Roy Albert Berry: The States Project: Florida
Today, it is my pleasure to share the work of Roy Albert Berry. Roy is a photographer living in Jacksonville, working primarily in environmental portraiture. I was introduced to Roy’s work through a mutual friend and drawn to his lighthearted and collaborative approach to portraiture. He explores his close relationships through a photographic style that utilizes strong color, centralized compositions, strobe flash and strategic placement of personal objects, granting the viewer insight into his subject’s lives and personalities. Roy is currently working on a series documenting his friends in Jacksonville: a community of relatively young Floridians posed matter-of-factly in their homes during their downtime.
Roy has exhibited throughout North Florida including the CoRK Arts District, The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, and is included in the Deutsche Bank permanent collection. He was recently awarded a 2015 Art Ventures Individual Artist grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida.
You and I were just recently introduced, but I don’t know much about you except your work. Are you originally from Florida? Can you tell me a little about yourself and how you started making photos?
I was born and raised in Jacksonville Beach, FL. Jax Beach was a unique place on the east coast of Florida because it’s the first large city/beach once you get out of Georgia, so it’s a hilarious collision between surf and redneck culture. It had somehow avoided becoming a tourist destination like Daytona until the mid/late 90s, so the surfers, skinheads, rednecks, and junkies were pretty unbothered. That probably seems like too much information about where I grew up, but it still informs most of what I do. It was such a strange place to grow up.
I started skateboarding around 11 or 12, and that acted as a cultural gateway drug into music, art, and being a rascal. I painted and did all the self-indulgent stuff young people do until I moved to Tallahassee for school and took a black and white photo class at TCC and loved it. I’ve been making pictures ever since.
Much of your work is based in portraiture, of yourself and others. What makes portraiture so interesting to you?
There are two reasons:
One, I simply like people. The worst person can still offer something, even if it’s the self-satisfaction that you’re not as bad as them. Even the most utilitarian pictures of people are satisfying to me. Like, I love looking at real estate agent photos because they’re so unnecessarily polished. Especially the ones with really bad light or weird backgrounds because they (the agent, not the photographer) are striving for total professionalism, and that’s funny to me.
Two, I really don’t know how to shoot anything else. I tried making landscape and wildlife pictures and was awful. I’d like to be able to chalk it up to not knowing all the crazy techniques and gear those photographers use, but that’s not honest…I just don’t have an eye for it. I really dig their patience, though.
Your style or portraiture is very straightforward with your subjects looking directly at the lens very seriously. This is a style I typically associate with German portrait photography or with someone like Rineke Dijkstra. Do you have any notable influences? Are there other photographers that you look at for inspiration?
Dijkstra is a huge contemporary influence; for sure…those beach portraits are so gorgeous.
But really, wanting subjects to directly address the camera came from an annoyance more than a philosophical approach. I was taking pictures of my roommates. You know…being that annoying dude with a camera. I got the film back, and I was so bummed that my friend was never looking at the camera. He was acting aloof but knew perfectly well I was there with a camera in his face. My other roommate always seemed to be addressing the camera straight on with an expressionless face, and I thought that was so much more of an honest and confident account of what was happening.
Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Alec Soth were also big influences early on. They were so good at seeing people on the fringe and carefully toeing that line between exploitation and honest picture making. But, I realized early on that I didn’t like relying on available light and moved on to always carrying at least one strobe on me. That’s why people like Dijkstra are so good to me. They’re beautiful environmental shots with controlled light in uncontrollable locations. Philip-Lorca diCorcia kills it, too. It’s more candid than I typically like, but it’s a beautiful approach and makes for great pictures.
You are currently working on an environmental portrait series of your friends. What has it been like to work on this series?
That series was a blast, and it feels so good to finally get those images made. It’s a weird stress working with people that I’m close to because I don’t want to waste anyone’s time and, at first, I was worried I would hurt some feelings with the images I wanted to be made. It all turned out great, though, and hurt feelings were at a minimum. We did learn how hard it is to get cats to look at a camera.
What made you want to start taking photos of your friends? Are you nearing completion and do you have plans for this project after it’s done?
I wanted to do it years ago as a way to get better at location lighting while making what I thought were hilarious images at the same time. I had like, 12 of them story-boarded from 2009ish and waited too long to where people started moving or getting married/divorced and the images made less and less sense. Then, my girlfriend suggested we collaborate and revisit it and have certain rules. Like, we had to both know the people well enough to drink beers comfortably with them, and we would both come up with an idea of what their personalities were before we showed up at their house and completely rearranged their living space based on what we thought of them. They had no say so in what the final image was going to look like. I don’t remember who said that environmental photography is 10% picture making and 90% furniture moving, but they are right.
We finished that last December and had a group show called Poor Traits with some friends – Sarah and Rick Colado and J.T. Felix – that were also doing portraiture, but in painting and printmaking.
Some my favorite photos of yours are in your Vacation Collection. Can you talk about that series?
Thanks. That was an intense set of pictures to make.
That series started on a road trip to St. Louis with my then long-term girlfriend. I had just bought a lighting kit a few months before and was starting to get comfortable with it, so I lugged it everywhere I went. We stopped at this weird old abandoned town somewhere in South Georgia and started taking pictures. She wanted me to set up my lights and take like, couples snapshots so I found a place and started. Now, the relationship was kind of a mess, and we were arguing like crazy during all this and as I’m running back and forth to the camera and moving lights, I’m getting more and more bummed out and wanting to smile less and less until I finally said let’s just stand here, hold hands and no smiles. That was the first image, and it took off from there. We were driving around, finding places and doing these stoic, couple snap shots but with a stupid lighting kit…fighting the entire way. I say it’s an account of a failing relationship that happened to find itself in beautiful locations and it was. The last few images were made in Hawaii – the Big Island and Maui – where we lived until the end, and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be miserable. Or at least it made for good pictures.
I think your use of color is strong throughout your portfolio, but they’re a couple of really beautiful shot in that series. How do you think about color when setting up your photos?
Honestly, It’s something I need to work on. I tried to play with color in the shot with the 69 shirt, but I don’t know how successful it was. For the others, the locations didn’t hurt, and there were some definite costume changes that helped but the color was pushed to the periphery because I got lighting tunnel vision back then. It’s funny, though. The first thing I did when I sat down to edit those was to desaturate everything.
I recently got Gregory Heisler’s 50 Portraits, and that dude is so good with color…especially his newer work. It’s not always my thing but his ability to experiment with garish color in portraiture is really cool and maybe one day I’ll stop being scared and try it out.
Do you have current projects that you’re excited about? Would you like take us through any of your recent work?
I just received a 2015 Art Ventures Individual Artist grant from the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida that I’m very excited about. My proposal was for a series of landscapes (Ha!) dealing with nostalgia and exclusion in the South. I’m going to shoot the project on medium format slide film, and I’m really out of practice so that should be a fun thing to overcome. More than anything, I’m looking forward to working on something with fewer financial restrictions than I’ve had in the past. It’s never fun borrowing money from your mom to frame some stupid pictures.
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming shows you’d like to plug?
I’ve got a small show coming up on August 14th in Jax Beach at Bold Bean called Beach People that’s…pictures of people at the beach! There’s a good mixture of Daytona, Jacksonville, Flagler and St Augustine. It’s kids that are buried in sand to their neck and women with snakes. Also, on December 1st, I’ll be apart of a group show for Art Venture grant recipients at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville. Other than that, trying to keep my stupid dog from eating the house.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about my work.
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