Ryland Hormel, a photographer from San Francisco and zealous traveler, shines a light on the stories behind some of his favorite shots from his new release, When Do You Feel Free?, for Trope’s Behind the Shot series.
Mr. Ralph and Mr. Freddie
I was having one of those days where I just felt off. I didn't want to connect with people, which was a hard mindset to be in since that was the basis of my work. I was feeling burnt out and driving around the scorching heat in Ocala, Florida, running some errands. As I was driving, I passed these two men selling peanuts on the side of the road. Again, not feeling like myself, I didn't want to stop, but there was a voice inside me telling me to go introduce myself and buy some peanuts. I made a deal with myself that if they were still there when I was on my way back, after doing a few things, then I would stop. On my way back, they were still sitting underneath the shade in the 100+ degree heat. I pulled my truck over, left it running so the AC could keep my dog Moose cool, and I went to meet Mr. Ralph and Mr. Freddie.
I left my camera in the truck and just went to buy peanuts. An hour later, I found myself still sitting in one of the chairs they offered me and talking story with them. They told me that Mr. Ralph was peanut man #1. He inspired Mr. Freddie to sell peanuts, thus making him peanut man #2. These two men were great friends and a ton of fun to connect with. They had me in tears laughing over some of the stories they shared. They also took an interest in my project and agreed to be photographed and included in the book. This day was special to me because it was a reminder of how a seemingly random connection can totally change one's mood and day. I left Mr. Ralph and Mr. Freddie feeling refreshed and like myself again.
I met Charlotte in Durango, Colorado, while sitting in the local hot springs. We struck up a conversation and I asked if she wanted to be in the book. Charlotte is an amazing woman. She is hard of hearing and recently had a hip replacement surgery, but neither was going to stop her or slow her down. She told me that she wanted to take me on one of her favorite hikes and we could take her photos along the way.
The next day I picked her up at her house and we headed to the trail. As we were hiking, and it was not an easy terrain, she told me that this was her first hike since the hip replacement and that she might be moving slow. I was laughing at the end of the hike as she outpaced me the entire way. Some people are just built differently, and Charlotte is one of them. She has such a positive energy and outlook on life and it all stems from her love and connection to nature. It was special to hike alongside her that day and she helped me see that freedom is what we decide to accept and let go of in life. She could have let her injury slow her down, but she made a decision to push past it. Something I respect deeply.
I was in New Orleans walking around, just taking in the town. I passed Jerry sitting on the side of the road with his dog alongside him. We talked for a while, and when he agreed to be in the book, he asked if I wanted to see where he lives in his tent down by the river and meet his pet gator. This was one of those 50/50 decisions, but I felt like I could trust him, so I went with that. We walked across the railroad tracks, through the swamp, and eventually arrived at his tent by the Mississippi River. And yes, there was a gator right there...not his pet, but one he had come to know at a distance. We sat by his tent for an hour talking about freedom among so many other things. He told me that he feels free when helping other people. Jerry showed me that freedom doesn't come in material possessions but instead through a mindset and gratitude for life. I got back in my truck after that conversation and was moved to tears by the impact our conversation had on me. I hope I can find him again and give him a copy of the book.