In Conversation with Courtney Rodwell
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m from California and am currently in Florida. I grew up near the ocean, surprisingly I’m a water element astrologically. Throughout my life, I’ve always wanted to prove myself to the world, be somebody in the world, and I’ve always wanted to share what is inside of me. As a young kid, I was a gymnast, that’s the first way I learnt to express myself.
Eventually, when that chapter ended I faced a very dark period in my life, and that was when art started for me. The last 15 years of my life have been about connection, trying to learn to express myself and find my voice, trying to heal, and be a platform for other people to heal. Photography is what I do. It was the first week of high school and I was already an outcast, separated from everyone else. I found this book in the library by Richard Avedon, he is the father of fashion photography. I was so connected to what I was viewing in those pages, it was the last day of the first week of school and I was sitting between two portables before school starts. The sun was rising and I was flipping through these pages, and all of a sudden it was a connection. I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that was what I ended up doing. I know a lot of people think that the word ‘faith’ means ‘believing’, but I think it means ‘knowing’. It’s an internal calling, and that was my calling.
Which past experiences would you say have shaped your work, design sensibilities, & aesthetic?
I ended up going to as many art classes as I could. I would skip school to sit in the art room so I could paint, draw and write. I found this way of expressing myself because I saw a lot of adversity in my childhood, there was a lot of childhood sexual abuse and trauma that had taken place so this was my only way to express myself. Everything that I created, my sketches, my writing, was dark, but that was the only way I knew how to tell the story.
I ended up going to college for photography, as soon as I graduated I went backpacking in Europe for a few months by myself. When I got back I landed a job at the largest in-house photo studio in the United States, which was OneKreate, now called CreativeDrive. I made my way from the bottom up, as an assistant, stylist’s assistant, digital tech. I kept photographing and showing them what I could do, and then one day the lead photographer was sick, and I got to step in. That day started my whole career.
I became an advertising commercial fashion photographer who did everything from food, children, product, jewellery, fashion, lifestyle, anything. But I was dealing with alcoholism and an eating disorder at the time, my life on the inside was taking a downfall but my whole career on the outside was going up. So there was this sense of separation and disconnection and I had to heal that. I collaborated with a group of people to create an art magazine, that went on for a year. We were at every art show and interviewing artists. So, on one hand, I was doing commercial advertising which did not let me express what was on the inside, and then there was the magazine which was raw, emotional and helped me communicate my feelings.
Eventually, I was getting lost in between these two worlds, and I had to find a balance to co-exist. Then I went into recovery for my problems and that changed my life. During this time I found yoga, started studying spirituality, and my art took on a different form. Now it was not showing the world how I see it, but showing people how beautiful they are, and that became a big calling for me. When you are in the fashion industry there are these rigid belief systems like body image, materialism. So I started photographing real people, not models to show beauty in a different light. I became a yoga instructor and started coaching people spiritually.
What is your personal philosophy in life?
Every time I was practising yoga I would be able to feel a pause in my breath, and every time I had the camera to my face I was doing the same thing. It was all about me connecting with people, whether I had a camera in my hand, or whether I was guiding a classroom for yoga. It’s about me being of service to people and taking them to a vulnerable place, either capturing it or guiding them through it. And that’s what my photography is nowadays, it’s a very intimate session where it gets quiet, all you can feel is each other’s emotions, and that’s what I photograph.
I believe in the duality that to honour the light you have to honour the dark, and a lot of my work represents that. I think authenticity is one of the most beautiful forms one can become in this world. Through being able to create photographs, I have always been able to stay in touch with myself. The breath bridges our inner world with our outer world, and when I am behind the camera, the breathing I do is amazing.
What’s your personal style?
My style has changed a lot over the years, I have experimented a lot especially with my hair. But right now I would say my style is very gentle, it’s very soft. The way I walk on the planet is very gently. Everything I put on my body now is very free, loose, and simple. And I think my outer world looks the same, my photography style reflects the same. There is still a little bit of an edge, but it’s softer now, moody and intimate. My photography style is also very romantic, in a gentle and beautiful way.
What is your vision for your work?
I want to bring truth to the world. I get these projects for photographing Heroine addicts, the epidemic with addiction. I am sober now so I work within that community, I teach yoga, art classes, and photography in drug rehabs. I want to bring to the world to light what is happening addiction-wise because I know it so well. Also, I want to do projects with real women to tackle the issue of body image. I want to help change the belief system that you have to look a certain way to be loved and be beautiful. I want to be able to show the world beauty in every form that it can come. I think that’s where my work is going.
Who are your favourite artists?
Richard Avedon of course, because he was my introduction to photography. The reason I love his work so much because his work expresses movement. It is a big part of his work, it is about evoking the inside to move something. He did a series of portraits across America where he just hung a white sheet and photographed these interesting characters that brought beauty to these individuals that maybe necessarily you wouldn’t find beautiful.
My favourite writers are Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath, so everything that I like is really dark and romantic.
What is your favourite travel destination & why?
My favourite travel destination would be Costa Rica, it still has volcanoes there. my heart always heals when I’m in Costa Rica. The jungle, the Sun, the way the people are there. I think they really know what living is all about because they have a connection with people. One of my favourite things there, when you say thank you to them they say complacer gusto which means ‘I’m happy to please you’. It really touches my heart. I’ve always found beauty and love in Costa Rica and it is always my favourite place.
What are your favourite film, music - that motivate & inspire you?
My favourite film would be Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I also liked Requiem for a Dream, Girl Interrupted. I’m very much about films that make you question reality, with a twist of moodiness thrown in. The way those movies are filmed is so beautiful, they make you sit there and give you a sense of joy. If something doesn’t move me with a feeling I can’t connect with it.
In terms of music, Radiohead is my absolute favourite. It was there for me for many portions of my life, so Radiohead is always my favourite. I love American songwriters, but I don’t like country. I like to go to music festivals at least once every month.