Ray Rhodes and his work first came to our attention in February during our Ribbon Photo Contest. Ray’s entry took the first-runner-up position in the midst of tight competition. Since then, he has contributed dozens of photos to our flickr pool, and I have personally followed his work extensively. If I had to describe Ray’s photography in one word: Americana. Ray shoots a number of great subjects, but the majority of his body of work features scenes from the American countryside. In each and every photo, he truly captures a sense of place.
But what I am personally drawn towards are his many photos of roadways. Roads have worked their way into our jargon ever since cars have become a prominent part of our well being. Middle of the road. The road less traveled. Hit the road. We are romantically drawn to roadways as a symbol of travel, better places and the love for the journey. And so Ray’s work is an embodiment of ideals in photographic form.
Like the many different perspectives of photographers all over the world, there are hundreds of ways to view the same stretch of a roadway. In Ray’s portfolio, he features dozens, if not hundreds, of locations – yet each photo is incredibly unique. Different lenses, different times of day, different treatments of color. But they all sing the tune that is Ray’s own style. “Photographers see the world differently, from non photographers,” Ray starts as I inquire as to his fascination with roads. “One morning, I noticed how wonderful the road looked in the early morning light. It gave me a feeling of Route 66. Drive to the horizon….off to the next adventure….” I can feel his perspective in each and every one of his photographs. His photographs are a representation of the adventures that are behind him as well as in front of him. His portfolio is not only about his travels across the countryside, but his journey through life.
In a past life, Ray used to race motorcycles, and so Ray has spent a great deal of time looking for roads that “made for a great ride.” However, he admits that “[he]never thought of [roads]artistically.” Personally, I disagree. His intimate relationship with the road – his many travels on two wheels without a steel frame, exposed to the elements – have given Ray a unique perspective. When traveling, one becomes focused on the road. The scenery becomes an afterthought, secondary to safety. But when you stop, everything comes rushing in. There you are all alone with your thoughts. The camera is your best companion. Ray did not disclose any of these thoughts through our e-mail correspondence. He didn’t have to. It’s clearly portrayed in his portfolio.
Unfortunately, the many intersections in the roadways to our lives interrupt our back-country cruises. On many occasions, these intersections represent choices that we have control over. Other times, the route is chosen for us as we hit the inevitable detours in life. These are not always happy times. Sadly, Ray was thrown into a horrible detour in his life: The loss of his son last April. This is of course an incredibly sensitive issue, and so I don’t wish to dwell. But Ray opened a view into his heart to help me understand how photography helped him through this horrible time. “It still helps me cope,” Ray writes. “It gave me focus…gave me something creative…” And while the creative release that photography provides certainly cannot fill such a hole in one’s heart, it is inspiring to hear Ray write as such. As for his work, he feels that his photography has progressed emotionally. “I may not have progressed technically, but emotionally…that has been the biggest change. I do hope it shows.”
Trust me, Ray – it shows.
I wish I could truly pinpoint exactly what it is about Ray’s works that are so inspiring. Perhaps it’s a reminder of the road trips we took with our parents as kids in the back seat on long journeys – perhaps our view was better than our father behind the wheel. Ray’s work perhaps reminds us of those journeys. Or maybe his photography shares with us a very simple dream that we all long for ourselves: Simple travels with minimal means. A motorcycle (or a car), a bag of necessities and your camera. Perhaps we all long to see the world through Ray’s eyes. But alas, there is no single reason as to why his work is so appealing. That would be unfair to Ray and his photography. It is safe to say that Ray pulls from his life experiences in the same way a chef would pull from a well stocked pantry. As an observer, it would be an unlikely feat to pick out every single ingredient from taste alone. And even if that were possible, getting the portions right would be impossible. But isn’t that what we love about art?
And with that, I’d like to leave you with a few more samples of Ray’s incredible road photography. It is my hope that you are inspired by his photography….and his dreams.