In his Instagram profile, Radcliffe “Ruddy” Roye calls himself a humanist/activist and a photographer with a conscience, labels that have driven his work documenting the lives of African Americans across the country, in photographs full of warmth, intimacy and anger. Named TIME‘s Instagram photographer of the year in 2016, Roye’s images have found a wide audience, with more than 250,000 followers on the platform. Since the 2014 Ferguson, Missouri protests of the killing of Michael Brown, Roye has been photographing “When Living is a Protest,” a series that collects portraits of mostly African American men, and includes his conversations with them about their lives, their struggles and the state of the country. The series is on view at The Half King Photography Series in New York City starting today.
Roye’s descriptions of the circumstances surrounding each image, which include the voices of his subjects, are integral to his images. In a photo of a man standing in front of the glowing sign of a mission, Roye recalls his words: “‘I love being here because I am able to help the people that I find here. I have been here for almost a year but I recently got kicked out because of a fighting misunderstanding. I still come here because I have some people trying to help me to get back in,’ Christopher Longfair told me in Chicago. Residents were hurrying to get inside for the 6.45 curfew. ‘If they don’t get in they will be locked out all night,’ he continued. So where do you stay now? I asked. ‘On the streets,’ he answered.” A man in a a wheelchair folds his hands carefully in his lap. Writes Roye about the picture: “I met Dwayne Hill while driving around on Election Day. ‘I voted today. I always vote Democrat. Today I voted for a better change. Being in the street for the past 12 year takes its toll. They didn’t want me to vote today down at Ralph Avenue. I was convicted of a crime so they told me it won’t count. I voted anyway. I think Trump has that set up like that. But I need better than what he is offering. Right now rooms are $175 a week and welfare is $215 per month. They want you to do a work program but only want to give you fare to get to work and no lunch or nothing. How do they expect me to work with these hands?'” In another image, a young man raises his arms in a field of cotton. Roye describes his encounter with him: “Twenty year-old Robert Scott strutted across the low grassy field to ask me if I was OK. I was meditating. He introduced himself and told me he was one of the workers who refurbished the apartments at Shack Up Inn, a bed and breakfast with historical roots to the cotton industry. I asked if he’d heard about Mike Brown and Eric Garner and he shared this: ‘It’s messed up but it’s nothing new. It is something that has been going on since the beginning of time. It will never get better, it will only get worse. It has to play itself out. We as black people just need to prepare ourselves for anything. The police want to control us, if we object we are penalized and that’s just where we are right now.'”
A talk and screening with Roye and moderator Oliver Laurent, editor of TIME LightBox, takes place at 7pm tonight at The Half King Photography Series.