Inside the studio of Photography and Imaging alumna Daria Kobayashi Ritch (BFA 2015), across the hall from her bedroom in her mom’s spacious house in Santa Monica, posters for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent flank white walls alongside Ritch’s photos of young languid models gazing coolly and stretched out in colorful clothes. Allure, Flaunt, I-D and other magazines featuring her work line nearby bookshelves.
Ritch—poised, down-to-earth, with choppy black bangs—graduated from ArtCenter just two years ago. Since then, the 25-year-old has traveled to Switzerland to shoot a snowy fashion spread for GQ. She’s gone to China—her first time traveling alone—and London to take black and white portraits of David and Victoria Beckham’s son Brooklyn Beckham for a 2016 international campaign for Chinese company Huawei's Honor 8 phone. She’s shot ingénue models, musicians, actors and actresses for brands such as Marc Jacobs and Dior. All her photos capture a certain youthful artistic spirit.
“The first big fashion campaign job I did was a week after I graduated,” says Ritch, sitting in her studio. “It was a look-book for German clothing company Even&Odd. It was with two models, and we went to the desert. They heard about me through Instagram.”
When I’m looking for the right photo, I look for the in-between moments, when you’re catching someone off-guard.Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Boosted by moral support from her graphic designer alumna mom Jane Kobayashi (BFA 84 Graphic Design) and her product designer dad David Ritch, Ritch—raised in Malibu—started working professionally during her last year at ArtCenter.
“During ArtCenter, I was shooting all the time, doing my own editorials, and sent photos to online publications such as Cake and C-Heads, to get my stuff out there,” she says.
She went from not being on Instagram to opening an account while at the College—“All my friends were like, ‘How do you not have an Instagram??’” she says, laughing—to now having more than 48,000 followers. “The beauty editor of Nylon found me through Instagram,” says Ritch. “Students should have a website and Instagram. Don’t wait until you graduate. For my website, I post only the best. Instagram is like a diary, where everything goes.”
Ritch first started taking photographs during her junior year of high school, with dreams of shooting fashion spreads. After going to UCLA for two years for fine art, she transferred to ArtCenter’s Photography program.
It was longtime Photography faculty Paul Jasmin, who teaches the upper term Photography Master Class, who impacted her the most. Ritch went from taking more traditional photos to concentrating on capturing unique moments in time and connecting with her subjects one-on-one.
“When I took his class, my work completely changed to what it is now,” says Ritch. “It wasn’t about the technical. It was about the emotion. When he critiques images, he asks whether or not the subject has what he calls ‘dead eye,’ an eye without a thought. That’s what separates good images from bad: not having ‘dead eye.’ He also asks, ‘What was your interaction with that person, that subject?’”
Ritch thrives on those interactions, and meeting new people. She prefers shooting with film, versus digitally, and choosing models herself, unearthing talent through modeling agencies and also scouring social media. “I’m picky,” she jokes. She loves vibrant color, shots of the sky and smaller, more intimate, shoots.
“Being on set is about breaking a wall and having a more authentic connection with people,” says Ritch, as the afternoon light turns a soft gold in her studio. “When I’m looking for the right photo, I look for the in-between moments, when you’re catching someone off-guard.”
While at ArtCenter, for instance, Ritch photographed L.A. model and musician Staz Lindes in Joshua Tree, and caught her standing serenely in front of an Airstream trailer, eyes closed, arms crossed, wearing red striped socks. The photo ran in Oyster Magazine.
“Personality is important. I like shooting people who have more to them than just being pretty,” says Ritch. “I like looking for people who have something interesting physically about them. Gap teeth are cool. Thick eyebrows.”
Another favorite of hers was a 2017 shoot Ritch did for The Last Magazine with child-turned-adult actor Cole Sprouse at the Ballona Wetlands, a vegetation-covered marsh just 15 minutes from her place. Ritch captured bushy-haired Sprouse sitting calmly with his head in his hand, and also gracefully throwing a stool into the air.
“It’s great to shoot guys who are younger. They can be less macho, more vulnerable,” she says. “My subjects are typically my age or younger. I think they’re comfortable with me because I’m their age.”
As for being labeled a “cool kid” because of her hipster subjects (The Hollywood Reporter wrote a story on her titled “Meet the Photographer Taking Pictures of All of L.A.'s Cool Kids”), Ritch smiles, and modestly deflects.
“I don’t feel like I’m a cool kid. I just look for those types of people, and I’m categorized as that because of my photography,” she says.