Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bruce Wrighton has arrived

If The New Yorker is any reliable indicator of the contemporary cultural scene, then photography has arrived. Of the 21 art shows given short writeups in the latest issue, 8 are photography. Although this portion is roughly average for recent issues, if you go back twenty, ten, or even five years ago the number of photography reviews would've been much closer to zero. It's only recently that Photography has become the hot new kid on the block, the art form du jour. I guess I am happy about that, although such a position puts a lot of pressure on photography to stretch into unfamiliar and perhaps illsuited permutations. But at least we're beyond the hurdle of But is it art? Or perhaps that question has helped spur photography's popularity?

Diner Interior, 1987 by Bruce Wrighton

Thankfully, in the listings this week is a good old fashioned straight photography show by Bruce Wrighton at Laurence Miller Gallery. If you're wondering Bruce Who?, join the crowd. Apparently he was born in Ithaca, NY and lived and worked his whole life not far away in Binghamton, squarely outside any mainstream art circles. He died in 1988 at age 38 leaving behind a small treasure trove of gorgeous work, some of which can be found at the gallery site. Although I'm less enamored with his photos of cars, his public space interiors and street portraits are simply first rate. Horses Think has a nice review, including a short excerpt of Wrighton's thoughts from an interview in —Yes, you're reading this correctly— a local edition of the Weekly Pennysaver.

Man in Gold Sweater, 1987 by Bruce Wrighton

How he went from the Weekly Pennysaver to The New Yorker is a mystery. I can find very little about his life online beyond what I've written here. In fact, I'm sure that this mystique is registering on some level in my psyche when I look at his work, and perhaps effecting my judgment of it. There's something riveting in the life stories of all those photographers who traced forgotten footsteps only to be discovered as geniuses after dying. Atget, Bellocq, Disfarmer, Salignac, Watkins, etc. The artistic canon is as malleable as trends in The New Yorker, and that fact is a tiny ray of light for many of us anonymous art serfs.

But even without knowing anything about his life the quality of Wrighton's work is obvious. Bruce Who indeed. If anyone knows more about this person's life and background, please email me.


Thomas said...

Bruce did good work that received a fair amount of local acclaim. Other things distracted attention away from him and his work.

He worked as a dishwasher and a cook in a restaurant. He took photos of shoes for a commercial catalog used by a local manufacturing concern. A person could write a nice dissertation on this exercise. It speaks to the core of his aesthetic sensibility. If nothing else, it might explain why he chose to work in a small, obscure, worn out, working class town. He was not unsophisticated or uneducated. To the contrary, he was uncanny in the way he combined personal vision with place. That characteristic made it possible for him to walk into a carnival and convince people to pose for him, in a genuine, expressive way.

If you want to know about Bruce, I suggest you take a trip to Binghamton. Many of the landmark buildings he photographed still linger and may be said to endure,in various states of collapse or disrepair.

Bruce worked at the Roberson Museum. He worked at the Whole in the Wall. He worked at the University. He worked free lance. He waited tables at the best restaurants in town. He understood how light works in the Southern Tier. He had a deep allegiance to the Finger Lakes region. He loved the twilight. He respected poverty, in all of its forms. He was a monk and a minister. As said elsewhere, he died for light. said...

thank you for your comments on Bruce Wrighton. I am trying to publish a book on his photographs in 2010, with an introduction by noted author and critic Vicki Goldberg

I would welcome hearing from anyone with personal knowledge of Bruce and his photographs.
Thanks, Larry Miller

tema said...

A photographer recently sent me a link to Bruce Wrighton's portraits. They are so amazing and inspiring. I did a search to see if his work was published in a book and I arrived at this post. I hope Larry Miller does publish the book this year.

In the fall of 2008, I took photographs of adolescent men on Main Street in Binghamton which were shown at Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery last winter:

I look forward to finding out more about Bruce's work and I love the descriptions of him above.

-Tema Stauffer