Growing up in Kansas, photographer Tara Wray developed an eye for finding the surreal in everyday life. "I'd go for long walks alone or with my neighbor Grace, who was in her 80s, and I'd explore old limestone farmhouses looking for treasure," Wray said. "I once saw a cat that was missing its lower jaw, and one time the sky went completely dark in the middle of the morning for no reason. I didn't always have a camera on me then. But I used to love to shoot disposable 35mm cameras. I’d send the film away through the mail and get back these little magical packages full of images."
The VICE contributor spent her formative years taking care of her mentally unstable mother, as revealed in her 2006 documentary film Manhattan, Kansas, which was an Audience Award winner that year at SXSW. It was a lonely and often painful existence, and the repercussions of her upbringing have haunted Wray into adulthood. She started college at 16, ran away to Finland in her early 20s, and eventually wound up studying writing and film at New York University in the early 2000s. “I moved to New York on August 31, 2001, and my first day working in the city was September 11.”
In 2007, Wray and fellow filmmaker Josh Melrod left New York City and moved to Vermont to start shooting their documentary Cartoon College, which followed the lives of students at the Center for Cartoon Studies, the nation's leading university for aspiring cartoonists and graphic novelists. Along the way, Wray turned her attention to photography, a creative medium that suits her solitary nature. "I bring my camera with me everywhere I go, and if I’m paying attention, at some point I'll just start to see things that are obviously meant to be pictures," she said.
Wray's work uniquely combines a documentary aesthetic with melancholy, sometimes grotesque, imagery and bizarre juxtapositions. Her latest endeavor is a hardcover photo book titled Too Tired for Sunshine, slated to be published in the spring of 2018 by Yoffy Press.
The photographs, taken throughout the Vermont countryside during intermittent bouts of depression, are by turns gruesome and calming. Wray takes pictures of backyard slaughterhouses and snow squalls, roadkill, and languid farm dogs. The imagery gives the book an uncanny quality, while the matter-of-factness of Wray's vision conveys dark, almost subversive, humor. "Many of these photos were shot on days when I wasn't sure I could get out of bed," Wray said. "But they were my saving grace, and when I see them in the book I get a warm, bittersweet feeling, because I'm reminded not of depression but of how strange and how lovely the world can be."
Wray has a Kickstarter to help fund Too Tired for Sunshine. Check it out here.
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