By Leah Hansen
Growing up in Indonesia and France, completing university in Canada and having having Trinidadian ancestry, 2009 Ryerson photography grad Ray Traboulay grew up in the in-between.
However, his photography project Farewell to the Flesh: Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, has him feeling more connected to home than ever, he said. While his parents are from the small twin-island nation, he had never had the chance to truly explore it.
“In a sense, this was a project of self discovery,” said Traboulay. “Basically, finding my roots with the history and the culture and the nation.”
Traboulay’s photography explores the traditional masquerade, he says, as opposed to the “pretty masquerade” — the beautiful women that take part in the celebrations — that is seen in international media coverage. Traditional costumes are becoming less and less popular, Traboulay said, despite their rich cultural significance.
“I don’t see this in the press outside of Trinidad much, my mind is sort of blown because they’re such amazing costumes, there’s such deep history and culture,” he said. “It’s a really special island and it really doesn’t get much notoriety outside of the country itself.”
While in the photography program at Ryerson, Traboulay was interested primarily in fashion photography, he said. However, during a trip to Trinidad in 2011, he was struck by the vibrancy and cultural aspects of Carnival. Since then, he says his work has focused on intertwining fashion and cultural photography.
Instead of merely photographing the Carnival as it passed, Traboulay says he took full sets of studio lighting equipment out into the streets of Trinidad and got up close and personal with the masqueraders. The result is a unique form of Carnival coverage, he said, one that focuses on the rich history and cultural significance of the festival with a fashion-minded twist.
“I really want people to see what kind of beauty and awesomness Trinidad has to offer in terms of the traditional masqueraders because they don’t get that much attention,” he said.
The photographs in his upcoming exhibition at the Ryerson Image Arts Building were taken over three years, from 2011 to 2013. Farewell to the Flesh: Trinidad and Tobago Carnival will be exhibited in the first and third-floor hallways at the Ryerson Image Arts Centre starting March 31.