Beyond the camera
“Kuala Lumpur has a special place in my heart, because it’s really where I got started with my photography," Trey Ratcliff explains as we sit in The Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur’s Lobby Lounge. “I’d travelled here for other work and thought the city was so interesting – it was almost like slipping through a veil into a parallel universe where things were a little bit different. So I thought, ‘I should really get a camera,’ and I took my first photo of the sun setting behind KL Tower.
“It was a horrible photo, and it made me think, ‘How can my photo be so terrible when Kuala Lumpur is so beautiful?’ It set me on a mission to start processing my photographs, and that’s why I love Kuala Lumpur so much: it reminds me of how I got my start." Several years later – this time with a worldwide fan base of 168,000 followers on Instagram – it’s safe to say that Ratcliff’s photography skills are above and beyond what they once were.
In fact, he’s built up such a formidable reputation as a travel photographer that he’s established a partnership with The Ritz-Carlton called 80 Stays Around The World, which continues to take him to nearly every corner of the globe. What started off in 2015 as a US-based tour around cities with a Ritz-Carlton hotel has expanded to Europe and now Asia, with Ratcliff snapping his way through Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Japan, and of course, Malaysia. “The Ritz-Carlton’s hotels are all in amazing locations, but the one consistent aspect is the service level," he notes. “There’s always this empathy, where they get real enjoyment out of making you happy, and I think it’s something we share."
As a way of inspiring art, creativity, and presence, he often hosts free photo walks for aspiring photographers in the cities he visits, encouraging them to capture the unexpected encounters and unfamiliar beauty of their surroundings. This particular visit to Kuala Lumpur, however, is solely dedicated to exploring sites like Chinatown, Batu Caves, As-Salam Mosque, the Istana Negara, and the Petronas Twin Towers. Through his lens, Kuala Lumpur takes on a glittering and slightly magical edge to it – a quality that Ratcliff insists comes from purely from pleasure, rather than an excess of technical fiddling.
“Photography tends to attract very smart, tech-y people who can get a little too into the analysis. But that only takes you so far. What people really want to do is to create art – something meaningful – so I try to give people practical advice and tell them, ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously.’ It’s a popular fallacy that if you’re taking photos, you cannot enjoy the moment. For example, we’re going to KL Tower tonight to catch the sunset. Just show up with a good attitude, and life tends to take care of itself."