Born and raised in a small farming community in rural American, Troy Colby creates handcrafted worlds coming from little childhood memories. Devoted to black and white photography, he composes images full of hope and dreams. His shots come from the heart and ask viewers to come to their own emotions.
I really love black and white and the qualities that it can bring to the image. I feel we bring our attachments to color to the images.
Which is your first photographic memory?
I really cannot think of any. I remember very little of my childhood. I do remember spending a lot of time looking at my grandparent’s old photo books every time I went over to their house. I would do the same with my parents as well. Other than that I really struggle to remember those moments as a child.
Could you describe yourself with a book, a song and a movie?
A book—High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Song, Man that is a super tough one. I am a huge music buff; I think my record collection is now in the 2000 mark. Right now I would say it is Nine Inch Nails, The Fragile. For a movie, I am going to say The Empire Strikes Back. The simple reason is that Luke has started to become a Jedi and is getting stronger. Yet they take a huge beating at the end of the film and they are still standing. It is bittersweet moment in the film yet you can feel the hope that still remains.
Which of your pictures would you choose to introduce yourself?
I would more than likely go with the image of my middle son when we first started really working together. It is an image from “The Dream of Flight series”. He is standing in a field with sticks roped onto his wrists looking upward. The image is full of hope and dreams and it has also set me on this current path. I think we can all relate to wanting more and longing for something better.
A famous picture, not yours, you would have liked to take.
Oh man, that’s tough. I would have to go with “The Fishmongers Daughter” by Michael Garlington. It changed how I viewed photography and what could be done with photography. Not sure it that is famous enough. If not, “John the Baptist” by Caravaggio is a long standing favorite that I could spend hours viewing.
A famous person you would like to portray.
I used to really follow professional skateboarding growing up and then rock bands but I think someone that I find to be really interesting as an actor would be, Timothy Olyphant.
You seem to favorite black and white pictures. Is there a precise reason behind this choice?
I really love black and white and the qualities that it can bring to the image. I feel we bring our attachments to color to the images. Without color we strip these notions and it becomes more about the context within the image. Plus, many of my earliest inspirations used Black and White.
We know you were born and raised in a small farming community in rural American countryside, a place you will have missed a lot later on. How much did your backdrop help you refine your final vision?
I do miss the open sky and no one around. It helped me learn to make something in this landscape that was unique. Also the simplicity of the landscape translated into my work in how I approach things. Being isolated I think allowed me to be me without the extra influences.
Most of the times, you work with your son. Could you tell us something about this collaboration? Is it changing, as far as he is growing up?
First it was out of necessity. I needed a subject and landscapes at the time were of no interest to me. Living in the middle of nowhere using models were not an option either. So I just started using my children and wife when possible. Over the years it has evolved into just using my sons. My middle son is the one I typically use beside my project documenting my youngest. The work is changing and evolving slowly. He is becoming more conscious of himself as he enters his teenage years. So I am really not sure how much more time he will be willing to work with me.
You portray him wild and free in a close connection with nature. He is usually inside it: sometimes his face is covered behind a leaf, other times he hides himself inside a bush, or he is lying on the grass. What’s the meaning behind this strong relationship between man and nature? Is it possible to read a return to origins maybe?
This body of work started right after we moved to more of an urban setting. It deals with the both of us finding our place in this new location. As the work progressed my son found his place and is very comfortable in the landscape, while I am still struggling to find my place here. It deals with just trying to adapt and understand this new place you are living in now. It is a drastic change from a town with only a few stoplights to a large urban setting. Everything changed, from how we make work down to how we even live now.
I try to always produce work from the heart. I was once told by a mentor,“ You can make images from one of two places. Your head will leave you wanting more while your heart will give you what you desire.”
Through your art you frequently recreated handcrafted worlds. Where does your inspiration come from?
Some of it is from dreams and the other is from what little childhood memories I have. I do like to watch movies and sometimes a certain emotion comes across that I find interesting.
In “This will pass. I promise you” you speak about your worries as a father and you document your son as he moves through childhood. You capture ordinary instants of familial life, parenthood, as well as childhood during times of stress and insecurity. In sharing your true story through your photographs, it becomes universal. What’s the inner purpose of exploring something so deep?
It is a tough project for me, simply because it is so personal. I have always built up a guard in all of my other works and this lets it down. He has super high anxiety and migraines often. Along with that he is very good at being very demanding and is always on the move. The project happened organically and is still on going. It helps me reflect on those moments and maybe, just maybe, become a better dad by understanding those moments.
You are able to bring so much emotion through the loving but painful portraits of your little boy. We are pretty sure your images come from the heart. How could you be so touchy through your photographs?
I try to always produce work from the heart. I was once told by a mentor,“ You can make images from one of two places. Your head will leave you wanting more while your heart will give you what you desire.” This is something I try my best to stand behind in all of my work. So far this approach has served me well and I think others can feel the emotion within the work.
By introducing your series “The Journey of Dreaming” you quote William Dement saying, “Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives”. If you had to use your own words, how would you define it?
I would say that dreaming allows us to go past this unkind world and enter into this dreamland that can be good or bad. But for the most part our dreams are our escape mechanisms from the every day norm.
How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph?
Depending on the body of work. With the “Bitter Sweet” there is a small idea but my son and I typically play with the idea on location and things can change. In “The Journey of Dreaming” and “Memories from Sorrow” there is lots of planning. This would include building the props and even sketching the idea out. In “This will pass. I promise you,” it is all of the fly and nothing is preplanned at all. It is a nice change of pace but there are many moments that get missed as well.
What leads you to become a professional photographer?
It was all by chance. I had a film photo class way back in High School. I chose to go back to school late in life and did so thinking I would be a film editor. Well I had to take a photo story boarding class. In this class we had to use a 35mm and a super 8 camera to make a short film and have film stills as well. From here I remembered how much I loved photography and took a few photo classes and then it snowed balled. I am half way almost with my MFA. So my journey is moving forward. I hope I can share my work and knowledge with others.
Your next project?
I am continuing on with “This will pass. I promise you” and plan on taking some images of my friends in more of straight portraiture style with a 4×5 soon. I also started a new project with my middle son (one that typically helps) in color, capturing those early teenage moments of drifting off.
Your main flaw and quality.
My main flaw is not having the courage at times to speak up or approach people. Another one would be is that at times I allow that self-doubt voice to creep up on me too much. Good qualities would be: I am hard working and self motivated. I also try to be very honest and fair, though sometimes a bit too honest.
Make a wish.
Well, I would wish for a few more wishes. Pay off all of my student loans! Live off my artwork and travel the world at my own pace.
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