Tyler Coray in Seattle
Tyler Coray in Seattle
Who are you?
My name is Tyler Coray. I'm a photographer and filmmaker living in Seattle, Washington - born in 1989 in Valencia, California.
When did you first get into photography?
I’ve lived in Seattle for about nine years now, but I would say that my move here is what first lead me to pursue photography. I moved to Seattle at a weird time in my life, between junior and senior year of high school. I didn't know anyone. I spent a lot of time to myself trying to deal with the change from Southern California to the Pacific Northwest. With that came a lot of free time tomyself, and walking around with a camera in a neighborhood I didn't know. For our senior
project at my high school we pretty much got to do whatever we wanted. I was fortunate enough to a have mentor that helped me with understanding the basics of photography: framing, exposure, aperture, shutter speed. All the fundamentals. I’m forever grateful for everything he taught me, because it’s guided and helped me love the medium to this day.
How was it growing up in Southern California prior to Seattle?
Growing up in Southern California was very different to how it is up here in the Northwest. The town I grew up in was about forty minutes north of Los Angeles, in a suburb that was essentially what you would expect from a "baby-boomer" sort of town. Like I said, I moved at a pretty weird time in my life, I was about to turn seventeen. I went from a high school that had 4,000 students on campus to one that barely cracked 1,500. That was an adjustment. My high
school down in California had as many black, hispanic, and asian students as there were white students. The diversity was evenly spread. Then I moved up here and the high school I fell into was predominately white, and by that I mean 98% percent white. That culture difference was the biggest change for me. I wouldn't go as far as to say that Seattle is a predominately "white city" - but the difference is there. I think moving when I was seventeen was a good thing for me though. I finished high school here. I got my first apartment in the city here. I graduated from college here. In a way I feel like I've grown up here despite living in Southern California for double the amount of time. I've learned a lot about myself that I might not have, had I stayed in my hometown.
In what ways do you feel Seattle is different and the same as people may expect? How has your view of the city, or even the city itself, changed over time?
When I moved here I feel like all anyone kept asking me was if I was ready to deal with the amount of rain. Maybe that's the biggest misconception. It does rain here a bit, but if you've spent any time in the East Coast, or the Midwest, our rain doesn't even come close. It's more of just a constant light rain and overcast for four months, but in those other regions it pours! Personally I enjoy actually having seasons up here, compared to when I was growing up in Southern California when it was either hot or less hot.
Aside from the rain myth, Seattle is a great city and I love living here. It's smaller than
some people might expect. I don't have a car and I'm not particularly a big fan of the bus either, so I walk everywhere. You can walk from most Point A's to Point B's in under an hour. You walk past different districts that all of their unique qualities. Downtown, International District, Pioneer Square. Each one is distinctly different, but you get a taste of each just by walking a few blocks.
I've lived in a part of the city called Capitol Hill for about six years now, it's generally the part of the city where most of the artists and musicians live. It's also the part of town where the most advancement in the rights of the LGBT community has taken place in recent years. That's rapidly changing, and more so in the past two years then ever before. Maybe one thing that most people don't know about Seattle is that along with Microsoft, it's also host to the headquarters
of Amazon. Except unlike Microsoft, which is in the suburbs, Amazon is in the heart of downtown. So now, like many places across the country, Seattle (especially the Capitol Hill area) is undergoing gentrification. As Amazon adds more employees, more condos go up. Our rent goes up because of the rapid growth and people who have lived on Capitol Hill for years can no longer afford to stay. This is probably the main point of dialogue in Seattle at this time, and a major political point of tension. It's sad that it's happening, and I don't like that it's happening, but it's nothing that hasn't happened to others before (see: Brooklyn, San Francisco, etc).
You also do videos and music in addition to photography, how do these balance out? How do you see your work transferring across mediums and also living on its own in each medium? (If that makes sense). Basically, what similarities and differences do you see in both your process and output across the different mediums? Particularly, how does photo affect (or become affected) by the other two?
