WELD Artist of the Week: Trey Hill

Career:Storyteller / Photographer / Filmmaker
Mantra: All work is personal work.
Interview by: Kristin Read

Tell the story of when you realized you were an artist.

In my opinion, artist is a loaded word…I don’t know that I consider myself an ‘artist’ in any traditional sense, but I’ve known I wanted to tell meaningful stories since I was around twelve years old. To paint the picture—while I was in middle school, my dad was living in Singapore, and it just sort of hit me when my sister and I visited one summer…I was reading a lot and going to the movies, and it was the first time that I ever really connected to story. I realized the power that cinematic storytelling had to shape ideas and turn hearts. I knew even then that I had something to say, and story would be the means by which I said it.

What sets your work apart from that of other photographers?

I think I have three things that are sort of hallmarks of my work: I prefer to process my images with deep, rich blacks. Secondly, the longest lens in my kit is a 50mm, which forces me to get close to the story physically—and, in turn, invites the viewer into the story. Thirdly, I have a strong desire to make meaningful connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

What makes you unique as a storyteller?

I’d say the same thing makes any storyteller unique—voice. Everyone has been given a unique point of view on the world, and that point of view has allowed me to see things that other people don’t/won’t see. The real power of story isn’t in what’s said or what’s shown, rather it’s found in what we choose to leave out (i.e. the frame in a photograph, or a piece of narrative). I really believe it’s those carefully chosen omissions that help shape an audience’s understanding of story.

What time in your life has been most influential to your career?

In late 2000, I met a guy named Sam Ditore (www.ditoremayo.com), and worked with him in different capacities for about three years. In that time, he taught me that the level of effort it takes to create quality work is often grueling, and involves more all-nighters than I care to count. Yet in hindsight, I see how invaluable and influential the experience was, but in the moment, outside of the camaraderie of working with someone you like—it was a dreadful season.Despite that, I learned that I was capable of accomplishing far more than I thought possible, and working harder than I had on anything up to that point in my life. In late 2007, Sam and I reunited to collaborate with several talented artists on I Am Second, which was a pivotal project for me, personally and professionally…it was an experience that, once again, challenged me in significant ways. So, I was thankful for that difficult season, earlier in my career.

Who/what inspires you?

Inspiration is a tricky beast and I don’t have a thing that lights a spark consistently. Sometimes it’s music or something I read. Other times, it’s just walking around a museum or a conversation with my wife. A quote that comes to mind about the unpredictability of inspiration is one by Annie Leibowitz who said, “When I’m asked about my work, I try to explain that there is no mystery involved. It is work. But things happen all the time that are unexpected, uncontrolled, unexplainable, even magical. The work prepares you for that moment.”

What’s the coolest project you’ve worked on/are working on?

It’s hard to say what the coolest thing I’ve worked on is. To be honest, it’s the one I’m working on at any given time. In that spirit, I have three big things that are all on my plate right now:

I just delivered a major project for Shutterfly. I produced seven new films and updated three from last year, all for a micro site that serves to inspire Shutterfly customers to create holiday cards that connect in a meaningful way.

I also recently worked with my friend Allan Thompson on a project for UT Southwestern—a hand washing dance video featuring this incredible dancer from L.A. named Jay Funk. Trust me, Google him.

Finally, I just delivered three films for a mission’s organization called SIM. That project took me to India, Ethiopia and Paraguay, so it was really rewarding to see that long-term project come to a successful end.

Oh, and also, I have my first gallery event hosted today (Thursday) at WELD as part of the Seed Effect 3rd Anniversary celebration. I will be one of two photographers showing work shot for Seed Effect in S. Sudan. My half of the show is called A Wild Hair of Hope, and I’m really excited about it. It’s open to anyone who registers. (WELD members can get in free using the code: SE3HC.)