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Barnard Photographer Searches for Light

  • Tara Wray sits at her kitchen table with her dog, Nighthawk, and some of her photos laid out on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, at her home in Barnard, Vt. Wray has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund pre-sales for her hardcover photobook, "Too Tired for Sunshine." (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tara Wray places photos on her kitchen table on Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, at her home in Barnard, Vt. Wray has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund pre-sales for her hardcover photobook, "Too Tired for Sunshine." (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • An untitled photogrraph from Tara Wray's planned photobook "Too Tired for Sunshine." Wray, who lives in Barnard, took photographs of details that matched her mood as she was battling depression. (Tara Wray photograph)

  • An untitled photogrraph from Tara Wray's planned photobook "Too Tired for Sunshine." Wray, who lives in Barnard, took photographs of details that matched her mood as she was battling depression. (Tara Wray photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, November 23, 2017

There’s a nice-sounding folk theory that assumes a relationship between creativity and mental illness — Van Gogh’s ear seems to be the favored paradigm — but the truth is, this claim is unproven from a medical standpoint, and probably dangerous from a social one.

It might be more accurate to say that people with mental illness tend to see the world differently than the neurotypical. A person who is depressed, for example, might be more likely to notice the irony in a Rite Aid display of Mother’s Day bouquets that’s conveniently located next to the cleaning supplies, or how a bit of glazed doughnut got pinched off under the lip of its protective glass cover. They might find themselves inexplicably drawn to dogs looking out car windows, especially on damp or overcast days.

Tara Wray, the Barnard photographer and former filmmaker who has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the production of her forthcoming photo book, Too Tired for Sunshine, captures the world through just this lens. Wray has dealt with depression on and off for most of her life, she said, and both she and her book are matter-of-fact about the vicissitudes of living with the condition.

“Three hundred and fifty million people worldwide suffer from depression. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she said during an interview at Jake’s, in Quechee, on a recent Thursday morning that surprised with snow. But she also doesn’t want to give the impression that she’s in a darker place than she really is, though she was experiencing depression when taking most of the photographs that appear in the book.

“I’m doing well now — I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed and talk to you if I wasn’t — but that’s not always the case,” she said.

Wray pulled out some thick stacks of glossy, 4-by-6 photos and spread them out across the table. Over the course of the conversation, she sifted around for the ones she was particularly fond of: a shelving unit full of cardboard boxes all stamped with the word “disappointment,” an old woman wearing sunglasses and a head full of curlers, animals in various states of butchery, dogs looking out of cars.

“It’s kind of my wheelhouse, dogs in windows,” she said. As for why, “I tried to figure that out. I feel more connected to a dog in a parking lot than to a human, I guess.” She thinks it’s something about their aloneness that compels her.

Another photo of a dog, mostly black with a white nose and chest stripe, almost demands the projection of human emotion. It’s kind of hunched over and has a distinctly sullen, don’t-bother-me look to its face, as if ruminating on something a Jack Russell terrier, for example, could never understand. A couple of red-ribboned evergreens, mostly out of frame, suggest the holiday season.

“That dog looks exactly how I was feeling that day,” Wray said. “I felt like we had a connection.”

She shoots much of her work from this place of “instinct, emotion and light,” with the important caveat that “good light trumps everything,” she said. And Wray is well-versed in finding and manipulating light: Though only in her late 30s she likes to call herself a “retired filmmaker,” having switched tacks after directing two documentaries, Manhattan, Kansas (2006), in which she returns to her hometown to visit her mother, with whom she had a difficult relationship, and Cartoon College (2012), which follows a group of artists at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction.

For a while, she regarded photography as “not my medium. I was a documentary filmmaker, and taking pictures was always a side note,” she said. But she started getting more excited about it once she learned about making the most of different camera settings. “I took a class about it,” she said. “Go figure.”

Eventually she decided filmmaking was a bit too chaotic for her liking, and that she preferred the solitude and quiet meditation of photography. “It’s something that’s bigger than me,” she said, and sipped her coffee. “When you’re depressed, your world gets really small, and photography makes it feel less so. … It lessens the vice.”

It’s also more flexible than filmmaking, so she can work on the follow-the-muse basis that suits her. Rather than going out looking for a subject or with a theme in mind, she takes most of her pictures on the fly, often slamming on her brakes and turning the car around to go get a shot. This requires a certain awakeness to the world around her that she’s found difficult during depressive episodes. It helps to be on the lookout for striking images wherever she goes.

