Really (so to speak).
What he shoots lives in a virtual world — in a lens, in the digital process. They’re not in the real world, but there they are.
“There is a subculture of defiant pixels resisting photographic perfection,” says Wright. “Chromatic aberrations, purple fringing, hot pixels, ‘Christmas lights,’ stuck pixels, shadow noise — these are just a handful of situations where the light-sensitive silicon in a digital camera fails. I have chosen to embrace those imperfections, magnify them, celebrate them.”
Wright’s speaking of his Web site’s “Sensorscape Series,” one of the rooms of his online virtual gallery. You can also wander the halls of “Principia Insecta” (drawing-like photos of imaginary bugs made from human hair), “Reclamations” (physical-world photos of billboards, Photoshop-filled to advertise sky) and others.
“Being present for light is Taoism,” Wright says. “That means looking but not looking –being in that temporal state between two places. That way you’re most in a ready position to find things.” How do you get there? “That’s the hard bit,” he admits. “To put yourself in that state constantly requires lots of mistakes.” And not only one’s own: Wright got his photo “Buzz Cut,” he says, “from a Minolta where the sensor just got fried and started to record wave patterns. The camera lost its mind completely. But there’s a defect you can embrace,” he says. “A lot of people do that — take what you think is broken in a scene and incorporate it rather than try to get rid of it. You can see I’m full of a lot of mysticism,” he adds with laugh, “but I do believe in these things.”
It’s all good. Wright teaches photography online and he’s done well for himself in the corporate world, having cashed-out after a stint as creative director of the Boulder, Colo., CD-ROM company Inroads Interactive. So let him talk Tao — he’s walked the walk.
He’s walked it, in fact, all the way from Princeton, N.J., where he was born 42 years ago while his father was an undergrad, to upstate New York, Boulder, New York City and, finally, Philadelphia, where on the whole, he’d rather be. Raised in the village of Vestal, N.Y., he was a jock who lettered in soccer, wrestling and track-and-field. His father is a lawyer and his mother a paralegal, in different firms.
Wright attended Princeton as a pre-med student, but “dropped out of that after my first chemistry class.” He majored in architecture next, and then finally art history and painting. And he was indeed a painter and not yet a photographer. Then in his last semester, Wright took a photography class with Steve Fitch, who, he says, “was a profound influence. He taught me to look at the ironies and juxtapositions in the cultural landscape, and that’s something that vexes and intrigues me to this day.” For example? “An identical row of homes built on top of a hill with identical birdhouses in the foreground. Self-storage units in the middle of outdoor forest landscapes. Odd architecture.”
Graduating in 1987, Wright went on to earn an MFA in painting at Columbia University. And speaking of ironies and juxtapositions, “that entire period was all about my rejection of painting,” he says. “That’s when I felt my real love of photography developing. I took classes and lectures with famed photographers Danny Lyon, Arnold Newman, and John Loengard and they buoyed me into photography.”
Wright spent the next year studying at the International Center of Photography while working as a photo assistant around New York City. As well, he counts off, “I worked for an Off-Broadway theater, shot Melvin van Peebles, and shot the back cover for the 1990 music-video anthology Lifestyles of the Ramones.” He taught himself digital art. “I started to make 3D models,” he says. “Recreations of famous paintings, digitally rendered. For work I was freelancing as a graphic designer in New Jersey till about ’94.”
After that came Colorado and Inroads Interactive, where as creative director “I did animation, interface design, oversaw all the creative. It was a good job but it started to get stale. I felt the desire to go back to fine art.” Wright got a studio in Manhattan’s not-yet-trendy meatpacking district in 1999 and pursued a fulltime photography career – moving from that downtown neighborhood in the summer of 2001, just months before two airplanes would fly in to change the world.
Wright had relocated to Philly by then. He shot the various series that appear on his Web site and started teaching online — “a great joy and a great experience.” He’d gotten the idea from Barnes & Noble’s online Photoshop classes, and from meeting a photographer who taught online. “I started getting people interested in my ongoing ‘Photo of the Week Series,’ started building up that list, and students would sort of come out of that ether and float into the classes. It’s done in a handshake manner,” he says. “You send me a check, send me your three best photos every week, and I post them on the site and do very comprehensive critiques.”
Unlike the ephemera of his pixel art, however, Wright also teaches in the physical world. For the last three years he’s taught a seminar (under the arm of his studio) in Hopewell, NJ, taken on short adjunct posts, and lectures regularly on “The Camera as Plastic Tool: Photographer as Sculptor.” His work hangs in the permanent collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Johnson & Johnson Corp. and elsewhere.
“If I do anything,” he reflects, “it’s to help students remove the things that are blocking them. I let them find their voice and vision. With students, you have to be present and listen and see how far away their words are from their photographs — and in that gap you can find out how to get them to a truer expression.”
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