Artist Interview - Ron Cooper

You've made a career of making beautiful portraits. Perfect technique, eloquent story-telling, and refreshing humanism.  How did you get started?

Ever since I can remember, I've been fascinated by travel, languages, culture, and people. I attended Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT), majored in sociology, and took anthropology, psychology, world music, and art classes. I spent a semester in Mexico, taking advantage of the opportunity to improve my fluency in Spanish, to travel extensively, and to visit many parts of the country that were, at the time, less developed. I took one photography class in college, and I didn't pick up a camera again for over 30 years.

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Ron Cooper

I semi-retired after 35 years in telecommunications, internet, new media, and advertising, and now I reserve as much time as possible for travel and photography. I've been extremely fortunate to have travelled to more than 45 countries.

What made you return to photography? 

My interest in photography was rekindled about 15 years ago when I began to do more international travel.

Initially, I just wanted to document some of what I was seeing and experiencing in my travels. I did landscape, architectural, and street photography but almost no people or portrait photography. I was uncomfortable approaching people and asking to take someone's picture, and it felt sneaky and disrespectful to shoot pictures of unsuspecting people with a telephoto lens.

But, you've done hundreds of portraits, all of them deeply-seen collaborations with your subjects.

Somewhere along the line, I was able to shed my inhibitions and my reluctance to approach people. When I did, especially in less developed parts of the world, I was almost always pleasantly surprised that people said yes when I asked to make their portrait. Often they were surprised because they had never been asked before.

The portraits of Native Americans that you include here are stunningly beautiful but there's a deeper significance.

Several years ago, I met and photographed Lauren and Franki Maestas-Chavez, members of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo near Española in northern New Mexico. Franki and Lauren are brother and sister twins and, at the time I first met them, they were juniors in high school. They attended (and have since graduated) the Indian School in Santa Fe (SFIS). Originally established in the late 1800s, Indian Schools attempted to assimilate native children by removing them from their families, forbidding the use of their native languages and traditions, and requiring them to emulate white behaviors and beliefs. Now, Lauren and Franki are beneficiaries of a much-improved SFIS, where 

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