Lexis-Olivier Ray is a photographer and videographer working out of Los Angeles, California. He applies different holds to his two practices. His photos, shot on film, read as timeless reels. His videos, shot on the most modern equipment, personify very contemporary portraits of today’s young cultural landscape. Both mediums access intimate windows into the lives of his subjects from a noninvasive but extremely curious perspective. Be sure to catch him at the Art Book Fair this February in Los Angeles.
What do you shoot on?
For my photos, I shoot exclusively on film, mostly 35mm. My go to 35mm camera is whatever I have available, usually my Pentax k1000 or a point and shoot. But for my video, I own a drone and I shoot on whatever I can afford and need for a project. Usually it is whatever gets me the best image.
What are you working on now?
Starting to work on my next zine for the LA Art Book Fair in February. It's going to be photos from several trips to Puerto Rico. I’m finishing up an ongoing Kickstarter project with a friend to help her raise money for an art project she’s planning on doing in LA. And I just released a 4 minute documentary about a recovering addict and drug counselor in Skid Row in Los Angeles. I plan on shooting more for that in the coming months.
What is Highschool Poppers?
Highschool Poppers is a blog I started 6 years ago. I had another blog at the time but wanted to find a place where I could publish whatever I wanted, so I started Highschool Poppers. The name and the ethos of the blog were built on the idea of being kind of reckless and bold in my art. Originally I featured other photographers on the blog, but eventually it just became me. I try and post something on there once a day, everyday. Today I treat it like an open journal to sketch out ideas and archive work.
How do you choose your subjects? What are some constant themes throughout your work?
Often times, my photographic subjects choose me. Even if I have a clear idea of what I want to shoot going in, I usually find I run into things that I can’t help but capture. I’m drawn to really basic things like color and textures, natural reflective light, human posture and scenes that look like they're from the past.
How much of your work is directed and how much is candid?
Almost all of it is candid in someway even when directed. I'm always looking for a natural element in what I'm shooting. The direction for me comes from creating the scene and putting the right people together with the necessary production tools. I think, as a director, these are the elements that you have the most control over. What someone does in front of a camera is personal. People always change when they know someone is recording them.
Does your video work have a different agenda than your photography?
Yes. Definitely. Shooting on film exclusively makes me a certain type of photographer, but I'm okay with that. I don't ever necessarily want to be put on a situation where I have to shoot digital. If I'm shooting digital, I want to be shooting video not stills. Video is constantly evolving. There is always a newer, better camera at a more affordable price point. Drones are really taking off right now. Images are getting better. I see the digital/video world as a rat race - 4k, 6k, 8k, 360, VR… I definitely fit somewhere in that rat race.
The panoptic landscape shots are striking. Do you have any particular places you love to shoot? How did you film those aerial views?
My favorite places to shoot range from are seemingly mundane places like the town in Connecticut that I grew up or in places that I think everybody could enjoy like Puerto Rico or the Pacific Northwest. As a documenter, I think it's my job to find the imagery that speaks to me no matter where I am. A lot of those shots and opportunities came from booking a one-way plane ticket, packing a bag full of cameras and exploring places I had never been. I have an obsession with window seats on airplanes, and I never step foot on an airplane without a couple of cameras.
What is your background? How did you get into photography and video?
My mom studied photography when I was a kid, so I grew up with a darkroom in my basement and lots of photo resources. I kind of just picked up a camera one day and started getting into the process of shooting film, and it's held my attention ever since. As for video, I went to movie camp with my brother when I was a kid. We made a movie called “That's a Lot of Birdshit” one summer at the local High School. Years later, digital technology (obviously) got really big and my pursuit for the best image started.
I noticed you are involved in nightlife and the music. What is your relationship to that? Can you tell us about your music videos?
My friends and I threw parties for four years in NYC. I still have friends that are involved with that life, so that's how I'm still affiliated, but I've personally retired from that line of work. I love music though, and it's still a big part of my work. I've recently gotten into scoring my own music for my projects.
Music videos are usually super random. I stumbled on the last one because I found out Tinashe was shooting a video in my apartment building and they needed an AD to manage the set. I just so happened to know most of the crew, so I took over. That video has over 4 million views. Another time we were shooting a music video in the lion's den of a Jewish mansion in Long Island, and I had a seizure. The video never even came out... Music videos provided me with a lot of experience. The ones that have worked out have been super beneficial, but there's always an element of surprise.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
A sense of time and place.