This November we introduce “Everywhere Street,” a series examining the boundaries of street photography, and just what are the rules of where it can be found. When we take away most of the people, go into rural environments, when we go the beach, or even under the waves to get our candids — if we visit the zoo, have animals as our primary subjects, if we knock on strangers’ doors, will we still find the street? This fall and winter Her Side of the Street goes “Everywhere,” see you there.
In our first installment we chat with Vermont photographer Tara Wray about her project photographing dogs in rural Vermont.
What draws you into a project about dogs in cars?
I just have a connection to animals, probably in a way that I don’t necessarily have with people, probably because I’m pretty shy, and I’d much rather approach a dog than a person. That’s not to say that I can’t talk to a person, I just find dogs much more engaging — I find their faces very honest immediately, and we just sort of feel an immediate connection.
I think sometimes the things that I see in the animals are very human qualities. Sometimes a loneliness or a kind of sadness or an anxiety, you know “Where is my person?”
Most of the series is shot near your home in Vermont?
Yes, it is called Barnard, and everybody’s spread out, so there’s a general store and a lake, and that’s sort of our town, about a thousand people.
With such a rural environment, does everyone know about you and this project? Do they say “ Here comes the dog lady!”?
They might say that, and I don’t know about it! But usually if they are doing that, they are people with dogs, and they understand that level of passion for animals. If they know me, it’s because they have one.
I would say I know people’s dogs better than I know them. People up here are just sort of going about their business, they are doing their thing, and respecting you doing your thing, and keeping to themselves. I mean everybody is very friendly, the neighbors are very supportive, and everybody shares apples and all that good stuff. I definitely know people in the community, but I don’t know that they know me, and that I’m taking pictures of their dogs, unless they come out of the general store and I’m standing there taking a picture of their dog.
What usually happens if they do find you standing there? Is there one particular instance you would share?
Usually people will just stop and tell me about their dogs, because people love their dogs. I guess it could be a little sketchy if you’re walking up to somebody’s open car window and putting a camera into it while their dog is in there! Some people might not like that, but I do remember once a couple years ago, some people approached me with “Hmmm, what are you doing in my car!” I said “ Oh, I noticed your dogs, they were beautiful, and I wanted to take their picture.”
So they opened up the car and put their three dogs into this little stroller. They started telling me how the dogs basically saved their lives, at a point in their lives when they were sick, they didn’t have much going, they were a little depressed, and these little dogs came into their lives, and they eventually gave them a reason to live! They sort of just poured it all out, you know, told me everything.
Have you ever found any other animals in cars?
One day I found a hatchback full of goats, I unfortunately only had my iPhone, so didn’t get the pictures I was hoping for, but I will never forget, it was a hatchback full of goats and kids, two little kids and three or four goats. The people came up, and I said “Wow!” They said “Yeah, we’re moving, and this is how we have to do it.”
“Rural street photography” takes away most of the people.
It forces you to look elsewhere, and that’s what I do. I’m connecting to the animals, and I’m sharing that, so it’s my personal connection, what I see in them, and what I feel like they’re giving to me. I feel like I’m able to capture that, sometimes.
I just shoot what I see. There are places nearby with downtowns, where there would be people. I live close to a town called Woodstock, Vermont — basically a postcard town, ridiculously beautiful — and people come in by the bus load. There is a ton of foot traffic, so there would be “more traditional” street photography opportunities there, but I guess that doesn’t quite appeal to me in the same way.
I think my work has a moodiness to it, which I guess I am drawn to, kind of an environmental sadness. Vermont in February is kind of like living on the moon — it’s intense, you sort of have to want to be here, if you don’t want to be here, you are going to be sort of miserable because it’s a challenge. It just is cold, coupled with the fact that everyone is pretty spread out, it’s rural, it can be very isolating, sometimes you can feel a little bit alone. So I think some of my work reflects that loneliness. But I think there is also a hopefulness in just connecting — whether it is with a person or an animal, or whatever it is — for me having the camera is my way of connecting to the bigger world, feeling more part of it.
One of your journalist projects is Lady Shooters, interviews with women photographers.
I want to be a champion of women, a supportive person for women who are making great work. The idea of being a collective of women who are doing something like what you are doing with your group, I think that’s very important.
It’s a challenge, especially being a working mom — another aspect that I struggle with, and I reach out to other women who are doing the same, and we’re constantly trying to find our footing. Not only as the “perfect moms,” but as somebody who is trying get paid the same amount of money to do the same amount of work — and to just do good work that is respected, regardless of our gender.
Tara Wray is a filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. You can find her series Doin’ Work, flash interviews with photographers on Huffington Post, and Lady Shooters, interviews with women photographers for BUST magazine. Follow along with more of her dog series on her Instagram.