Documenting Character — An Interview With Trey Roberts

There are more to destinations than the usual tourist traps. They offer some of the best views if you just know where to look. These hidden gems also have the best stories if you know who to talk to. Luckily, photographer Trey Roberts has his camera and film at the ready to tell us their stories. Trey's images remind us life's backroads — they're not the most convenient routes to take but they offer some of the best views there is. Trey has a great eye for compelling stories, he also has a way with people that he could get them to share their stories. Lastly, the way he captures moments through film photography is nothing short of admirable and visually appealing.

Hello, Trey. Welcome to the Lomography Online Magazine! How did you get started on your photographic journey?

Hi! I guess I can trace my journey back to when I was a young kid around 10 or so and just trying to take photos of my friends and I trying to skateboard. There was a little shopping mall around the corner from my house where we would meet up and skate a loading dock and a little ledge. I would bring this old Minolta camera my father had laying around and try to take photos of us skating and hanging out.

One of my friends had a big brother who would always show us skate magazines and 411 videos and we would just try to recreate the shots. That turned into documenting my travels, trying to learn about where I was, and trying to capture things in a way that I could remember them.

How would you define photography?

Well, that is certainly a big question haha. Photography for me is trying to take ordinary, everyday things you see, things you may take for granted and make something interesting out of it. Photography for me is also a social tool. It helps me learn, connect, create, and share something. It is more than just creating an image.

What's your favorite thing about it?

I think my favorite thing about photography is being able to connect with the people and places that I am photographing. It gives me the confidence and the ability to approach things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Having a camera in my hand allows me to have conversations with people and learn about what I am capturing, rather than just clicking the shutter. A camera becomes a tool to dive further into documenting the community, and the culture of where I am.

We love the documentary look of your photographs. They feel relatable and distant at the same time along with the suburban living and Americana influences. Was this a style you were going for?

Thanks for the kind words! Most of the time when I am shooting I don’t necessarily have a style in mind, I think it is just a natural thing that has happened because of where I live. I am mostly shooting in the agricultural areas outside of Santa Cruz, CA and it sort of is a forgotten area. All the focus is on the beautiful beaches, and the boardwalk with all the carnival rides, surfers, and flashy lights just ten miles down the road. I am not really drawn to that.

All these suburban landscapes are all beautiful in their own way and you can assign each of these things their own story. I try the best I can to ask before I capture something and I usually get engulfed into a wonderful dialogue about the car, the house, or whatever it is I might be capturing. I become their audience. It brings the person back to a place in time and it gives them so much joy to share the great memories. I think especially in today’s world we are bombarded by new things and everything has to be the best, and it’s refreshing to see something that has character, that’s been put to use, has lived its life.

What are you trying to communicate with your photographic work?

I don't think I am consciously trying to say anything in all honesty. I am mostly trying to just share a landscape that has been overlooked for quite some time. Trying to share the discrepancies in lifestyle and economic opportunity. There is such a stark contrast of culture in only a few miles and I am trying to dive into why that is. While Santa Cruz was enjoying a boom of tourism and boardwalk goers in the 80's, those in Watsonville held one of the most important labor strikes, fighting for immigrants and their right to be treated equally and fairly. And the effects of this strike are still apparent today. I am trying to share that everyone, every neighbor, every town has a story. It's important to learn from one another and talk.

How does shooting with film help you in your work?

I think the fact that I am shooting film in the first place helps alleviate any stress or anxiety a person may have when I am shooting. I feel that they are more at ease. It becomes a conversation piece and the next thing you know a conversation is taking place and they open up. So many times when I am out walking or pull over to capture something, people might get a little nervous about why I am taking a photo of something, but when I show them my camera and tell them I am shooting with film they tend to be a lot more open to letting you get the shot.

Shooting film also helps me slow down, think, and really make the shot count. We have started this habit, whether with our phones or with digital cameras of just clicking away and hoping something comes out and it takes the thought process out of creating a scene and making sure when you click the shutter, that is exactly what you want to be captured. I love the aesthetics of film. With film, the shot is the shot, I don’t have to edit or do any work to the image. It is what it is.

How would you describe your style?

My style can be best described I guess as a sort of documentary type of photography. I try to incorporate things I have learned from my creative friends who are also talented photographers, painters or makers. Ideas of composition, lines, and color all contribute to my style. I was never a great painter so for me photography helps me create a scene and share the way I see the world.

What is your favorite photograph? Please tell us the story behind it.

My favorite photograph for me is constantly changing. At the moment I would say that my favorite photograph I have taken came from a road trip that I recently took with one of my best friends that came out to visit me. We took back roads all the way to Yosemite National Park, and on that drive, we came across so many small towns and incredible people. We stopped at a little gas station, and towards the back I noticed a broke down truck, an American flag, and this old man raking some dirt. I asked him if that was his truck, to which he replied it was. When I asked if I could take a photo of it he said, “Fuck no. Why do you want to take a photo of that? Just to get me kicked out of here?”

I started talking to him about the project I was working on and telling him why I enjoyed the scene. He then let his guard down and started talking to me about the history of the town, that he had just moved to this empty vacant lot next to the gas station because the county took his land, and he was scared of having to move all of his stuff again if I shared the photo with the town government. I assured him that wasn’t my intent and he took me around his property and let me photograph all the stuff he has collected through the years.

While he was giving me a little tour, he had many friends in town bringing him groceries and items he may need for living off the grid. It was a great experience to share with someone and if it wasn’t for my camera I would have never learned about the town or this man’s story. So when I see this photo I look upon it fondly and remember why I enjoy photography so much.

What inspires you?

Travel is definitely a huge inspiration and being somewhere new. I love being somewhere uncomfortable or somewhere out of my element. I get to learn from someone different than me, who grew up different from me — someone who was surrounded by different things. So when I am traveling, it gives me that opportunity to grow as a person. Obviously, road trips give me that chance, but also even when I'm just on a photo walk in a new part of town.

I might ask someone for a portrait and get a story in return, or find a new street with all kinds of history and character. I have always been stricken with wanderlust so any sort of travel definitely inspires me. Other photographers and artists definitely inspire me to change the way I see things, how to approach a subject, so reading and digging deeper into various artists' stories definitely inspire me to go out and try to create something meaningful.

How does a perfect day look like for Trey Roberts?

As long as my son is happy and healthy that is just perfect for me. Adding in a good slice of pizza wouldn’t hurt either.

Lastly, what's next for you?

Not exactly sure what is next for me. I am going to try to keep shooting as much as I can and find ways to get out and travel. I also have been working on a project called Side Roads, which is a magazine dedicated to film photography. I want to be able to feature some great up and coming film photographers and get their work out in printed form.

I released the first issue in July with Andrew Wilkinson and it was a simple little project we did together documenting the different roads we took to and from work. It was a fun project because having a baby kind of limits the amount of time I can go out and shoot. It gave me a chance to learn more about the town to where I just moved to. So yeah, going to try to photograph things as much as I can and also spend as much time with my wonderful girlfriend and beautiful 19 month old son.


We would like to thank Trey for letting us feature his work on the Magazine. If you're interested in his images, you may head over to his Instagram for more.

written by cheeo on 2018-08-18 #people #places #interview #artist #documentary #americana #feature #trey-roberts

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