Pride is not just a dedicated month, weekend or day. Pride is a movement toward bringing people together, not just in the LGBT community, but across all walks of life. Local artist/photographer Rikke Ellis-Bahena recognizes the power of Pride and is connecting people with rainbow painted arms grasped and intertwined in unity.
Compelling, smile-inducing, and downright captivating, Ellis-Bahena’s artwork portrays the happy, strong faces of those who are “Together Strong.” PACIFIC recently sat down with Ellis-Bahena to find out more about his photography and his Pride project.
When did you become a photographer?
It started when I was in middle school. My father gave me his camera after I had been eyeing it for a few months. I quickly became fascinated and from then on have continually explored different points of view, angles, lighting and showing people my own perspective of the world.
Have you always been into the arts?
Always. Before photography, there was painting, dancing, writing and reciting poetry. For me, the actual process of creation is what really amazes me in art in any form. The complex feelings involved, the unique perspective of the artist, the way he or she perceives beauty, how the artist manipulates how he or she wants you to perceive what they see through their eyes and also to experience what’s in their heart.
How did you come up with the idea of the painted arms?
The initial idea was for the monthly ad I feature in local magazines to advertise the bar I manage (#1 Fifth Avenue). Since the theme of San Diego Pride this year is “Allied in Action: United for Justice,” my first thought was to feature my bar staff holding hands and paint their hands with different colors, to recreate the colors of the rainbow. I imagine we are marching together, holding hands, creating a shield, making us stronger, indivisible.
These photographs are incredibly powerful. Did you know they would turn out this compelling?
When I began editing, I was surprised how great they were turning out and I saw a powerful, symbolic message for our community. I first featured two Pride volunteers who are social workers and good friends of mine — Benny Cartwright and Rick Cervantes. I released their picture for them to put on social media for their own Pride events. After they put it out there, that’s when I saw the reaction of others and knew that it resonated with many others as well.
What is your message as an artist for this year’s Pride?
As an artist, there is nothing more exciting than seeing your work being shared and making an impact on others. What I care about the most — not just as an artist but as a human being — is that we all matter and deserve respect, equality, to be treated with dignity, with justice, and to have the same opportunities. Most importantly, is to take responsibility for our own actions and be mindful of how we treat one another.
You have created a movement and Facebook page. What’s the future look like?
I’m hoping this continues to gain momentum and grows into something that helps others across the country and eventually across the world. We’ve already scheduled a few local San Diego officials to participate in the next coming weeks, so I’m also hoping that we can continue to have more well-known and influential people participate who can provide a more powerful statement than I can just on my own. Now, I’m building out a calendar of appointments for anyone who wants a photo taken for the campaign, and I’m seeing people are traveling from different parts of the country to participate in San Diego Pride and get their picture taken for this campaign. The response has been overwhelming and makes me very grateful and humbled.
How can San Diegans get involved?
Follow us on Facebook, like and share our photos. The more exposure we have, the more we people we can reach. Come get your photo taken and become part of the movement. No matter age, gender, sexual orientation or any other labels. This is for anyone and everyone. Half of proceeds go to the San Diego LGBT Center and contributes to the amazing programs it has to help the community.
Ready to get your picture taken? Appointments can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a message through the “Together Strong” Facebook page. Photos are taken at San Diego LGBT Center at 3909 Center St. in Hillcrest. The fee is $40 per person.