A photographer connecting art and the natural world

Arms raised high and tangled in a crimson bed sheet, he carried a mattress above his head through the sand in Morro Bay.

Emerson Ricard laughed as he recalled the handful of “strange looks” while setting up for the beach portrait.

Shortly after the photo was taken, 23-year-old Ricard was told that he had been admitted to the School of Visual Arts with a merit scholarship for photography in New York City next fall. Ricard moved to Los Osos in 2012 and currently resides in Morro Bay. In his time in San Luis Obispo county, Ricard’s recent photo series has focused on the LGBTQIA+ community with a strong emphasis on nature.

Many of his images feature Cal Poly students. Ricard said that most importantly, his art aims to spark conversation about human relationships and representation.

“I’m interested in the power that comes from the relationships we have with each other and the natural world, and how different apparatuses have been created to separate us from that power,” Ricard wrote in an email to Mustang News.

Last month, Ricard’s work was showcased at Downtown San Luis Obispo’s Art After Dark at Libertine Brewery. The room buzzed with conversations, hugs and mimosas.

Courtesy | Emerson Ricard

“There is such a beautiful community of queer people here in [San Luis Obispo], so it’s really special to see ourselves displayed on the walls,” Ricard said. “Showcasing something or someone that tends to be ignored is very powerful.”

One of Ricard’s best friends, ethnic studies senior Gianna Bissa, performed their music at the show. Ricard said that if he could save only one photo in a fire, it would be the photo of Bissa.

Courtesy | Emerson Ricard

Courtesy | Emerson Ricard

Courtesy | Emerson Ricard

He and Bissa were halfway submerged in the tide pools for most of the photo shoot. He said enduring the cold was worth it because the photos of Gianna sparked an entire series of work about representation and the tie between the LGBTQIA+ community and nature.

“The look of longing and gaze, of kind of despair but also kind of love and strength and isolation, separation, it is all there for me in that photo,” Ricard said. “That was one of the first photos out of all these images [in the art show] that I created.”

Bissa said they have been friends with Emerson since their freshman year. They said they are impacted by Ricard’s ability to make people feel beautiful.

“Emerson really photographs a lot of queer people and queer people of color, and makes us feel really beautiful,” Bissa said. “I think that’s something that’s so important for photographers and artists to practice is thinking about how they want to showcase the beauty of people that maybe aren’t made to feel beautiful, in a society where the gender binary and judgements are so prevalent.”

Ricard said that artists are important to both campus and overall society because of their ability to be disruptive.

“Artists on campus shape the energy into something so much more fun, accepting, and interesting. They challenge the status quo, and make people uncomfortable,” Ricard wrote. “They live passionately. Those are the kinds of people you need everywhere, especially at Cal Poly.”

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