80 STAYS AROUND THE WORLD WITH TREY RATCFLIFF
In 2015, photographer Trey Ratcliff set off to explore the US with his camera in tow, joined by budding photographers in 13 cities across the country. Starting in NYC and ending in San Francisco, Ratcliff’s tour was his first partnership with The Ritz-Carlton and the start of a relationship that would take him around the world. This summer he upgraded his bus for 80 Stays, hosting photo walks in 10 cities across Europe. We sat down with Ratcliff in the Club Lounge of Hotel Arts Barcelona the morning of the photo walk to talk about inspiration, technique and using photography to be more present.
What did you learn from the 2015 experience that you’re bringing into this one?
The key thing that impressed me was how people wanted to be inspired. I don’t know if I’m that inspirational, but I’ve figured out a few things along the way. Anything I can do to help people be creative and work on themselves, I’m happy to do it. I feel like I’m just trying to channel the universe myself and help people on their own personal paths.
Why do the next leg of the tour in Europe?
We had such a good time in the US. It’s nice to be on a bus with a lot of artists, taking photos. And with The Ritz-Carlton, the one point that gets reinforced over again and always surprises me is how nice the people are. The service is amazing, and it’s a consistent thing. When you arrive at a hotel you feel like you’re at home, like you’re with family. You can’t get that anywhere else. There are many places in Europe I haven’t been (about 6 of the 10 cities), and New Zealand is so far away from everything. If you’re going to come to Europe, you might as well come for a month.
Tell us about the photo walk experience.
Most people who come to my photo walks have never been on one and have no idea what to expect. I’m kind of their guide for the night. We walk around the city for about two hours. Every 10 or 15 minutes I stop to take a photo. I give a little tip and talk about my settings and the story I’m trying to tell with my photo. I take some questions and then we go to the next photo spot. Everyone is encouraged to take photos of everything. We have lots of online contests. I try to give some tricks, tips and inspirational stuff. Hopefully by the end they’ve learned a thing or two and taken some good photos.
The photo walks can draw large groups. How do you keep the experience personal and intimate?
It can be a little difficult, but a lot of people know me already as being an openhearted, kind nice person. Most people on the photo walks are like me, so we can be instant friends. I encourage people to come up and ask me personal questions, photography questions, random questions. A lot of them do. I really understand the photographer type because I’m the same way. I’m an INTJ; I’m introverted. Photography is kind of a lonely man’s game, and a lot of people are shy. I’m like that, too. With the photo walks, I give people permission to come together and not be shy.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I read a lot of philosophy and fiction. When I read fiction, good fiction, it’s like a parallel universe to the truth. I think my work explores the tension between what is real and what is not. I always have this fantastical, fictional feel to my photos that’s somewhere on the edge of reality. I like to explore that tension; that’s where I get my inspiration.
Do you look for that tension?
I do. As soon as you become a photographer, you see another layer on top of the world. You can walk around and see textures, shape, color, light and contrast. You see things that other people don’t see. It’s like this invisible layer. And then, of course, there’s a bit of pressure to take a picture that’s interesting, and that’s ok.
Speaking of pressure…you’ve got thousands of people following you online. Do you feel pressure to share the perfect photo?
I don’t feel any pressure at all. It’s important to be egoless, to let go of yourself and stop taking yourself so seriously. When you do, you’re ready to forgive yourself for your mistakes. The secret is to just create as much as you can. That’s why we’re all here on earth: to create, love, laugh and share. Anything else is just a distraction.
You’re a self-taught photographer with a background in computer science and math. You got your first camera at 35 (10 years ago). What advice would you give a newbie?
Technical people are often drawn to photography because they have very clever, analytical minds and they really get into the equipment and fuss with the settings. I’m like that, too, but it’s best just to get the basics down and not fuss with the tech. If your brain gets caught up in the tech, you can’t really be creative. One of my best pieces of advice is to leave the camera on automatic. A lot of photography teachers say you’re not a real photographer if you’re not shooting in manual mode all the time. But remember, this camera you have is probably $1,000 or $2,000; it’s a computer. If you put it in automatic, it will make the same choices that most professionals would make 98% of the time. If you really want to make your photos unique, you should really be prepared to heavily post-process. It always angers me when I hear professional photographers say you shouldn’t edit your photos, because to me that’s a very elitist, judgmental thing to say. How dare one artist tell another artist how they should or shouldn’t practice their craft, as if there are some kind of rules? There are no rules in art.
The photo walks are an extension of your teaching, in a way. Was teaching a calling for you?
I started as a pure artist. In the last five or six years, I started reading a lot more philosophy, Alan Watts and those kind of people. When you create and take photos, you’re being very present and very conscious. I know that’s helped me have a better life, and I want to bring that consciousness and presence to everyone through photography. It’s hard to teach people to meditate, but you can definitely teach photography. Photography to me is sort of like a sideways meditation.
While you don’t like the word “fan,” you have many of them. What about them sticks with you the most?
When I make videos or write stuff on the blog, I get really deep. People come up to me, even random stuff I said, and they say, “hey that thing you said, it really stuck with me, it changed me” or “I had a little breakthrough in my photography or my personal life.” It’s really nice because you’re seeing me at this big public event with people around me, and that’s not normal for me. Mostly I’m just at home on my laptop writing stuff. I’m alone almost all the time. When I’m alone and I write these things or I have ideas and I share them, I love the idea that it actually sticks with people. Then I’m like, hey, I guess I’m not so bad.
See more of Trey's photography from "80 Stays Around the World" on his Instagram page, or search Instagram for #80Stays and #RCMemories.