Get Familiar: Ashley Röttjers
Interview by Passion Dzenga | Photography by Ashley Röttjers | Portrait by Willemskantine
Ashley Röttjers has been a pivotal part of Team Patta this year, firstly being the woman behind the lens during our Highsnobiety feature "Meet the Pattas - the Dutch Royal Family of Fashion" before spearheading the photoshoot for our inaugural Patta Femme line. She is always a pleasure to work with so we took sometime to get familiar with the Rotterdam-based visual artist to find out where she has been and where she is going.
How did you first get into photography?
My love for photography began in high school. My mom’s compact camera was my first love, after conducting little photoshoot with my friends, I soon realised that I loved making my friends feel seen and show them their individual beauty. This slowly grew out to be my favourite activity. I then started saving up for my first DSLR at 14 and bought it with all my savings. Little did I know I’d never put the camera away again. It wasn’t until I started Art School I realised that this is it for me as I soon realised nothing else quite did it like photography. Photography gave me the voice I much needed at the time and gave me the power to tell stories without using even a single word. It still does just that, but now I’m no longer afraid to speak up.
Where do you like to be the most, in the studio or on location?
I might lean a bit more to on location shooting. However, I think it really depends on what I’m looking for. The studio gives me a controlled environment and urges me to be more resourceful in posing and angles, whereas location provides more context and somewhat of a mystery to the image. Preparation and production value are key for both.
What is the subject matter behind most of your work?
The subject of my photography is ever-changing as I feel I must be flexible in this industry. Personally, I love shooting women in the broadest sense. I always have and always will. Women fascinate me as it entails everything and offer a constant reflection of myself. My background in critical theory have always made me question what it means to be a woman of colour and therefore I like to challenge and explore this through my camera. Having struggled with my own self esteem as a direct effect of the lack of representation, I aim to update our daily media intake and contribute to a more representative perception of our society through photography and film. Even though, I strongly feel inclusivity should be a given and not an accomplishment it’s important to diversify the ones telling the stories.
How do you feel the female gaze affects your photography?
There are many factors to the gaze of the photographer, it goes beyond simply female or male. I think it’s more about the intention of whoever is behind the camera. Striving to a create a safe and fun environment on every set is key to my work, I feel this shows in the final image. In my experience, I set my ego aside and allow the image to be collaborative while still leading towards a certain outcome.
What role does the medium of print take in your work?
Print is tangible. These days I feel photography is prone to be fast pace and short-lived, resulting in more work opportunity but also more noise hence less impact. Taking time to work on an image and then seeing it in print is such a lovely feeling. Print is a craft on its own and the choices in paper, size and display can give so much more depth to the initial image. I think that’s why many, as myself, are drawn to shooting on film. Film makes you more aware and precise in your process. To then develop your film and print it by hand is like magic and never ceases to amaze me.
When you’re not working on images, what keeps you busy?
When I’m not working as a photographer, I’m chasing my love for directing film. I enjoy reading, writing and cooking. I’d love to learn something new every day. Currently, I’m trying to live more in the moment and enjoy the simpler things.
You also own and manage a daylight photo studio, what other areas of the industry can people of colour and women start taking more ownership in?
I think it’s key to not ostracise black women. We can be and do whatever we want, are not better or less in anything specifically. Putting us in a separate ball-game defeats the purpose of inclusivity. In this industry specifically, I feel there’s definitely more space for people of colour behind the scenes. Slowly, but surely I see this happening. Hence, myself.
What sort of set-up do you typically roll with around your neck when you’re off the clock?
Off the clock, it’s just me and my iPhone. I might have my Yashica T5 with a roll of black and white film, creating my favourite shots till this day.
What challenges have you faced being in such a male-dominated industry?
There’s lots of strength in people thinking less of you. I can’t deny that I’ve faced some challenges in this industry and I’m pretty sure I always will. Having people think less of you simply because I’m a woman of colour is not something I enjoy, but I have realised that no one should have such an impact on you, but you. Obviously, this is easier said than done. I like to surround myself with like-minded people and drown out the noise like that. The power of eliminating every other voice besides my own affirms my own beliefs and fuels my ambition on a daily.
You recently shot Team Patta for Highsnobiety, how was the energy in the room that day?
It was a lovely and short photoshoot. The atmosphere was real and genuine, the Patta team is inspiring and warm. Above all, I felt respected by each and every single person that day.
And now you have created the editorial for the Patta Femme collection, what was the creative process like there?
The shoot was truly a pleasure, it can be refreshing to work on a female dominated set. I have the utmost respect for every single woman involved. Specifically, I worked a lot with Violetta and Josefine during this process, who are truly inspiring women.
What can we expect from you in the near future?
In the future you can expect more autonomous projects, a balance in photography and film projects. I’m always exploring more ways to express myself and create more layers to my work. In the near future some exciting video projects are coming out and more long-term projects are on the horizon.