Matt Wright. (Photo by Grady Wright)
A native Texan, Matt Wright has a knack for capturing poignant, powerful and news-worthy moments. His articles, along with his photography, have been published in The Washington Post, The Texas Observer and The Boston Globe to name but a few. After moving to San Francisco, Matt has focused his attention on fine art photography and his work continues to captivate and inspire.
We had a chance to chat with Matt about himself and his work.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm 27 and live in San Francisco. My girlfriend and I moved here from Austin, where we went to college. Before that, I grew up in San Antonio, so most of my blog is filled with photos from Texas.
I began shooting 10 years ago as a hobby, and the hobby slowly escalated through college. By the time I got a digital point and shoot, in 2004, it turned into something of a compulsion. A few months later, the Boston Globe bought one of my photos, and a nudge from the friendly photo editor led to an investment in a digital SLR. From there I started to think maybe I could actually pay the rent with photography. I was wrong, of course, but at least I discovered that I really enjoy something between photojournalism and documentary work. My dream job would be something in the spirit of the Farm Service Administration photos.
Wal-Mart Distribution Center
After college I found work as a reporter, then volunteered for the blog Austinist. Both those gigs got me into some interesting shooting situations. By the beginning of 2007, I was photographing news, events, weddings, and some very entry-level corporate assignments, plus my personal work. That was in addition to reporting, including a job as a blogger on Texas politics during a legislative session, so ... I got pretty burnt out.
Obama, shot for the Texas Observer
Eventually the ever-shrinking journalism industry claimed me as a victim, and we moved to San Francisco. I recharged while my camera was in the shop. During the lull I started interning at the RayKo Photo Center, a laid-back gallery and workspace. I'm hoping to use the opportunity to make some contacts in the Bay Area and maybe undertake a serious documentary project.
Outside of photography, I'm a bookworm, obsessed with good food, and a die-hard NBA fan. (Go Spurs Go!)
When, and more importantly why, did you start a photoblog?
I started my first blog in 2003, when I was an English major and really wanted to be E. B. White. At some point I started posting photos. Eventually I realized the pictures were aging much better than the prose, so I went full-time with the photos.
More generally, I started a photoblog as an outlet for fresh high-quality work. I use my static website to host my portfolios, which I try to keep trimmed to the best stuff. I use Flickr as a dumping ground for everything I shoot -- about 6,000 public photos at last count -- including a ton of snapshots, volumes of wedding photos, old family pics, etc. The photoblog is a nice middle ground. It's also a better fit for the natural process of photography. Taking photos all the time is fun. Trimming down a portfolio, not so much.
The Stairs to Nowhere
There's a great John Szarkowski quote to this effect: 'Although such a [limited] selection might represent the basic visual ideas that were explored throughout a lifetime, the process of abstracting to so economical a core seems inimical to the spirit of photography, which is generous and fecund, and which delights in the inexhaustibly various guises in which a single idea will reveal itself. To properly sketch out the work [of a photographer] requires not six or ten pictures, but a hundred.'
Why did you choose Expressions?
The visual layout. All I wanted was a large picture front and center, with minimal accompanying design elements. Expressions had it.
How do you describe your style of photography?
God, this question has had me stumped for a week. It's really tough to step back and describe something I just kind of do without much of a plan. Sometimes the photos are just a reflection of my everyday life, and sometimes the camera (and press credential) got me close to some interesting stuff. Put another way, Andre Kertesz once said, 'I am an amateur and I intend to stay that way for the rest of my life.' I could live with that.
I'm also a big fan of experimentation and shooting more photos than a normal human ever needs to, basically like Lee Friedlander did all his career. It gives you more chances to get lucky.
What I'm not good at is constructing images. Studio work or a Strobist-type setup? Forget it, I'm terrible.
Are your photographs now different from your photographs from a few years ago?
My first impulse was to say, 'Without a doubt,' but maybe not. On average, they are undoubtedly technically stronger, thanks mainly to better Photoshop skills. But I think the general tone is pretty similar, especially among the better shots. I guess readers could judge for themselves in this set, which is arranged chronologically.
Can you describe how you organize and fill your Expressions photoblog?
At first there was zero organization. I discovered by accident that doing a weekly theme worked well. Since subject matter doesn't have an obvious unifying theme, the themes are good practice for thinking of ways to organize my work. I try to keep them broad. They've varied from the general, like photojournalism or weddings, to the slightly offbeat: Mexican food week, six days of pictures taken from a moving vehicle, etc.
Reinterpretation of 'Bust of Diego' by Giacometti
I pull images from my overstuffed Flickr account.
What sort of cameras and lenses do you favor?
I always like to carry a pocket digital. Right now I'm using a Canon PowerShot SD870 IS. I got it three months ago and couldn't be happier. It's good to have it around for snapshots taken just for memory's sake.
For the heavy lifting, I have a Canon 20d, although I really need to upgrade to a full-frame model.
For lenses, I prefer prime. I take the easy way out too often with zoom lenses. A prime lens sometimes forces you to get more creative with perspective and composition. You also get more f-stops for less money, which is important for a guy as clumsy with a flash as I am. Of course, if it's an assignment where I better come back with something decent, I end up reverting to the flexibility of a kit zoom lens that also should've been upgraded years ago. Along those lines, my telephoto is indispensable and goes everywhere.
Like most people who've shot a ton of digital, I have some cheap film cameras around to keep things fresh: the Lomo Fisheye 2, a Zeiss Ikon Contessa LBE rangefinder from the late '60s, a '70s-era Minolta SLR, and a standard Holga.
Overall, the Cartier-Bresson Special -- a 50mm/f1.0 on a Leica -- is my fantasy setup.
Which photographers do you most admire?
Andre Kertesz and W. Eugene Smith are the photographers whose work I look at most often. Kertesz was the master of small, wry, sometimes surreal observations, and Smith turned journalism into art.
Links: Setting Up
From the legends, I also love Edward Weston, Russell Lee, and Ed van der Elsken.
A little more contemporary: James Natchwey, Jao Silva, Joel Meyerowitz, Amy Stein, Todd Deutsch, Alec Soth, and Mikhael Subotzky, who is my age and already a member of Magnum -- just incredible stuff.
Of course, I have a whole host of friends, bloggers, and Flickr contacts that I wish I could mention here, but the list would get too long.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I don't know how I'd ever go about doing something like this, but if I woke up filthy rich one day I'd try to start a website devoted to collecting high-quality digital images by the masters. Not just the famous stuff, but the larger collections from their working life, similar to the great Phaidon 55 series. It doesn't seem right that most people see only a handful of (admittedly iconic) images by our greatest photographers.
Thanks for reading. Hope it was worthwhile.
For more of Matt's work visit:
Posted by Lorissa in Interviews |