Unapologetically Photographing Black Reality

Portrait of Ruddy Roye by Vince Robinson

In today’s times, everyone with a phone has a camera and for that reason, many consider themselves photographers.  Then there are those who use cameras, preferring them to cell phones for capturing images.  Many camera users are professional photographers who utilize expensive camera bodies and expensive glass, taking their craft seriously enough to take advantage of the latest technology to produce high quality images.  And then there are serious photographers, like Ruddy Roye.


Roye is a Brooklyn-based photographer who has carved out a niche capturing images of the Black experience worldwide and sharing with the planet famously on the Instagram social media platform.  His tool of choice is a Leica M10-D, a mirrorless camera without an LCD display screen.  His equipment deal spares him the expense of a $9,000.00 body and the appropriate lenses that are equally pricey.


But his process is a throwback to the days of film photography when the shooter found out the results in the darkroom and relied on their knowledge of the craft to create works of art.


Roye photographs Kerry Davis. Photo by Vince Robinson.


Said Roye, “I cannot see the image that I’ve shot.  There’s this idea that’s like film where you have to get the image, you have to see the image, you have to feel the image.  And there’s this ritual that you go through the same way you went through with film where you have to go back somewhere and download the images to view it.  I needed that for 2019.”


He continued, “I needed to go back to a space where I felt like I was being challenged, where I didn’t have to peep all the time to know that I got the image.  The image had to be in my head the moment I was done shooting.”


Photo by Vince Robinson

Roye likened using a cellphone to shooting with a large format camera.  “I dealt with it as if I were photographing with a 4×5.  The person that I was photographing had to feel like this was a serious camera.  And I gave that impression in my demeanor and the way I approached the image, you thought I was using a large format camera.


For a year and a half, it was his primary tool but he had a change of heart.  “…it became easy, and I do believe that if I wanted to be a successful photographer, you need to see me with a camera.  I need to be able to get that image with a camera in front of you as opposed to using a cellphone to, like, sneak a picture or…so I stopped.”


Roye’s background is that of a writer, but he found that the camera provided him to more immediate ways to tell a story than with pen and paper.  It was also a means to escape the alteration of his story by editors.


“The pictures, for me, illustrate the story that lives in my head as opposed to ‘I take a picture and find the words to accompany.’  It’s the reverse.  I have a story and I need to find a picture to illustrate it.”


Who is Ruddy Roye? “My name is Ruddy Roye.  I’m a Jamaican.  I live in Brooklyn.  And photography is really my way of protesting.  It is my way of speaking out.  It is my way of kicking the can down the road, so to speak.  Or moving the conversation forward.”


Roye said he found himself, “at a moment in my life when I found myself not working, not getting jobs, not being called (which I should not have been waiting for anyway), I looked out into the streets of Bed-Stuy and I recognized faces that looked like mine.  Not just in terms of hue, but in terms of being desperate.  And I knew that half these men that I was looking at weren’t half as educated as I am. And if I’m struggling, I can just imagine where they were.”


At that point, his mission became capturing realistic images on the streets where he lives, depicting people with dignity and providing a relatable image, not based on hue.  He’d want the image of the person to be one they’d be proud of one hundred years from now.


Having sons motivated him to provide an alternative medium to counteract the negativity of many of the images prevalent in media.  From time to time, he encounters people who acknowledge and praise him for his work.  The validation is a priceless reward for him as they witness those conversations and his impact.


“I embrace being a black photographer.  If not me, who? And I get it through the eyes of my sons.  They’re proud that their father tells these stories.  That pride?  Can’t duplicate.”


Roye is an unapologetic photographer of black people, despite concerns from editors and others about the complexion of his subjects.  In fact, he expressed a desire to return to Africa, not to “retire”, but to stay there for a season.  “There’s something about wanting to know what language I would be speaking had I not been extricated from the Continent.  I’d like to know what clothes I’d have been wearing, certainly not this style…I want to do something intentional towards the latter stage of my life.”


Roye’s work is on view at the Cleveland Print Room, a gallery and photography printing operation in Cleveland where he was featured in an artist’s talk recently.  He’ll be returning to Cleveland to participate in a project that will feature photography of Cleveland through the lenses of selected Cleveland-area photographers, along with himself.


An Indian interviewer once described him as a writer who takes pictures.  He is a journalist who uses pictures to write.  The images know not limitations for words.  Seriously.


Ruddy Roye: When Living is a Protest
February 22 – March 30, 2019
Cleveland Print Room
2550 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114


The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

Leave a Reply