“Man can embody truth, but he cannot know it,” said Yeats. This is the motto photographer Ryan Trimble lives by and the thesis of the personal introduction on his website. Trimble is a photographer, writer, and father of three daughters, but he is first and foremost a storyteller. “I’m interested by people on the fringes; outsiders, obscure cultures, strange events, and putting them forward in a way to change others’ perceptions, ” says Trimble. In his photography, Trimble tells stories using his black-and-white film camera to capture portraits of the people who fascinate him.
For our interview, we sit in the study off his front door. Trimble wears full rim metal aviator glasses, his long brown hair pulled into a low ponytail, a drink in his left hand. He is a slow but articulate speaker, and a deep thinker. Along the wall of his study, a dark wooden bookshelf is filled with some of his writing inspirations including Joseph Mitchell, Malcolm Gladwell, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Leaning against one wall, several of his black-and-white photographs are framed, matted, ready to hang.
The reason for their lack of color is simple. “When I started out as a photographer, I had no money. Film cameras are a lot cheaper than fancy digital cameras,” explains Trimble. After his initial forays, Trimble decided he liked the quality of the black-and-white film and the mechanical processes to print it, so it has become his medium of choice. He most often photographs people and street scenes but has more recently moved on to photographing nature. “They are not exactly landscapes, more like ‘still life landscapes,’” he says. His nature photographs focus on a single point or grouping rather than wide, panoramic shots.
Trimble’s creation of street scenes and portraits is an explorative process. He can spend several hours, or even an entire day, outside talking to people and photographing them. “I would use my camera as an excuse to meet people,” Trimble says. “I will ask if I can take their picture and we will get to talking.” He’s met quite a few friends this way and definitely people he wouldn’t have met otherwise. Trimble rejects, however, any specific insight that his photographs might add to their lives. “The psychology in a picture, if there is one, is my own psychology. That is how art seems to work for me. People see a reflection of themselves in what they create more than any representation of their subject.”
On his blog, This Is Imperfect, Trimble shares the photographs of people he has met and writes their stories. Some are sad, heartrending. Others are simply explorations of simple human life. His posts might be short biographical sketches of his subjects, like Frank, a street dweller caught in a vicious circle — Frank is owed a pension but payroll won’t issue him a check without an address or bank account, which he can’t get without the check; or Tiff, a transgender individual who works as a prostitute because she does not want to lose her self-respect by accepting welfare. Other posts are musings on the nature of what he does: an old shot of an abandoned house in Provo spurs the coining of his first rule of photography — “remember that you will die, but barring a house fire, your photos will not.” Most poignant may be the reflections of his own life story, like his thoughts of The Pink Cloud. It’s the term recovering addicts use for the new high that comes when getting clean — the sense of euphoria, of newfound purpose, that all is possible. Addicts are warned to stay away from it, lest the harsh realities of life knock you down and send you spiraling into addiction once again. Trimble embraces it. On his website, he says, “If a person is bold or foolish enough to ignore those warnings about the dangers of drugs and come out alive on the other side, then he or she should be bold enough to ignore warnings about the dangers of dreaming and taking risks.”
Trimble has long been interested in understanding simple human behavior through images. His exposure to photography extends back to a class at Orem High. There he came into contact with the work of Duane Michals and his Chance Meeting (1970) series. “I saw a photo series of two men walking by each other in an empty alley with their heads down. After passing each other, one man looks back over his shoulder. The last frame shows the other man stopped in the alley, also looking back. I thought it was such an interesting perspective of human nature,” says Trimble. “We are so often curious about each other but do not want to show that interest. I wanted to photograph things like that.”
Trimble’s journey from student to professional photographer and writer was not a straightforward one. For over 10 years, Trimble struggled with drug use until he decided to clean up his life and clear it of addictive substances. “That’s when I picked up the camera and the pen,” he says. “My experiences with drugs definitely influence my perspective and work.” Trimble went back to school, earning a degree in philosophy from UVU. During that time, he says, the camera became “necessary” for him. “I was spending all of my time behind a computer, writing. Photography became my outlet, a way for me to connect with the real world again.”
Despite being called a “voice for the poor” by those who view his photographs and writing, Trimble has never seen his work as a humanitarian effort. “I always felt like my photography was selfish. It was about me, and fulfilling something I needed. I never saw it as a way to help others,” he explains. Though Trimble feels this way, it is easy to see in his work a deep exploration of human perception.
Trimble closes our interview by saying that in the coming few years, he’s not sure if there are any photography projects in his future. “I have quite a few writing projects I want to complete in the next two years, but I’m not sure if or how photography relates to that.” What Trimble has brought to the table up to this point, however, is truly fascinating. Reading the stories he explores and looking at his compelling photography brings to mind the work of other photographers, like Dorothea Lange, who explored social issues similar in their realm and scope. Trimble’s work finds the essence of what it means to be human, to be curious, and to connect with others without judgment on their lives and actions.
Cradle the Ache, photographs by Ryan Trimble, Gallery East, Price, through Nov. 3.
Hannah Sandorf Davis graduated with a degree in art history with a minor in visual arts from Brigham Young University.