The band I’m involved in is a great outlet for my creative process. They definitely both live separately from one another, but it’s great when the two came come together. As a band we've always approached it as an all-encompassing project that expands beyond
just making music. I handle most of the photography and video work. My band mate Jordan handles all the design aspects. We all went to school together at Cornish, so our relationship there naturally carried over to working on music. Personally, I enjoy approaching each separately. What I shoot for my personal work is entirely different than what we present aesthetically as a band. I have always approached video as a way of providing more story and atmosphere beyond what I can tell with a still photograph.
How does color vs. black-and-white images play a role in your process, either when shooting (and) or in post?
I’ve always struggled with black and white, personally. It’s always been really hard for me. I see colors first, and how they’re playing off one another, usually pops of color against neutral backgrounds. Or the opposite, where it’s shades of neutral colors. Naturally, that’s what my eye is drawn to first. I think the stuff I like to shoot lends itself to being shot in color. Black and white requires the right subject. When it’s the right subject matter, it’s better than color could ever be.
When you were doing photography in high school, did you use a darkroom?
I was only shooting digital at the time. Part of the reason why I was excited to start going to school at Cornish was that I was finally going to be able to use a darkroom and learn to shoot film. The learning experience was great and taught me a lot about how to expose for different scenarios, because of the flexibility you have with the development process. Now that I'm done with school I really miss having that resource. There's a place not to far from my apartment, called Pratt Fine Arts Center, that offers classes to anyone and everyone. It's really an amazing place, but more importantly they have one of the only color darkrooms left in the state of Washington. I've always wanted to process and make my own prints from color film, so I think I'm going to start taking a class there during the summer.
Would it be accurate to describe the mission with your images as showcasing moments or scenes that are usually not paid much attention to or appreciated as much as they should? If not, how do you see it?
I think that’s pretty accurate. When people ask me about my work I usually describe it as “quiet.” I think what’s presented is pretty straight forward, but I hope that people spend time investigating the relationships that are being made, and the subtle details. I think most of my work comes down to subtle details. Things that aren’t directly obvious, but really enforces the main subject of the photograph. I hope that once those relationships are made that things start to unfold a bit.
What is your favorite subject matter to shoot?
My favorite thing to shoot is something that I’m not shooting enough of, and that’s people. One of the things I’ve always struggled with when it comes to taking photographs is approaching people. Asking them if it’s even okay that I take their picture. I’d like to be better at that. I want to learn people’s stories and be able to share them. I can’t learn more about myself without knowing more about others and what they've been through.
I think that feeling of being uneasy about approaching people is something a lot of photographers go through. Do you have any ideas yet on how you might try to break out of it?
I wish I knew. I think it'll just start with coming to terms that not everyone wants their photo taken, and that's okay. The worst thing that can happen is somebody says no, or asks you to delete an image. In the best scenario, you meet someone new and get to know them, hopefully more than just that one time. Honestly, the thing that has helped me most is my camera. I shoot primarily with three: Pentax 67, Rolleicord V, Contax TVSIII. In particular with the Pentax and Rolleicord, people are interested in the cameras because they look old, and ask me questions about them. That has helped with loosening things up. I've even made really good friends withpeople who have stopped me on the street and asked me about my camera. It's funny how relationships can be made from simple questions like that. If people know that you genuinely care about them and what makes them the person that they are, they're willing
to open up. I think I also need to allow myself to be more vulnerable, because ultimately that's what you're asking people to do when you take their picture.
What are some of your images that you are the most proud of?
There are some photos I shot in New York a couple years back that I have always really enjoyed. It was my first time visiting New York, but something about walking around a city somewhat helpless and lost lends itself to investigating things in a way that you might not do in familiar surroundings. In particular was a day I walking around and I came across these artificial flowers in identical vases, sitting on top of yellow table in between two parked cars. There was no one around and there didn't seem to be other belongings anywhere else. The yellow table really pops out from the silver cars on either side. I’ve always been drawn to the cords that are wrapped around each vase. It’s like a one-item garage sale taking place in between two cars.
Another was when I was walking down in SoHo and came across
what seemed like some underground club. I was so drawn to the red rope, and even though the doors to this place were wide open, there was still something limiting people from going in. I never figured out what was down there. The whole thing seemed a bit shady, but I hope that when people see that photo, they have the same curiosity I had and feel like they want to go down there.
