Wilmington, NC, based photographer Matt Ray is one of the judges for this years Cape Fear Living Photographer of the Year Competition. He has photographed many of our favorite features from Blind Elephant and End of Days to Dram Yard and Ceviches. We caught up with him to find out how he got started, what inspires his work and what he'll be looking for in this years photographic entries.
Tell a little about your background and how you got into photography.
I grew up here in Wilmington and moved to Seattle when I was 20. I was there by myself and spent a lot of time buying disposable cameras and taking pictures of the area. I was managing a restaurant at the time, and on my lunch break one day, I broke down and purchased my first real camera for a couple hundred dollars. Soon after, I moved to Charlotte, NC, and got a job managing a coffee shop. While there, I often printed my photos and put them on the walls. One day, a lady who was a rep for ESPN and the NFL came in. She was on her phone ordering her coffee and said, "Do you happen to know a photographer for a last-minute shoot?" I said, "I'm your guy. "She turned back to her phone and said, "We have a photographer." To this day, I still joke that my first paid photo shoot also remains my highest profile shoot. I photographed hall-of-famer Joe Namath for an event to kick off the NFL season. I was incredibly underqualified, but it did quite a bit to boost my confidence; the rest is history.
How would you define your style?
It depends on what I'm shooting. When shooting people, I prefer a journalistic style where I'm not seen or heard but left to my own to capture candid, authentic emotion. When photographing food, I'm a big fan of capturing the nuances that make up the dish. I like to get really deep into the makeup of the dish and showcase the artistry behind creating it.
You've worked with some of the top food & drink people in Wilmington. What do you particularly love about food & drink photography?
Honestly, what I love about photography in general usually ends up being about the people behind what I'm photographing. Food, like any other art form, has heart and soul behind it, and I very much enjoy the challenge of capturing that. So, likewise, the people and hearts I meet along the way are what I love about what I do.
Is a photo shoot that stands out as the most memorable?
That's a tough one. I've had so many memorable experiences on photo shoots that it's hard to narrow it down. Apart from the incredible chefs and makers, I get to work with regularly, the most memorable shoot that comes to mind is when I took my camera to the top of Kilimanjaro. 10 other guys and I climbed the mountain to raise awareness and funds against human trafficking. The raw emotion and scenery I got to capture will forever be one of my best memories.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned throughout your career that could help those starting out in photography?
Photography as an art form has changed dramatically since I first started. While there are so many who love to photograph, there are fewer who have a passion for creating their own unique path in it. As an artist, it's so important that you find your own niche in your field. Find ways to include work that reminds you why you love what you do.
What other projects can we expect from you soon?
Well, I recently opened a new whiskey & wine bar called The Starling with my good friend Abbye from Salt & Charm. So I get to combine two of my favorite things: Photographing cocktails and creating a space for authentic community to happen.
Apart from that, you can expect from me the ongoing project of always trying to find new ways to capture my amazing clients in a different light. The world of photography is ever-changing, and I enjoy the challenge of staying ahead of it.
You are a judge for the upcoming Cape Fear Living Photographer of the Year. What key elements will you be looking for in the photographic entries?
What I'll be looking for most is originality, real emotion, and good use of light.