“I call it putting my antennae up,” she said. This was the case with some photos she took in Barnard, when her antennae picked up on a long-haired man who looked as if “he was on his way to L.A.,” Wray said, smiling. He was wearing a turquoise necklace, an earth-toned bandana and a lion-emblazoned T-shirt with a neckline that someone had cut out so wide that it was essentially off-the-shoulder. His enormous brown gauchos were rolled at the waist at least twice.

“I thought, if I don’t stop for him, I’m a fool,” she said.

Even more enormous than the man’s gauchos was his Great Dane. In Wray’s picture, the dog is encountering a small, grandmotherly woman in a long floral dress. Its great majestic head comes up to the bottom of the woman’s chin, and it looks like she’s tilting her face down to kiss his nose. It’s a collision of worlds that’s at once gentle and absurd.

“That was really lucky,” Wray said. Her previous photo book, Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long (2014), was a follow-up to Manhattan, Kansas and consisted of photos she took over the course of four days. Too Tired for Sunshine represents years’ worth of snapshots, dating back to 2011, so it has more of these accidental images, she said.

Though the uncertainty of crowdfunding her book makes her nervous, Wray feels she owes it to herself, and her work, to go for it: “I have faith in it. I can’t not do it. I’d be lost without it,” she said. As of Tuesday this week, the Kickstarter campaign has raised just over half of its initial $12,000 goal. The project will be funded only if it reaches its goal by Dec. 12.

Wray hopes that her images will remind others, as they remind her, that “there is beauty in the world, there is sadness, there is darkness, there is humor, and it’s all coming at you, all at once,” she said.

“Sharing helps.”

To learn more about Tara Wray and donate to her Kickstarter campaign, go to tarawray.net.

Ongoing

AVA Gallery and Art Center, Lebanon. “Seasons,” a show of encaustic nature paintings by the Thetford Center artist William N. Peabody, continues through Jan. 26. There will be a reception on Dec. 2 from 5 to 7 p.m.

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. The wood sculptures of Hugh Townley are on view through Dec. 2. Also on view through Dec. 2 is “Bridge Wharf Raft,” wall sculptures by Paul Bowen.

Center For the Arts, New London. The Juried Regional Exhibition, which features work by 20 New Hampshire artists, runs through Jan. 27.

Center for Art and Design, Colby-Sawyer College, New London. “Inner Visions: Selections from the Collection of Beverly Stearns Bronson ’55,” an exhibition of outsider art, including works by Martin Ramirez, Bill Traylor and Nellie Mae Rowe, continues in the Davidow Gallery through Dec. 10.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. The water photographs of Rockland, Maine, resident Joan Wright are on view through November.

Cider Hill Gardens and Gallery, Windsor. On view this month are sculpture, painting and installations by Steven Proctor, Herb Ferris, Gary Haven Smith and the Mythmakers.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Landscapes: Lyme and Tuscany,” an exhibition of work by Greg Gorman in the Betty Grant Gallery, runs through Dec. 29. Gorman will donate 10 percent of his art sales to the Friends of Lyme Library.

Hall Art Foundation, Reading, Vt. “Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros,” a show of more than 80 paintings on the subject of romantic and sexual love. “Ready. Fire! Aim.,” a collaboration between the foundation and Burlington City Arts; a solo show by David Shrigley; and outdoor sculpture by Richard Deacon, Olafur Eliasson and Marc Quinn are all on view through Sunday.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. East Randolph artist Marcia Hammond exhibits oil portraits through Jan. 31.

Library Arts Center, Newport, N.H. The annual holiday exhibition “Gallery of Gifts: Handmade Holiday Boutique” is a good way to take in the range of beautifully crafted, handmade work by area artists and artisans. The exhibition and sale run through Dec. 23.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Hanover. “East Meets West,” a show of brush paintings on silk and etchings by, respectively, Ann and Bruce Peck, is on view through Dec. 20.

Piermont Public Library. “Connecticut River Valley and Beyond: Oil Paintings and Photography by Nancy Griswold” is on display through Wednesday.

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, Cornish. Exhibition buildings have closed for the season, but the grounds are still open.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. Works by owner Stacy Hopkins, sculptor and jeweler Margaret Jacobs and Rich Fedorchak are on view.

Tunbridge Public Library. David Fisk’s show, “Challenge and Happiness in Abstract Painting,” is on view through Jan. 19.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Lois Masor Beatty and Maureen O’Connor Burgess show recent work through November.

Royalton Memorial Library. Fairlee painter Robert Rae’s work is included in the exhibition “Wonderland Forever,” a show inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Through Dec. 31.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. Sculptural assemblages by John F. Parker are on view through Dec. 31.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. An exhibition of work by members of the Vermont Pastel Society continues through Dec. 27.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at ejholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.