I’ve been a big fan of Clif Wright’s photography ever since I came across his Instagram feed. As someone who is a bit of a city kid, looking at his work is like stepping into another world. Enjoy the interview below and then go check out his Instagram account at @clifwright and his website at www.clifwright.com
Please tell our audience a bit about yourself and your work.
I’m Clif Wright and I live in Austin, Texas. I photograph people and things in their environment usually somewhere in Texas or the Southwest.
How long have you been a photographer? What initially attracted you to the medium?
I’ve been a photographer for a little over twenty years. When I was around twelve years old, my favorite book was “The Shooter” by David Kennerly and I held an interest in photography through high school though I wasn’t really taking any photographs other than family snapshots. In college, I majored in journalism and took exactly one photo for the school paper with an old Nikon F that ended up on the front page but that was the end of it for quite some time. Music was luring me in and, for the next ten years, I spent the majority of my creative energy playing in bands. Photography pretty much dropped off my radar until I read an article in the New Yorker about Henri Cartier-Bresson around 1990 rekindling my interest. Finally, in my early thirties, I borrowed a camera from my girlfriend and began teaching myself photography. I immediately liked the excuse it gave me for being in situations or places I wouldn’t otherwise be in and that’s evolved into a passion for regional exploration through photography.
Your work presents a part of the country that I’m completely unfamiliar with (Texas) from a local perspective. Can you tell us about the locations you photograph?
I was born and raised in the High Plains region of the Texas Panhandle and I’ve concentrated the majority of my photographic work in that general area and in Austin where I’ve resided for the last twenty five years. Traditionally, Austin’s always been distinctly separate in personality from other Texas cities. Laid back, liberal, and tolerant in a state not particularly known for those qualities. Since the mid-90’s, our economy has grown exponentially from significant investment and development resulting in a rapid change in both demographics and the physical landscape. Basically, while doubling in size, we’ve lost a lot of old and gained a lot of new. Much of what was lost were things and places many residents came to define Austin by, and so, the tension between what Austin was and what it’s becoming has been the underlying story of the last two decades. On the positive side, the revitalization effort downtown has resulted in a large increase in the number of people living there over the last ten years making for a more vibrant street scene. There are also a lot more mirrored buildings downtown which bounce some super crazy light around the streets and, while I’m somewhat ambivalent as to their aesthetic, they work amazingly well as giant light reflectors.
I’m also concentrating quite a bit of work in the High Plains region of the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico. The majority of my time is spent in small farming communities on the High Plains of the Llano Estacado, a massive tabletop mesa the size of South Carolina, as well as the farm and ranch roads crisscrossing the area. The landscape ranges from flat to very flat breaking off into canyons and river breaks in places. It’s dry and windy, and was the epicenter of the Dust Bowl environmental disaster of the 1930’s. For the most part, the people are very conservative and very friendly. Culturally, the area has more in common with the midwest than the rest of Texas and there are more than a few jokes about the Panhandle not actually being a part of Texas. I hear quite a few folks say how boring and monotonous the landscape is but I couldn’t disagree more. There’s a visual simplicity which I really like and subjects tend to isolate themselves from their surroundings more than other places I shoot. In addition to thousands of miles of small back roads, old Route 66 passes through the middle of the area so there’s lot’s of classic American roadside stuff to explore too.
What equipment do you use on a regular basis? Do you have a favorite film/camera combo?
My favorite piece of equipment, and probably the one I use the most, is a Nikon 5000 film scanner. I had a 4000 that broke down a few years ago that led to semi-panicked, but eventually successful, scramble to locate a replacement. Those things come at a premium nowadays and I figure they’re all living on borrowed time but hopefully I’ll be pumping negatives through this one for quite some time. The last couple of years I’ve returned to shooting film using 35mm Portra 400 almost exclusively. Usually shot through a rangefinder or point and shoot camera and almost always with a 35-40mm lens. I’ve suffered from a Zeiss fetish for the last couple of years so there’s lots of shots coming from a Contax G2 and T3. The T3’s my desert island camera and goes with me just about everywhere.
Are you working on a specific project or body of work that you would like to discuss?
A few years ago I began working on the Flatlandish project. The goal is a long term photographic exploration of the High Plains region of the Texas Panhandle and Eastern New Mexico. The photos range from pure landscapes to portraits and most of my time is spent in small towns or roaming around the countryside. In addition, I’m alway’s out shooting in Austin, or wherever I find myself, and have a growing collection of street images that I’m slowly forming into another project. No name for that one yet.
Anything else you would like to add?
Yeah, I’d like to thank you and your audience for your allowing me the time and space to share some of my work and thoughts. It’s a treat to be included on the site and I appreciate the opportunity. Cheers!