouTube. I was working part-time and living at home, so I was free to learn with no pressure.

Tell us about your ongoing project, Girls.
I went to an all-girls school so I’ve always been really connected to other females. In addition to all the model tests I’ve done, I’ve also shot portraits of my friends and my mother. I want to celebrate all women.

Your aesthetic is minimal and exudes a distinct confidence.
There’s honesty in simplicity. I don’t like to explain my process too much, but I want to create an arena where every woman can exist and be beautiful. I’m incorporating more older women in my work at the moment. I recently completed a Kodak Projects piece entitled Creativity Doesn’t Discriminate, for which I shot a 55- year-old woman. I don’t think that as you get older you become less beautiful.

Can you tell me about your first exhibition, A Black Body, in 2015?
It was at Dalston’s Doomed Gallery and was originally meant to be a group show about the lack of portrayal of black people. It was instigated by my friend Rachel, who was one of the only black people on her MA at the RCA, and we both needed to explore this absence of visibility. She had to pull out, so it became a solo show and it snowballed from there. i-D reviewed the show and then other publications followed.

Were there any stand-out moments?
One 14-year-old girl messaged me after the show saying it had made her feel more confident, and that it was okay to only showcase black people in her creative work, if that’s what she wanted to do.

You created your own magazine, Hard Ears. What was the motivation for this?
I wanted to create something non-elitist that related to me and my friends. I wanted something beautiful and full of incredible content by talented people –regardless of how famous they were.

Nataal: New African Photography III runs from 4 to 13 May at Red Hook Labs, 133 Imlay St, Brooklyn, NY, open 10am-6pm daily

All works are available from Red Hook Labs and Artsy and sales support the artists in their work.

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Published on 02/04/2018