After quitting her nine to five job in 2015, hip-hop photographer Raven B. Varona, also known as Ravie B, has been working full-time to build her brand while shooting live photos some of rap’s heavy hitters. For the past four years, the 25 year-old, former NYU student and Bronx, New York native has been covering music and culture events around the city but a recent personal project with two of her friends landed her a spot as a lifestyle photographer for the Purple Reign sensation Future. B’s journey to taking candids of the rapper was fueled by her passion for hip-hop music and consistently working towards her goals to be a professional photographer. She’s not phased by the underestimation she’s received as woman in a male dominated industry. Instead she uses it as steam to work hard at creating exceptional work that speaks for itself—all while being extremely charismatic and gorgeous.
Ravie B, spoke with The FADER over the phone about Future’s words of encouragement, how she deals with the guys who make passes at her and her dream photoshoot with Beyoncé.
What was the moment when you knew that you had to follow this passion?
I worked at a real estate company and I was a receptionist and my boss would always ask me to get him coffee. I was in the middle of dealing with leases and a bunch of other shit and he’d be like, “Can you get me coffee?” over and over and I was finally like, “I literally cannot do this anymore. I cannot continue to put my passion on hold.” So at that moment I was like, “This isn’t for me.” I felt like my photography was getting noticed more and I was getting asked to do more jobs. Before, I was getting asked to shoot after work and on the weekends. I think the fact that I felt like I could finally make a living off it without my 9-5 is what really pushed me to do it full-time.
“You can be so big, just trust me. Don’t ever go back to a regular 9 to 5.”
What is it like taking photographs of Future? How did that opportunity come about?
Me and my two friends, one is Kate and my other friend Ramya. Kate designs websites and Ramya does a lot of things in music. This was when the #FutureHive hashtag sort of came about. These kids in Atlanta, they started this hashtag and it was these memes of Future but, it was the first time we’d seen this Future craze online. He’d dropped Monster and Beast Mode and my friend Kate goes, “Hey, I just bought the Future Hive domain and I don’t know what we can do with it but I have it.” The three of us played around with it and we ended up making this interactive thing where you click his head and it’d be a lyric and we linked his newest mixtape which was 56 Nights. I’d gotten asked to shoot he Hot 97 Future listening session for DS2. Elliott Wilson was there and he had just done the documentary on Future. Me and Elliott have a close relationship, so he goes, “Hey I want you to take pictures of us.”
So when I went downstairs he goes, “This is one of the girls who started the Future Hive website.” So he goes, “Oh my God, thank you so much.” I say, “We didn’t start the hashtag but we made the site so it would be something tangible. So the next day I was shooting his Epic listening party and I posted a photo and Future must have liked it so he DM’d me and we exchanged information. He asked me to come out and shoot another show, then a Jersey show, and [now] if he wants me to shoot when he’s in New York, he’ll just hit me up.
So social media played a big role in connecting you.
100 percent. It was cool because all these kids that do #FutureHive and follow me for photos of Future are always think it’s so cool because they remember when it was just a Twitter thing. I think the biggest thing is that, he really does like my work and he’ll tell me all the time. I had just quit my job when I met him and he said, “You can be so big, just trust me. Don’t ever go back to a regular nine-to-five.” Shooting him is helping me because it’s showing that I can also do things outside of live concert stuff and it’s also great having an artist that you admire also admiring your work back.
We constantly see images that photographers have taken of rappers via social media but you’re really gaining some up close and personal access to some major hip-hop artists. What would you say has distinctively set you apart thus far to be able to do that?
I have a very personal personality. You haven’t met me but I’m pretty outgoing and friendly. I think it doesn’t hurt that I’m a female especially since it’s a male dominated industry. A lot of times people aren’t really intimidated by me—even though they should be. I have the opportunities to meet people and because they’re not intimidated they always feel comfortable around me. I always say that I don’t really have a niche in my style. It comes with the way that I can capture people and make it feel very familiar.
What are some other positives of being one of the few women that are impacting this specific field?
For me, it’s just showing other young women that it’s possible. I get a lot of gratitude from meeting young girls whether they DM on twitter or in person like, “We’re aspiring photographers and we’re motivated by you because we see you out in the field doing your thing.” Showcasing that you can do it and you can be a female in this industry. I was reading an article the other day about the top 10 hip-hop photographers this year and it was all males. I know a handful of women photographers that are killing it. I’m holding my femininity and showcasing myself as a woman in a man’s world in order to keep going because I just don’t want to get lost in the sauce.
What do you mean “get lost in the sauce?”
I just feel like as a woman you do have to work harder and I always just want to be recognized for my work. Yes, you want to be acknowledged as a woman but you also want to be seen as equal at the same time.
