Cooper Ray is a 29 year old photographer, cyclist, and horticulturalist from New York City. He is a life-long learner and believes it’s of the utmost importance to find, protect, and nurture what truly feeds your soul. His early independence in New York has taught him the value of learning through experience, mentorship, and your surrounding environment.
From a young age, Cooper Ray grew up in his father’s photo studios in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood around photographers of diverse backgrounds and disciplines. He never imagined he’d be a photographer himself, but years later, he found himself working as bicycle courier and felt obligated to document the New York he saw and experienced on two wheels while connecting the city. At its core, the bicycle was the ultimate freedom for Cooper. At the age of 14 he started riding a brakeless track bike, and began crawling every inch of his city. Determined to know every street, every building, every physical and economic boundary, Cooper began the most important journey of his life: a life of exploration enabled by two wheels. It wasn’t until half a decade later that Cooper starting slinging a camera while riding – every single day. Armed with encyclopedic knowledge of city streets, history of place, and a fierce interest in architecture, urban design, and how cities become; his deep interests intersect and compliment each other. This synthesis is ever expanding, his mind endlessly analyzing the situations presented to him, self described as a blessing and a curse. His photographs are the manifestation and coping mechanism of witnessing his city rapidly evolve before his eyes, the disparity and inequality that persists in urban environments globally, and a gentle nod to history and mastery in craft, human ingenuity, and perseverance.
Early on in Cooper’s adult life, he was deeply inspired, yet equally torn by the complexity of dense urban environments. He loves cities, and there is no hiding the diversity of human experience in New York if you so choose to pay attention. There is great triumph and success in urbanity, with canyons of skyscrapers and dense city blocks that represent great wealth. This however, comes paired with growing socioeconomic disparity between the people who inhabit these places across the globe. This is evident as time moves forward. Sustainability of mental health is a little harder to recognize, despite being persistent across the sea of wealth juxtaposition and systemic inequality. Fortunately, Cooper had many mentors throughout his high school years to help enlighten him to these conditions. Striving to maintain his own mental fortitude, Cooper slowly acquired a deep appreciation of the natural world, fueled by where his bicycle could take him. He immersed himself in observation of the cadences of natural forces to help offset the day to day hardships of city living. For him, this was the great equalizer and a saving grace. Cooper’s ongoing fascination and primal need for time spent in the natural world was fulfilled by countless hours of adventure outside of the city. Constantly pushing the limits of what is possible physically and mentally allowed for for peace of mind, and a hard reset of how the city impacted his mental state. These doses of mental satiety are consistent whether dodging traffic, or summiting a mountain pass in some far away place. The mental game is everything for sustainability.
More recently in Cooper’s life, he has compiled his years worth environmental observation and is educating himself in Horticulture and cultivation of the natural life he cherishes so much. He truly believes in a vision of promoting biodiversity to save our planet’s looming climate crisis, growing your own food as empowerment, social equity and community building, and simply stopping to smell the flowers. Slowing down in a world that is going full speed ahead is crucial. Take notes from Mother Earth.
Photography is the expression and encapsulation of how Cooper views the world that he cannot directly put into words. It doubles as a vessel to explore deeper meaning and understanding, or question something he observes. The bicycle is the great enabler and ultimate exploration tool; a means to break down boundaries, regardless of status or background. Appreciation and respect for the natural world is the key to our survival. These are Cooper’s values that are deeply entwined in everything he does. Nothing is mutually exclusive, and the discovery of these values have been a natural progression of following the heart. Things have come and gone, but these core principles are how Cooper will spend the rest of his life. The next step is how to utilize everything he does to empower and educate his community, and the people with whom he meets on his journey. Stay hungry, stay curious.