Photographers on Photographers: Alex Henderson in Conversation with Rahwa Weldemichael
Rahwa Weldemichael is a 21-year-old Eritrean film photographer, creative director, and community organizer based in the DMV area. She attends Allegheny College and is studying Community and Justice studies and Multicultural Education. She specializes in portraits and documentary work. Her photos capture the things that are most important to her. This includes Black culture, community, her loved ones, and anything she finds intriguing. She hopes to inspire other young people of color to lean into photography as a way of storytelling.
Follow Rahwa Weldemichael on Instagram: @filmby.ro
Alex Henderson: How did you get started in film photography?
Rahwa Weldemichael: I started shooting film during the pandemic. I was always interested in photography but the pandemic really pushed me to try everything I have been putting off. I self taught myself photography through countless youtube videos and practice. I started off with a film camera and haven’t worked with a digital camera yet because I just became stuck on film. Film helps me become patient with myself and trust in my art. I see how these lessons I learned from film carried on into my other areas of everyday life. I see myself being more patient and intentional with myself.
AH: Do you have any inspiration for your color grade choice?
RW: I am still learning how to color grade, but I love warm toned pictures and making my pictures look angelic and glowy as well. It makes them feel magical.
AH: Do you have a film stock preference?
RW: Portra 400 is my go to film stock for photoshoots but the first film stock I fell in love with is Kodak Gold and I’m starting to get back into that! It never fails me.
AH: Have you participated in any galleries or shows?
RW: I have not but I would really love to be a part of a gallery with other talented photographers one day.
AH: Your recent Y2K set was absolutely beautiful! Any inspirations for creative direction for this set?
RW: Thank you! The couple that modeled in this actually came up with the idea for the shoot and came to me with a backdrop and everything which was really dope. Although I love creative directing, I love when people come to me with ideas and choose me to make it come to life. It makes the whole photography process so much more special. Once they came to me with this idea I made a pinterest mood board with outfit and pose ideas. I really wanted the photos to look like they came straight from the 2000’s so I wanted to go with the classic poses, white t-shirt and gold hoop combo. I also wanted to make sure to get individual shots to capture details. Such as nails, earrings, and the heart shape braided into the models hair which was really beautiful. After this y2k shoot and also reflecting on the 70’s fashion shoot I did, I realized I really love trying to make my photos feel like the person viewing it is time traveling in that era. I hope to experiment with this time travel photography idea more.
AH: I can see a connection between your lens and your subjects. Are there any specific or intentional tools that you use to help you create this space with your subjects?
RW: Music! My favorite part of doing a photoshoot is that I make a playlist that correlates with the vibe of the shoot and I have my speaker on the whole time . Music helps me relax before my shoots and I see how it helps the model feel more comfortable too, especially if we don’t know each other that well yet or if they are camera shy. Music sparks conversation and makes people feel confident. Whatever emotions I want the model to evoke in the pictures is also the type of music that I try to play. I also find myself hyping up the models a lot and I love seeing them smiling and happy when they are in front of the camera because it doesn’t come easy for everyone. I don’t want them to ever feel insecure when they are in front of my lens.
AH: Black beauty and fashion seems to be a recurring theme in portraits of yourself and your subjects. What is your connection to the idea of black beauty?
RW: Black people and Black culture are beautiful and I want everyone to see that. Being Black and being a Black woman is very important to my identity and I want my photos to reflect the things and people I care about. Especially since it is not something I have always embraced growing up in a predominantly white area. With a lot of my work focusing on black culture, I hope that my work in the future cna inspire other black women to pick up a camera and try photography.
AH: Can you elaborate on how you choose the styles or themes for your photoshoots?
RW: I really just do whatever I’m feeling most of the time. I am still finding my style of photography. As of right now I want to do more documentary work. I meet so many great people, visit amazing places, and I’m from a great community so I want to take a step back from planning photoshoots and work on capturing my environment around me more. I find that when I do focus on this more I am more excited to shoot and it keeps photography exciting for me.
AH: What is next for you?
RW: I will be featured in the first edition of 87th Family magazine this summer 2022! My 70’s themed photos will be featured and I’m so excited about this because I collaborated with my sister and model, Helen Weldemichael. 87th Family is a great community that highlights lots of photographers that go underappreciated, including many black photographers.
As of right now, I am a Teaching Fellow at a summer program in Denver, Colorado teaching Reading and Art to middle school students in a predominantly Black and Brown area of Denver. We are exploring how community culture and identity can play a massive role in storytelling through all forms of art and literature. Currently, I am preparing for our photography unit. I am so excited to share my passion with my students! I graduate from college next year and I hope to enter into an alternative teacher program where I can gain hands-on experience and attain my master’s at the same time. Anti-racist education and community organizing is my first passion. I hope to become a middle school English teacher and Photographer.
Alex Henderson is a documentary and portrait photographer. She is a student at the Arizona State University studying photography with a concentration in black & white and color film photography.
Henderson’s work involves filling comfortable and familiar spaces with different narratives and viewpoints to show various perspectives. Henderson is a mental health advocate whose work ties emotional awareness with visual documentation. Through engagement with her personal community, she works to assist in creating a better version of others through self work, self expression and visual representation. She captures moments shared within everyday life as documentation of growth and overcoming triumphs. Her current work is rooted in documenting her interactions and time spent with family and friends.
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