Tara Wray is a photographer based in Vermont. Her most recent photobook, Too Tired for Sunshine, was published by Yoffy Press in 2018. Work from the series has been featured in the Washington Post, Vice, BURN Magazine, GUP Magazine, and others. Born and raised in Kansas, Wray graduated from NYU with a degree in documentary film. She has directed two feature length documentaries: Manhattan, Kansas (Audience Award, SXSW 2006; Film Society of Lincoln Center) and Cartoon College (Official Selection, Vancouver International Film Festival 2012). She curates interviews with photographers at Vice and at BUST Magazine—where her focus is on giving voice to women in photography—and is photo editor of the literary journal Hobart. She curates Some Days Just Are, a collaborative series where two photographers capture a twelve hour day in parallel time.
Grab a copy of Tara’s book ‘Too Tired for Sunshine’ on the Yoffy Press website here
Could you tell us how you got started with photography? What made you realize photography was your medium?
I’ve always loved taking pictures. I loved disposable cameras when I was a kid. I always took lots of pictures of dogs, even back then (my collie Lassie was very photogenic). My background is in documentary filmmaking and writing. It wasn’t until about 2011 that I started focusing on still photography. It was a slow burn to get to the place where having my camera with me at all times is second nature.
Can you tell us a little about your new book ‘Too Tired for Sunshine’?
The images were made starting in about 2011, mostly in Vermont, where I live. I wasn’t consciously working on a series when I began. These were mostly one offs that represented my feelings or emotions at a given moment. A lot of the work is dark because I’ve struggled over the years with depression and anxiety. In 2016, I went through all the work I’d made the prior five years – I printed everything out, put it on the floor and started making connections. Many of the images were moody, or melancholic, or darkly funny and unsettling in some way. They had an undercurrent of sadness or loneliness to them. Photography had been taking care of me in ways that I wasn’t always conscious of.
I was intrigued to see the empty yellow pages in the book, they seem to represent chapters or dividers, could you tell us more about this choice in the book?
The idea is that the book moves in cycles, highs and lows and highs again – much like depression. The yellow pages are breaks between cycles, and they go from very pale to bright yellow as you progress through the book. It’s meant to evoke the feeling of gradual sunshine returning after a period of darkness.
Your images are always very intimate, close to the subject matter and feel very personal; can you tell us about your work process? What makes a good photograph in your mind? What is interesting for you to capture with your camera?
My process is instinctual. When I see something that stands out, I stop what I’m doing and photograph it. To me a good picture is one that I can feel, where the subject speaks to me in some way. I’m not an expert at technical aspects of photography, but I do feel that I’m connected to and able to share my own point of view.
I like to capture images of people and animals and things that have an unreal quality to them, where something ordinary is suddenly made unusual. Sometimes it’s finding a common object in an unexpected place–I’m thinking of a picture I took of an oven I discovered in an empty field–other times it’s just the expression on someone’s face. And I’m drawn to animals, especially dogs, and how they’re simultaneously like us and not like us.
If you do, can you tell me a favorite photograph from the book?
The blurry goat, because I remember that day well. It was cold and sleeting, and I was in a less than perfect place in my head. I know these goats, because I pass by them nearly every day taking my kids to and from school, and I could sort of visualize an image of a blurry goat in the center of the frame with the farmhouse in the background. I stopped, hopped out of the car, the goats came running over, and I got the picture almost immediately. It turned out very much like what I’d imagined it in my head, and it made me happy.
I think what is interesting in the book is that you have images that have a sense of humor to them, alongside images that are very dark or more serious, and this juxtaposition really makes the book feel like a real life journey – with ups and downs. How do you see these images?
The work covers a good chunk of time in my life (roughly 2011-early 2018), and a lot happened during those years (early sobriety, birth of my twin sons, adjusting to living and working in rural Vermont after being in NYC for many years). I wanted to convey something of that emotional experience. Some days were dark as fuck, where I felt lost and hopeless and very close to losing myself in it, and some days I was able to see humor and light. Being healthy is a process, and I think the book shows that.
Can you tell us about the choice of creating the cover an illustration from one of the book’s images?
The slide image was always in the back of my mind as the image I wanted for the cover. I worked with an awesome designer named Tucker Caparell, and together we came up with the silhouette. It just felt right.
How does it feel to add a photo book to the growing canon of photography? What does it mean to you to be able to create a great photo book?
I try not to concentrate too much on the fact that there’s a ton of work already out there (except when I’m enjoying it as a reader), otherwise I’ll start comparing myself to others, and that’s a dark hole to go down. I’m just trying to make work that I feel an emotional connection to, and if it resonates with some people, I feel like that’s a win. It was a nearly eight year process, start to finish, with little to no encouragement or outside interest most of the time, and so I’m really proud that the book is finally a thing I can hold in my hand and share.
What was the hardest part of creating this book?
Making the work.
What was the best part?
How did you choose your publisher? How was the technical process of publishing a book like for you?
I found Yoffy Press through the photobook Humble Cats. Jennifer Yoffy is knowledgeable and patient and creative and open minded and was willing to walk through the fire of doing a Kickstarter with me to get the book funded. She’s really been a partner throughout the whole thing.
Any advice for fellow photographers who are looking to make their own book?
I’d just encourage people to do it. I made a book in 2014 called “Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long,” which was a series of photos I took on what would prove to be the last visit I ever made to see my grandmother. The book was a handmade object–I had the signatures printed unbound and then did a chain link stitch to join them together with the endpapers; I letterpressed the covers; I folded and glued and bound the books. It took a ridiculous amount of time and energy to make a 125 copies, but it felt amazing and worthwhile to have created a record of the last time I saw my grandmother.
Anything you would like our reader to know more about that we haven’t covered?
I recently launched an initiative with Yoffy Press called the Too Tired Project that’s about sharing work made by other people who are also struggling with depression. It’s an ongoing curated series of photographs made in response to (or in spite of) depression, attempting to continue the dialogue about mental health and making art. People can submit their work @tootiredproject and #tootiredproject. We’ll post a few favorites on the Too Tired Project website, with regular additions to the Instagram and aim to select the most captivating of those images for a photobook anthology sometime in the next two years.
In addition, the Too Tired Project is an initiative I recently launched with Yoffy Press that aims to be a space for people to share photography they’ve created in response to depression. It was inspired by the number of people who have approached me since my book came out with stories of their own; how they use photography to process their pain and cope with mental illness. People can submit their work by tagging @tootiredproject and #tootiredproject on Instagram. We aim to publish a curated photobook of the work sometime in the near future (timing TBD).
To view more of Tara’s work please visit her website.