I’m most proud of a photo I took up on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Peninsula here in Washington. I don’t think it’s the best photo I have taken by any means, but it ended up on the cover of a Minor Alps record. It had always been a dream to have my work end up on album cover or part of record packaging in some way. It was pretty surreal walking into my local record store, picking it up, and holding it in my hands. My friend Derek Vander Griend, who went to school at Cornish with me, designed all the packaging.
Are there any photographers that have particularly inspired you?
Countless, but to name a few: Stephen Shore, Wolfgang Tillmans, Todd Hido, Viviane Sassen, Eirik Johnson, Pavel Wolberg, Anthony Hernandez, Gabriel Orozco, Sara Marcel, The Aint-Bad Magazine crew, Anna Paola Guerra, Joe Rudko, Canh Solo.
I see in your bio that you’re now a producer and video editor at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. How did that come about and how has that experience had an impact on you so far?
My job at the Gates Foundation started a couple months after being done with school at Cornish.I took some time after school to gather myself, but the bills have to be paid somehow. They were looking for someone to archive their collection of footage, both photos and video. I knew the job was a bit below what I was capable of doing but I thought it would be a great opportunity to work somewhere that has an outstanding reputation like the Gates Foundation has. I've been here for about a year and a half, and the job has expanded from archiving to being the full-fledged videoeditor and producer that I am now. I would say that it's still not exactly where I would like to be career wise, but only in the sense that it can be a little limiting creatively. Since it is such a major global non-profit, you can't really get too outside the box with things. The Foundation's message
and mission is always the main priority, which is totally understandable. That being said, I've learned a lot here. It's helped me become a better video editor than I was when I was just getting out of school. It's helped me become a better decision-maker when it comes to my editing. Most importantly though, I'm incredibly fortunate to be working at a place like the Gates Foundation directly out of college. I know that I'll take the things I've learned here and bring that into other jobs in the future.
Having your (photography) work in that physical form with the record cover, how do you feel about the balance of that type of manifestation compared to digital? Have you thought about doing a book, or something along those lines, at a point in the future with your photos?
For me it was just holding something tangible that made it so rewarding. If there's any problem or gripe that I have with not only digital photography, but digital media as a whole, is that thingsbecome easily overlooked. Tumblr is probably the greatest example of that. I think the averageperson must spend about two to three seconds looking at an image before they're scrolling or swiping down to the next thing. Why? Probably because there wasn't something in that image that immediately grabbed their attention, and maybe that's part of the problem with platforms like that. The culture of the internet and digital media has become pure aesthetics first, content and context second. The problem becomes that people feel they need to produce work to caterto that short attention span, because we're told that X amount of "likes" or "reblogs" translates to your work being "good." There's hundreds of great photographers, painters, mixed media artists,
etc. on platforms like that, that go unnoticed because their work isn't pure eye candy. Certain places like Cargo Collective are doing it right by providing artists a place to showcase their work, without all the extra added stimuli. That's why I try and visit museums and galleries as much as I can. Even if a certain piece of work isn't necessarily something I like, I'm still in the room with it. It's still physically there, which makes me spend more time with it. Then I notice things I didn't notice before.
I'd love to do a book at some point, when the time is right. In the meantime while I'm getting ideas down on paper, I'll probably make some handmade zines.
What are your goals for the future, whether it be photographically or just in general?
I'd like to spend more time working on my personal work. Since I've been done with school, I've been caught up with my job and worked primarily on projects for other people. All those projects I've been a part of have been extremely beneficial to my personal growth
as an artist. Working collaboratively with others is a very rewarding experience. Eventually, a time comes when you have to tell people that it's time for some "me time.” I'm ready for some "me time.” It's been two years since I graduated and developed a real body of work and I hate that. There's a few projects I have in mind that I'm excited about - particularly one that will involve driving up and down the Washington and Oregon coast a lot, and hopefully meeting a lot of people along the way. Outside my photo work, I'm really looking forward to live scoring Alien at Northwest Film Forum with my band. We've been working on developing original music and we'll be in the theater playing as the movie runs silent with subtitles. I'll also be going to Iceland in July for a couple weeks, a place I've always wanted to visit. I'm ready to connect with nature and escape the noise of the city.
@tcoray / www.tcoray.com
Q&A by Jack Sommer