MALIBU — It’s rare to see Daria Kobayashi-Ritch leave her house without her camera and the 17-year-old is known among her friends because of it.
“If I don’t have my camera, I have my phone,” she said. “My friends know it too. If we’re going somewhere they never bring cameras because it’s like, Daria’s going to have it.”
But don’t expect to find the typical photos of smiling teenagers at the beach or the movies on her computer. Kobayashi-Ritch, a junior at New Roads High School, conducts full photo shoots with her friends, artfully documenting their lives in a way most people her age wouldn’t.
“We would set up different times where they would come over and dress up and just walk around the neighborhood and take pictures. A lot of my friends liked taking pictures with me because they liked my work,” she said.
Even when she’s out with friends, they aren’t her only subject.
“Her shots are great because she documents everything, not just friends. She actually documents the event,” said her mom Jane Kobayashi.
The dedicated student and Malibu native also works for her school yearbook, taking photos of every student in lieu of the standard class photos.
In May she held an exhibit of her photographs Downtown, adorning the walls with the faces of people who have long been a part of her life.
“That’s my mom,” Kobayashi-Ritch said as she explained her photos, which also included shots of her friends and hairdresser.
The exhibit, held on May 23 in an empty office building, was the result of an independent study program through New Roads, located on the east end of town. Kobayashi-Ritch presented a proposal to the principal, asking to work on a photography project as a supplement to her regular high school courses.
“Most people do a 40 page thesis paper. I asked to study photography,” she said.
As a part of the program, she selected two professional photographers, Steve Nilsson and Jennifer Cheung, and drove every Saturday to their studio at the Brewery Arts Complex in downtown Los Angeles, learning to take and develop her own photos.
“The most interesting thing for me about Daria is that she had really clear ideas about what she wanted to study,” Nilsson said. “She chose very interesting photographers to try to emulate their work, which I thought was unusual for someone her age.”
The concept for Kobayashi-Ritch’s independent study was the emulation of three photographers, working with different mediums and techniques to put together a collection of photographs.
She studied the work of late 19th century photographer Julia Cameron Nash, using a toy camera with a plastic lens to achieve the effect of cameras from that time; contemporary Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi, shooting her models with a Polaroid camera and using only flashlights as lighting; and American portrait photographer Irving Penn, taking both close-up and full-length shots of seated models.
The three varied techniques allowed Kabayashi-Ritch to experiment and discover her own personal style.
“It was more of a way to figure out what I like to do, so I did all different cameras, all different lighting,” she said, citing the shoot using only flashlights as her favorite because it produced the most interesting results. “I like experimenting more and doing things so you look at the photo and you’re not like, oh, I know exactly what she did. It’s more like art.”
At the end of her semester, Kobayashi-Ritch had narrowed her hundreds of photos down to a collection of 40 that she decided to show in an exhibit.
“I originally wasn’t planning on doing a show, but I had so many photos and I was really happy with the outcome of it and tons of people were asking to see them,” she said. “The only thing I was going to do was just turn them in for a grade and I felt like that was kind of a waste.”
The week before the exhibit Kobayashi-Ritch handed out flyers at school and invited her friends, family and models to view her work.
“I was a little bit nervous about people not coming, but a lot of people came and I was just really happy with all the support,” she said of the more than 100 guests who came to see her project.
Though she’s only 17, many people were impressed with her level of skill.
“I think people were surprised at how professional the photos were,” Jane Kobayashi said. “People came in and they couldn’t believe she was in high school.”
Kobayashi-Ritch won’t be in high school much longer and the experience of creating her own exhibit has given her the confidence to consider studying art after she graduates. She plans on taking a trip to the East Coast this summer to visit schools.
She credits the independent study project at New Roads as vital in helping her grow both technically and artistically as a photographer.
“This year I learned a lot and the difference in photos was just amazing,” she said.