‘Your signature is most important’
Veteran photographer shares nuggets of inspiration on road to success
Radcliffe ‘Ruddy’ Roye’s introduction to photography happened under unexpected circumstances, but looking back, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Herbert Morrison Comprehensive High alumnus grew up in Farm Heights, Montego Bay, and recalled that life was easy because of his mother, Dorcas.
“We struggled, but she gave me art. She gave me speech and drama. She gave me music, and I think it was an escape.
“She also gave me the ability to use these disciplines to create an identity for myself, which is something that I’ve used in America to do the work that I do,” he said during a Fireside Chat at Jamaica National (JN) on Tuesday.
He apprenticed as a journalist at The Western Mirror, a St James-based newspaper, and also worked with major local newspaper companies, The Gleaner and the Observer.
Roye left Jamaica at 20 years old and went to the United States to pursue an undergraduate degree in creative writing with a minor in philosophy at Goucher College.
Before he left, his mother gave him a key to the front door of the house and told him that if anything happened to him, he should come home.
With 30 credits left to complete the programme, he received a notice from immigration that his status had expired and that he needed to return to Jamaica to extend his student visa arrangement.
“I came here with a paper from my college saying that I was on a full scholarship and the woman in immigration tell mi seh dem nah send mi back sah,” he said, adding that he was torn.
He struggled to figure out what he was going to do with his life and spent a year at home – out of school and unemployed.
Roye had returned with a camera that was gifted to him but he did not know how to use it.
He learnt photography in a unique way.
Roye walked 121 miles in 21 days from Montego Bay to Kingston and photographed the people living along the defunct railroad.
“The idea was stolen. One day I came down and I saw some pictures in the airport, the same pictures I took, but there was a lesson. I learnt that I had to guard the things that are important to me,” the 52-year-old said.
He returned to the United States and presented the same images to The Associated Press and an editor told him that if Jamaican photographers could capture news the way they covered cricket, they would be the world’s best.
He went on to develop his craft in New York. Today, the Cleveland-based photojournalist has more than two decades of experience and specialises in editorial and environmental portraits.
Roye explained that he immersed himself in African American culture to adapt to the space but always punctuated his images with the words of Jamaicans.
He describes himself as a reggae artist using a camera as his voice, explaining that when he photographs a homeless person, he hears Mighty Diamonds’ I Need a Roof.
Roye has worked with National Geographic, The New York Times, Time Magazine, Vogue, Jet, Ebony, ESPN, Essence, and AP. Roye was also named a 2020-2021 National Geographic Storytelling Fellow.
“One of the biggest ways of being somebody on a global stage is being able to have somebody say, ‘That’s Ruddy Roye’s image’. Your signature is most important,” he said with a smile.
Roye will be one of two master photographers who will help entrants to improve their skills during the JN Foundation ‘Greatness through the Lens’ photo advocacy competition.
“I’ve always looked for a door to come back in ... . This is like the most fitting expression of what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he remarked.