Although wanderlust has brought photographer Carla Richmond to a number of cities in the United States and abroad, a lot of her work has focused on people who have set down roots in their own environments. Appropriately titled “Environmental Portraits,” the ongoing series is a record of Richmond’s encounters with friends and strangers taken in their homes or daily settings.
Richmond, who currently lives in Los Angeles but was educated in New England and grew up bouncing around the country, was introduced to portraiture early in her college career and quickly realized it was her medium, a way of making art as well as a great way to meet and learn about people. She started the series while waitressing and bartending in college at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, haunt Charlie’s Kitchen, which she describes as an “old dive, double cheeseburger, lobster roll kind of place.” She asked some of her regular customers if she could make portraits of them in their homes, feeling it was a good starting point because she felt safe with them. The experience opened the floodgates and soon thereafter, Richmond kept her eyes open for possible subjects.
Sometimes she sees a trigger—the antlers hanging on the shed in the photo of Wendy from Shell, Wyoming, for example—and decides to approach that person about taking his or her portrait. Other times the process can take a longer amount of time. Currently, Richmond is trying to take a portrait of everyone who is living on her street. Some people she asked right away, while other people she’s waited to approach even though she’s seen them countless times. “I can be shy, and it has to feel organic,” she said.
Although she has taken many of the portraits while on the road, Richmond said she is setting herself goals and assigning herself stories while staying at home in Los Angeles. “People romanticize road trips or think that to be a true artist you have to be on the road,” she said. “It’s nice to know you can be creative or productive anywhere you are, no matter how many jobs you work or no matter what your life is like. … I want to create my own content and I want to tell my own stories.”
Richmond said for the most part people seem to enjoy having their portraits taken.
“Most people are flattered, especially if they feel you are genuine and it’s something you really love and want to capture,” she said. “It makes them feel important and people really love to talk about their lives.”
Once she has found a spot in a home (or outside of it) to set up the portrait, Richmond asks her subject to sit in the frame and then has a conversation with him or her while taking the photographs. The entire process is fascinating to her. “People invite you into their home and you sit in their living rooms and you learn about them from what they offer you to drink, what they play on their radios, and what they put on their walls. … It has given me a way to explore things. It may seem ordinary to many people, but to me, it’s extraordinary, and I love it,” she said.