From Farm to Photo

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the playful patterns of Brittany Wright
are catching eyes everywhere

fromFarmPhoto

STORY BY TARA AUSTEN WEAVER
PHOTOS BY BRITTANY WRIGHT

 

Growing up, Brittany Wright thought she would be a psychiatrist. That all changed at age 11, however, when she was given a camera. “I took pictures of everything,” she says, “I carried it with me everywhere. That camera changed my life.”

It was only a preview of things to come for this San Diego-born photographer. Technology and imagination would continue to change things for her—and take her from the photo studio to the farm.

In high school, Wright threw herself into photography. “My teacher was extra hard on me,” she says, “because she saw what I was capable of. She had a very traditional style herself, but she taught me to be as wild as I could be.” In her spare time Wright took classes at the local community college to learn things—like studio lighting—that were not included in her high school curriculum. Photography eventually brought her to Seattle—in 2009, to study at the Art Institute— and that’s is where she hit a bobble.

 

 

“School killed it for me,” she says now. She had covered so much in high school that she bypassed the first year classes. “So many people told me, ‘You don’t need this.’” After growing. Discouraged, Wright dropped out of the program.

 

“I worked for Apple and Microsoft and repaired computers for a few years—which is great because now I can fix anything that goes wrong with my equipment,” she says. “But I hated it. I needed a hobby, so I decided to teach myself how to cook.”

 

 

As she had with photography, Wright threw herself into cooking. “I’d read recipes and figure out the science behind it. None of my friends saw me for two years or so. I was just figuring out how cooking worked—and I took pictures of what I was cooking.” Those pictures would change everything for Wright.

“I started out taking pictures of the [cooking] process,” she says, “but pretty soon I decided to focus on just building out one photo.” The first image she conceived in this way is an arrangement of peppers, each carefully placed with an eye to shape and color. She posted the image to her Instagram account and the feedback, on the social media photo sharing site, was immediate and positive.

 

 

This set off a series of inventive, playful images—as much art as food. There’s a pinwheel of bananas, arranged by ripeness; toast lined up by shade from underdone to burnt; beans and herbs and spices sorted by color and texture; a triumphant rainbow of carrots. Produce has rarely looked so whimsical or appealing.

 

 

The internet took notice, with Wright’s images being widely liked, but also used around the world without her permission or credit. A shot of brightly-colored citrus went viral and showed up in a Swedish shampoo ad. It was the start of a challenge that continues today: how to keep her art and name connected in the world of online media. But the internet has also given Wright a place to share her work and get feedback. “I’ve figured out how people react to an image,” she explains, “patterns and colors and how many things need to be in an image.”

Studying the feedback reminds Wright of her earliest goals. “It goes back to when I wanted to be a psychiatrist,” she says. She’s used the internet like a focus group to hone her skills. But the individual feedback Wright receives is the most meaningful. “I got an email from a woman who said my pictures inspired her to feed her family better,” she recounts. “My work made someone I don’t even know want to give her family more vegetables—that’s pretty amazing.”

There’s also the emails from people who have obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD) who tell Wright that her images make them feel calmer. “I had a nine-year-old girl save up her birthday money to buy one of my prints,” Wright says, with a touch of wonder in her voice. “I sent her two.”

 

 

The images are delightful, but Wright’s inspiration comes from a deeper place. “A lot of people don’t like vegetables,” she says. “If I can make them more fun, make it look cool. There’s so much hype in advertisement and the food looks glowing—but what if we made vegetables look that appealing?”

 

 

Her motivation stems, in part, from her grandparents, who raised her. “My grandma was a gardener,” she says. “We watched the strawberries grow, I played with worms.” Her grandfather loved food, especially the Southern food she grew up with. “Vegetables weren’t really part of my life growing up—we had cornbread with as much butter as bread, greens with so much fat.”

Wright’s grandfather died when she was 16. “My grandpa was a diabetic,” she explains. “He loved food, but he just wanted to eat what he liked.” These days Wright has a motto inspired by her grandfather—Love Your Life—tattooed across her upper chest and a commitment to inspiring others to eat more healthfully, and have fun doing so.

 

 

“Food brings people together and makes them happy,” Wright explains. “So many of the people I grew up with and my friends in Seattle don’t really know about food and don’t know where to go to learn. So, if I can get a tattooed metal-head to take off his headphone and let me talk about carrots, then I’m doing a good job.”

 

 

Wright is doing a good job. Her work has been picked up by outlets such as BuzzFeed, New York Magazine, and Huffington Post, and by publications overseas (“I see these articles about me and the only thing I can read is my name,” she says). She has an agency representing her photography work, sponsorship deals with Samsung and local company Moment Lenses, and several publishers wooing her with book contracts. Right now her inbox is overflowing but she’s planning a road trip.

“I want to travel around the country to visit local farms and make art with their produce,” she explains, “I want to show people what a real farm looks like.”

The farm connection is one that has been growing a while. Wright has teamed up with Helsing Junction Farm in Rochester, Washington, and Oxbow in the Snoqualmie Valley, to transform their fruits and vegetables into the colorful food gradients she likes to photograph.

“Those are the people I would rather work with,” she explains. “So, if some of the other partnerships allow me to support them, I’m good with that. My goal is to work half the month and volunteer at different farms the other half. If I stay calm and enjoy what I’m doing I’ll make better photos.”

As far as Wright is concerned, the farm is where it all starts. “When I’m cooking I try to dial it back as much as I can,” she says, “to make what I can from scratch—so all roads lead back to the farmers. That’s the spark for everything I do.”

 

 

See more of Brittany Wright’s work at wrightkitchen.com, or follow her on Instagram: @wrightkitchen.

 

Tara Austen Weaver writes about food, travel, and the environment. She is the author, most recently, of Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow.

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