Roma Norte | Interview: Rony Alwin

G.C. Stiehl | Citizen LA

When I heard that Rony was on his way to Mexico City to survey the “scene”, I thought it a good idea to make myself available. It had been a few years since we interviewed him and I was aware that he had a photography show in the works. Rony trusted me enough to send over a PDF of his photo book which contained many of the new unreleased photos that he was pitching & promoting. The photos were classic Rony: sexy & risky.

One Thursday night I caught up with him at a VICE Gallery opening in Colonia Roma Norte; an old neighborhood in Mexico City which is undergoing a cultural revitalization. Rony flew in from LA with Trevor (a.k.a. DJ Skeet, Dim Mak Records) and made his entrance with an entourage of adorable girls.

Rony meandered to the gallery bar, lifted a shot and sipped it. I had one as well. Delicious. Minutes later we returned to the bar. Not surprisingly, the free Mescal was gone. I reached inside my coat, pulled out a metal flask and offered Rony a sip.

Citizen LA: Tequila??

Rony Alwin: Naw. It’s all about Mescal tonight.

After making our way around the well curated VICE show, we headed-off to an American influenced eatery, Volver, for a bite and a brew. On the way, Rony snaps away on his Canon while relentlessly plastering everything in sight with stickers that read: RONY’S PHOTO BOOTH. Shameless promotion.

Rony mentions Tijuana…

Citizen LA: Ouch. So your first experience in Mexico was in TJ?

Rony Alwin: My European family came to visit and they wanted to see Mexico, so we took them to TJ. Unfortunately, Tijuana is the worst first impression of Mexico you could ever have. Seriously. It’s fun but, it has its problems.

Citizen LA: How does Mexico City compare to Tijuana?

Rony Alwin: Mexico City is like LA and New York… but Mexican. Hahaha. TJ is, well, TJ. There is no comparison.

Citizen LA: How has Rony’s Photo Booth progressed over the years?

Rony Alwin: Same thing… more money! When I started, it was just me and a little camera. I didn’t even have a website. Now there’s a team, and it’s all business.

Citizen LA: So you’ve come here to take over Mexico?

Rony Alwin: I’m networking on this trip… and tagging along with Trevor. I’ll be done with my new photo show soon. It’s called “Cute”.

Citizen LA: How do you feel your photography will be received here in Mexico?

Rony Alwin: I went to Tokyo last November to show my book. I wasn’t aware that all the nudes would be so… hmm… controversial. Here in Mexico, you walk down the street and see suggestive photographs of sexy women on newsstands everywhere. Not like I’m shooting porn, but all my new work is pretty much nude girls. I think they’ll like it… I hope they’ll like it. Hahaha.

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The entourage has now grown to 9 people as we move to a bar down the street. The neighborhood of Roma Norte has an uncanny resemblance to Downtown LA. It’s a similar pattern: roll-up door, graffiti, roll-up door, pristine restaurant, graffiti, roll-up door, roll-up door, edgy art gallery, roll-up door, graffiti, graffiti, super-hip bar, roll-up door…

As our motley crew continues its crawl, one in the group invites us to his place. Rodrigo Maceda apparently owns one of the hippest mixological establishments in Mexico. Licoreria Limantour is a well-designed watering hole that is known for its stellar cocktails. Rodrigo immediately sets the group up with a round of drinks. The sliced limes arrive, on fire.

The interview continues in-between shots…

Citizen LA: What I saw in your photo pitch book is not necessarily “explicit.” Visually it’s beautiful. Yes there are some breasts, whatever. But there’s a psychological element that hits a nerve. That’s what hit me. And that’s the nerve that’ll hit others.

Rony Alwin: I asked myself, ‘How crazy can I get?’ One girl. One outfit. One simple backdrop. If I shot it in black & white it might look something like a Richard Avedon photo, a traditional portrait. I was looking to make something sophisticated with a limited amount set of options. The result, I feel, is as visually complicated as one person standing there can get.

Citizen LA: The interesting thing is that you could have easily slipped in into pure “shock value”, but you didn’t go there.

Rony Alwin: People like Tony Kelly, Terry Richardson and David LaChapelle have borrowed ideas straight from the 70’s. It’s really easy to go there if you want a quick sell. Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin are my heroes.

It’s then that we come to learn that Rony is not a fan of taking shots of liquor. So of course we torture him, and pressure him into taking another. Mexico City has its share of peer-pressure. We’re all heading for a rough morning, but no one cares.

Rony keeps snapping and I keep digging…

Citizen LA: At first glance, your new photo work is deceivingly one-dimensional. And then you step back for a second, and say, ‘Wait, there’s some serious shit going on here.’ What’s in your head is actually coming out. I truly see your brain all over those photos.

Rony Alwin: At the end of the day my photos are my fantasies. I’m lucky to find myself surrounded by those that share the same fantasies. The idea for the “Q” show is intentionally simple, but the next set will be complex. I’ll be working with depths, very 3D.

Citizen LA: A visual orgy perhaps?

Rony Alwin: LA is funny. It has the porn industry. You shoot one porn girl and you’ll get ten emails from other porn girls that want cool nice photos done. It’s kinda too weird. But it’s LA.

After many rounds at Licoreria Limantour, our motley crew thins-out and the professional partiers continue to a super-secret afterhours called M.N.ROY. At the door, our guide flashes his member card and we all get in. Inside, Mexico’s hipster-elite fraternize. Awesome DJs. Handsome crowd. Very chic.

At 5 am we’re back on the street, flagging taxis. DJ Skeet needs his beauty rest for a gig he’s spinning in a few hours at some famous celebrity’s party. (Yawn.) Rony and DJ Skeet dip into a cab, towing two lady-friends in arm.

Hugs and a last thought…

Citizen LA: Let’s hope that Mexico can appreciate your risks, Rony.

Rony Alwin: Mexico is so open and free. Your walking around and there’s boobs & ass everywhere. It’s just totally normal. In American it’s forbidden. In the U.S. it’s like, ‘Don’t look at that.’ Here it’s like, ‘Look at that.’

Citizen LA: Sexy chicks? I’ll definitely look.

Rony’s new show “Q” coming soon to a Mexican town near you.

Also, if you’re in the neighborhood have a drink at: