I remember finding out about Tara Wray’s work and being drawn to each and every one of her projects, from Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long, about the artist’s return to Kansas after a long absence to visit her 86-year-old grandmother as the two confront their shared grief over their broken relationships with Wray’s mother, to Deer and Hot Dogs, which present the way we live with and consume animals from a variety of perspectives. Ultimately, because I love the ways it is similar to and different from a project that has always stuck in my mind, Martin Usborne’s The Silence of Dogs in Cars, I asked Tara if she would be interested in having her series Left Behind: Dogs in Cars featured on the site. In lieu of a formal artist statement, Wray offered to answer some questions for me, and I very happily agreed. It wasn’t until after I received Wray’s answers that I learned she is the curator of a wonderful series of interviews with photographers on The Huffington Post, Doin’ Work, so her Q&A with me seemed perfectly fitting.
Describe your process in creating the series Left Behind: Dogs in Cars.
I can’t walk past a dog in a car and not want to take its picture. I don’t go out looking for them, per se, but I find them everywhere. The grocery store parking lot is one of my favorite places to photograph, and I always have my camera or my phone with me. Sometimes I get barked at or growled at and sometimes a dog will bare its teeth at me. If that happens I’ll back off. I like that dogs don’t mince words about their willingness to be photographed.
In your work, you have explored many facets of animal life and the way humans and animals coexist. What is your personal relationship to animals?
I love animals the same way I did when I was a little girl: completely and without reservation. I love a good baby animal and I really don’t care who knows it. There’s something very comforting about them. For a split second seeing a baby duck can make everything seem right with the world. I have a ten year old Norwich Terrier named Nighthawk and he’s an amazingly smart little creature with bad breath and more love to give before breakfast than I have to give in an entire day. Before I had children he was my baby. I want to raise goats and chickens, though I’m a deeply ambivalent carnivore.
Why do you make pictures–do you have an “agenda” or an opinion you feel driven to communicate to viewers?
I’m drawn to photograph the emotion of a situation. I suppose in making pictures of animals I could be accused of anthropomorphism – since I don’t really know what an animal is feeling – but I think I can read a dog pretty well. They’re much more straightforward and obvious with their feelings than most people. I don’t have an agenda. Trying to make the work “important” I think would ruin it.
What is your work/life like outside of image-making?
I have five year old twin boys who are currently on summer vacation. When we’re not running around like animals, I curate a series of interviews with contemporary photographers on The Huffington Post called Doin’ Work. I like that it keeps me thinking about photography even when I’m not making it.
What inspires you?
Good photography, good food, coffee, quiet early mornings, people who know what they want in life and figure out how to get it; right now I really admire the artist Lisa Hanawalt. She loves horses and figured out how to make that her career.
What would your autobiography be called?
I kind of made one when I was 26. It’s an autobiographical documentary called Manhattan, Kansas. Then in 2014 I made a photo book follow-up to the movie called Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long. I think I’m over making autobiographical work. In hindsight I feel I still might be too young for it.
Visit artist's site: tarawray.net