Interview: Akasha Rabut
According to her bio, photographer Akasha Rabut is “based out of New Orleans, New York City, San Francisco and Chicago.” But really, Rabut is based out of everywhere. Wherever Rabut happens to be wandering, she’s prone to capture gorgeous moments of ephemeral intimacy. If there’s any common thread in Rabut’s globe-trotting body of work, it’s a feeling of deep kinship– a very human bond between photographer and subject that shines through the graceful stillness of her compositions.
How is your photography influenced by your travels? Where are your favorite places to take pictures?
I love an adventure and exploring the unknown. I’m inspired by unfamiliar scenery and I’m always entertained by everyday encounters and interactions. Traveling to foreign territory and watching people interact with each other is one of my favorite pastimes. There’s also something about traveling that helps me gain clarity in life and in my photography.
My favorite places to take pictures are the Pacific Northwest and Wyoming. I recently went to a tiny land mass gathered in between the cluster of islands off the coast of Vancouver called Saturna. I haven’t been able to get the landscape out of my head and I’m really enjoying the photos that I took there.
What’s the story behind A High School for Teenage Parents?
I’m very interested in adolescent girls and social issues. A High School for Teenage Parents was inspired by A Teenage Slumber Party. Toward the end of that project, sex was a hot topic, although all of the girls were virgins. I began researching teen pregnancy in the United States and learned that the US has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world. Teen mothers are less likely to graduate from high school and very rarely get the opportunity to go to college. Aside from lower educational levels and higher poverty rates teen pregnancies are associated with an entourage of many different social issues.
I really wanted to do a project about teen pregnancy that had a positive spin on things. Unfortunately there are not that many High schools in the US that are dedicated to educating teen parents. Coincidentally, one of the first high schools for teen parents was started in San Francisco – that’s where I was living at the time. I contacted Hill Top with my project idea and they immediately invited me to come photograph their students.
I remember the first day of my project, I accidentally stumbled into the cafeteria. There were about 30 baby carriages parked against the wall and a room full of teenagers that were either pregnant or holding an infant. It was an incredible sight. The school was dense with so much information and imagery. Everywhere I looked there was something graphically interesting happening. I think I burned through 10 rolls of film that day.
The most inspiring quality of that school was that its focus is to provide teen mothers with a full spectrum of educational services. So they can be responsible, effective and self-sufficient parents. The school offers everything from parenting education to prenatal education, health education, nutrition education, life skills classes, peer support groups and counseling. I don’t think very many people know that that school exists. It was thrilling to be a part of that environment and have the opportunity to do a project there.
Who inspires you?
My friends and my family continue to inspire me on a daily basis. I’m a part of an all-female photography collective called Southerly Gold. The group includes myself and three other amazing ladies that live in New Orleans. We work on projects together and give each other a lot of constructive feedback. We actually have our second group show coming up this fall. It’s really motivating to be surrounded by such talented women. I’m also inspired by the work of Daniel Seung Lee, David Chencellor, Andrew B Myers, Taryn Simon and Stefan Ruiz.
What was shooting A Teenage Slumber Party like?
A Teenage Slumber Party was exactly what you would imagine it to be. It was incredibly silly and then there were moments when things were grave and somber. I had initially intended on following them for all 4 years of high school. About 6 months into it I started receiving text messages and phone calls at all hours of the night, and actually had to buy a text plan specifically for this project.
These girls confided in me like I was a diary, which was quite daunting. At that point I realized that I was becoming emotionally involved and I interpreted that as signal to finish the project early. The project spanned a little over a year and I think I got some amazing images. I also walked away with a valuable learning experience.
What’s your trick to capturing a great portrait?
I wish I had a trick! Making portraits can be really difficult. I work with so many different personalities on a regular basis. I’ve learned that it really helps to pay attention to body gestures and patterns and figure out what makes a person feel comfortable in front of the camera. The best portraits that I’ve taken have been while people are relaxed and off guard.