By SPECIWOMEN Illustration SENDRA UEBELE
"No matter your gender I believe there is a sense of pride associated with chasing your goals and celebrating the strength it takes to do so. There isn't a specific way in which a woman should move about her life."
Who are you?
My name is Rhombie Sandoval and I am an artist exploring my interest in people through photography. I am currently splitting my time between Los Angeles and Iceland as I work on a new body of portraits. I have an intense desire to learn about myself through others and my heart belongs to every open road.
What made you pick up a camera for the first time?
I picked up my camera in high school. I spent time with a group of misfits but they often treated people in a way that didn’t sit right with me. Growing up I attended and now am a counselor at Camp Del Corazon, a camp for kids with congenital heart disease. One of my last nights of camp a friend was crying over not wanting to return to the real world where people made fun of her. I was comforting her and realized how hypocritical it was because back home I surrounded myself with those whom made her life difficult. When I returned for my sophomore year my first class was an Introduction to Photography. I used it as a way to remove myself from that group of friends, telling them all my free time had to be spent finishing assignments in the darkroom. It was an excuse at first until it was the only thing I could think about. My teacher, Mr. Lindroth, recognized my passion and did everything he could to support it. He would leave for the night and allow me to stay and lock up the classroom when I was done. I would often be there for an extra 4-6 hours. The janitors became my friends. I would lay out my prints and they would spend time critiquing them.
Why do you photograph?
I make portraits for the privilege of listening to another. The camera is my favorite tool for learning. The conversations and encounters I have through photography often impact my life, shifting my perspective and helping define how I want to present myself to the world. As I continue to fulfill my desire to travel photography takes me places a map can not. Opening up opportunities that take you away from being a tourist. It has the power to become an invitation into another's world.
Recently I photographed Konrad who I met after approaching him to ask about his car. Every time I saw his Volvo I wanted to know who owned it. I could see the portrait without knowing who it was actually of. I told him how I felt about his car so we set up a time to meet again. Days later, when I arrived he invited me in. After photographing him I ran home to write everything I had learned from our conversation.
I feel that the people I need to meet in my life appear in front of my lens at the time I need to learn from them. If my camera didn't exist in my life I may have just admired his car from a distance. We may never cross paths again but the lessons I learned from him will always be valuable to me. There is a huge difference between being alive and feeling alive, making portraits is when I feel most alive.
When someone views your work, what do you want them to feel?
I want my audience to connect to my photographs in a way that engages a level of compassion. I plan to pair the portraits I am making in Iceland with writing. This is something very new to me but it helps direct the way my audience may feel. Ultimately I don't want their to be an initial judgment for my subject. I want my viewer to stop and find a piece of themselves.
Are there any subjects you feel most comfortable shooting?
I feel most comfortable photographing people I have yet to meet. It isn’t because it's a comfortable process, sometimes the initial approach to a stranger is uncomfortable, but there's an opportunity to gain so much from that discomfort. I find a lot of beauty in my encounters with my subjects, we then part ways knowing we may never see one another again, but I will always have their portrait and a portion of their story to hold onto and share. I also struggle with the word stranger. The first “stranger” portrait I made, was of a man who as I was leaving said, “Just remember there are no strangers only friends you have not met yet.”
What has been the most informative experience you’ve had as a photographer thus far?
When I first began photographing people I would approach them by complimenting them. After a past relationship ended I woke up feeling an overwhelming need to take my camera out. I wasn't in a space where I felt I could compliment anyone. I saw a woman that I wanted to photograph and knew I couldn't miss this portrait opportunity. I walked up to her and decided to tell her why I was out with my camera. I begin to explain that my relationship ended and making portraits was the only thing that helped me feel somewhat "normal" again. At this point I'm sure my eyes were beginning to tear up but she informed me she was going througha breakup as well.
The compliments I would give were honest but I have learned that the honesty past those compliments allows for a much deeper connection to occur.
The more I share myself in an honest way, the more it is reciprocated.
What are you able to convey via film that you can’t digitally?
Using film is essential to my process. Loading film and looking down into the viewfinder is a dance for me. It forces me to slow down and think about each frame. I like that movement with my camera as I create the composition I want. It becomes very one on one, as if everyone who isn’t in my viewfinder disappears.
Film grants you the opportunity to remove instant gratification and come to terms with being patient. That in itself is beautiful to me. I have only used film during my residency in Iceland, waiting until I return to the states to process it. At first it was difficult but it began to shift my practice to focusing on keeping a diary of the stories shared with me. When I scan through this diary I am able to think about what I am missing without having visual confirmation of it.
Are you more comfortable behind or in front of the lens?
I am more comfortable behind the lens, but I grow from facing that discomfort so I have found myself willing to be in front of the lens more often than before.
Where do you draw the most inspiration from?
A lot of my inspiration comes from everyday interactions. I had a five minute conversation with a man who was buying flowers for his dying wife. She had Alzheimers and often didn't remember him. As he spoke I could see the overflowing love he had for her in his eyes. When he left he gifted me the goal to have that love for those in front of my lens.
What is it about photography that allows you to express yourself better than other art forms?
Photography allows me to express myself better than other art forms because it includes going out into the world and experiencing it in order to find my subjects. The education I receive about life through my viewfinder enhances my artistic practice and wellbeing. I am not a person who feels happy staying in one place for an extended amount of time. It is important that my art form can easily move with me.
When I was younger I thought I might want to be a therapist so I could listen and offer guidance to a wide range of people. I aim to do that with an artistic approach now. My art form allows me to listen and learn from a new perspective every time the person in front of my lens changes.
Why has it been important for you, as a woman, to be a photographer?
I do not feel that gender has much to do with why it is important for me to be an artist. It is important for me to be an artist because making portraits and thus connecting with people is my passion, it is how I feel most compelled and able to create positive change. No matter your gender I believe there is a sense of pride associated with chasing your goals and celebrating the strength it takes to do so. There isn't a specific way in which a woman should move about her life. It's important for me to be a photographer because this is my dream, the place I discover strength within myself, and the way I want to move in my life.
Slideshow courtesy of Rhombie Sandoval.