The other day me and one of my close friends were talking about you the other day from looking at your social media. She mentioned how pretty you are and we noticed your Instagram comments. I wondered how that is for you because I know that a lot guys definitely…
Hit on me? [laughs] Yeah. I notice that it’s in any field. You can work in real estate, a shoe store… I’ve had a bunch of odd jobs. I think my style could be some of it because I’m also sporty. It doesn’t bother me, I think it helps with my brand. Not only do I want you to work with me because you love my work but I also want you to work with me because of the experience that comes from just interacting. Aside from Terry Richardson being super perverted, his brand is kind of like that. People want to work with him for his name and for his brand as well. It’s about me building my my own and whether it’s connecting dots or bringing people together. That comes with me. I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t still posting selfies on my Instagram.
Can you recall an experience where you were reminded of your gender in an industry that’s male-dominated? How do you handle that obstacle?
I was doing a photoshoot in early Fall. It was for a clothing brand and when I got on set one of the guys who was a part of the team for the brand came up to me and he goes, “Oh, are you here for hair and makeup? Or the stylist?” I go, “No, I’m the photographer for the shoot.” I had a crop top on, jeans, my hair was curly and I felt like he just didn’t assume that I would be the photographer even though I had a camera in my hand and I was walking around waiting. Other than that, when I’m in the pit and there’s 30 other men and then me at something like Summer Jam. I do see a lot of women especially shooting hip-hop now. I wouldn’t say I’m the only one but definitely one of the few though.
I’m also an avid hip-hop listener. I shoot hip-hop a lot because I enjoy hip-hop and I want to shoot things that I do have an interest in. A lot of times on Twitter, to an extent I’ll voice my opinions on things. You learn that you can’t really argue with random strangers but it’s insane how much a female’s opinion on music or sports or anything is overlooked because she’s a woman.
Who are some of your favorite performers to shoot?
Right now, I’d say Future obviously. But, he’s more so my favorite because he’s the first major artist that I’ve gotten to shoot lifestyle shots of off camera and in concert. For New Years Eve, I followed him around for a day-in-the-life to his rehearsals, getting ready for his show. The next day, I shot behind the scenes for his music video. He really gives me the opportunity to showcase different work especially as an hip-hop artist. I don’t want people to think that I’m only a concert photographer or a live photographer because I really do enjoy candid moments and showing people in a different light. For Future, those photos for me were personal because they showed him in a suit with his friends and candids like that are way more important than a live concert shot.
I really also love shooting Ross live, I’ve shot Drake maybe once so my goal this year is to shoot him. I shot Kanye for his Yeezus show but I didn’t have a photo pass so my goal is to get a little closer to artists that I do really listen to. I like anyone who gives you a performance and if they can give you action shots off and on stage and they have a character. Oh, and I love shooting Big Sean because of his stage visuals. This year one of my favorites was shooting Sean for summer jam because he had this crazy stage set up and he was really dope.
You tweeted the other day, “Need to dedicate more time to bettering my craft. Not satisfied.” In what ways do you want to improve?
When I go home, I’ll always go back and look at past work. Everything I shot before, I just don’t like. I don’t feel like the vision that I have in my head is being properly executed. It’s more so with personal photo shoots with models, portraits, fashion stuff. I want to showcase my talents more than I do. It’s great that people know me for hip-hop or live shoots but my inspirations and the things I like to shoot—I don’t always do all the time. Whether it’s something like I don’t have a studio space or I don’t have a model or think the look is right. This year, it’s about doing shoots that really express the visions I have in my head. In order to be good at something you constantly have to work on it. I just want to make sure I’m picking up my camera all the time. Even if it’s not for work, it can be in the city, shooting street style stuff or lifestyle. Just making sure I’m constantly shooting to better my eye.
Where do you pull inspiration from to do that?
Movies. A lot of movies. I love to watch movies to feel the aesthetics of them but when I was a kid my mom had bags of photographs that she would take. I would just sit on the living room floor and look at candid photos of family members or friends that I didn’t know that she knew growing up. I think that’s where I developed my style and that’s why my photos have such a personal feel to it. I’m so wrapped up on those candid shots. When you look back especially like, I’m 25 and I’m the generation that collected magazines and used AOL dial-up. Those iconic hip-hop shots in magazines or watching videos on MTV was big for me so I’m always trying to share that nostalgia when I’m shooting.
What's your dream photo shoot? Who's in it? Where is it?
My absolute dream photo shoot -- this going to be so cliche but I don’t care, would be shooting Beyoncé. That is my dream shoot. I am obsessed with Beyoncé as most women are. I don’t know where it would be but I would love to do something intimate. I love her blog because I feel like she’s in control of what we see when it comes to what we see in her personal life with Blue or with Jay and I would love to shoot her around the house in her natural state and then super glammed up Beyoncé to show the juxtaposition. I’d love to show a day in the life. Her waking up in the morning, putting on her makeup, doing her hair. She’ll do natural things but it’s natural on her terms.