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April 4, 2005
BY Eric rangus
The most important syllable to remember in the word “wildlife” is the first one. As any nature photographer will testify, it is very easy to get so caught up recording “life” that the “wild” part flies out the window.
Although, like the vast majority of nature photographers, Carolyn Wright shoots her animal subjects in relatively controlled environments—game farms and wildlife refuges, as opposed to the middle of the wilderness—sometimes those animals don’t appreciate humans invading their territory.
Like one time when Wright was photographing a black bear at a game farm in Montana (although it is called a “game farm,” the area was for shooting of another kind—photography). Lost in the excitement of photographing the bear, Wright didn’t even realize it was charging her.
Trainers with tranquilizer guns and pepper spray accompany farm photographers into the field, so when this bear charged, the trainer shoved a previously unaware Wright and her tripod out of the way. The charge was just a bluff, and the bear peeled off, but not before it was about 10 feet from the photographer.
“It was over before I even realized what was happening,” said Wright, assistant dean for academic affairs in the School of Law and a photographer for more than 25 years, who emerged from the encounter unscathed. “I just thought it was exciting.”
The incident has done nothing to temper her interest in North America’s largest land animals, either. In August, Wright will travel to Alaska to photograph grizzly bears.
Bears are just one animal Wright has photographed during her career. Mountain lions, lynxes, seals, horses and all manner of birds also can be found in her work (an in-depth portfolio can be found at www.cwrightphoto.com). The web, Wright said, has become an indispensable tool for photographers of all sorts. No longer does she have to carry thick binders of photos from client to client—she merely has to point them to her website, just a click away.
Currently Wright has her lens focused on wolves. Wolfscapes is a forthcoming book she working is on with her mentor Scott Bourne that, as the title belies, celebrates the lives of wolves. Their website, www.wolfscapes.com, includes a trailer that blends Wright’s and Bourne’s dramatic images with music—composed by Bourne—to tease the book’s publication. Wright already has photographed wolves in Montana and will travel to Minnesota and Idaho later this year to shoot additional images.
“I particularly try to capture the individual characteristics of the animals—their behavior,” said Wright, whose work in the field has given her a knowledge about animals that would rival many scientists’. “Wolves have a hierarchy: alphas and betas. The betas are always submissive. Their ears are back and they’ll always lick the alphas. They’ll lay down and show their belly. In a lot of my pictures you’ll see that and how they operate.”
The Wolfscapes project stretches Wright’s work in new ways, as she and Bourne hash out textual ideas for the book. They are considering passages of Native American folklore related to wolves and are even talking to some poetry magazines about running a contest where submitted poems could be included.
By any measure, Wright’s photography career is booming. Her calendar is full of standard freelance jobs (weddings, portraits); she writes an online column for Photofocus Magazine (www.photofocus.com); and she recently joined the faculty of the Olympic Mountain School of Photography, based near Seattle.
Wolfscapes is one of three books she will complete this year. Her photos also will be included in the upcoming Captivating Wildlife: Images From the Top Ten Emerging Wildlife Photographers, the proceeds from which will benefit the Triple “D” Game Farm in Kalispell, Mont., where all the images were shot.
And her third book, to be published this fall, is 88 Secrets to the Law for Photographers, and it deftly bends both of Wright’s careers: photography and the law.
A native of Cookeville, Tenn., Wright earned a bachelor’s degree in music education and music therapy, as well as an M.B.A. at her hometown institution, Tennessee Tech. After working a few years in the private sector, she entered the School of Law in 1989 and earned her J.D. in 1992.
Wright’s father taught her to wield a camera when she was 12 years old. But while she was staff photographer for her junior high and high school newspapers, her primary creative outlet was music—she played French horn. Wright didn’t use her music degree, opting instead for business school immediately after graduating. Still, the arts were never far from her mind; she shot freelance on the side, and when she decided to attend law school, her goal was to be an entertainment lawyer.
“I wanted to work with artists,” she said. “To work as a musician or photographer, you really have to know the law.”
But when Wright started her legal career with the Atlanta firm of Neely & Player, it was as a specialist in product liability. She continued in that area when she moved to King & Spalding in 1995. She traveled frequently, and those many trips gave her tremendous opportunities to stoke her love of photography.
“I could just take my camera with me and do a lot of side trips,” she said. “I was in California for a deposition, and I’d fly out early for a Saturday night stay, which would be cheaper for the clients, go to Joshua Tree National Park and take pictures over the weekend. On Monday, I’d be there for the deposition, then fly home.” Two of the half-dozen or so framed photos hanging in Wright’s Gambrell Hall office are from trips to Joshua Tree during her years at King & Spalding.
Wright’s photography business continued to grow until she realized she could no longer continue with her law career. In December 2002 she left King & Spalding, encouraged in part by an administrative job that opened at her law alma mater, which gives her a schedule much more amenable to her photo work.
For a woman, particularly one of Wright’s small stature, wildlife photography is not easy. The equipment is heavy and bulky—Wright’s largest lens is about as tall as she is—and the work is sometimes dangerous, as her encounter with the black bear in Montana shows. Still, Wright wants to bring more women into the fold, so in the summer of 2006 she will be teaching a workshop at Olympic Mountain on wildlife photography for women.
Wright’s work encompasses all sorts of wildlife—take, for instance, the Emory campus. Several of her photos have appeared in law school brochures, viewbooks and other materials; she has photographed the law school commencement. Flipping through glossy booklets, she can pick out her pictures with nary a glance. “They’re my children,” she said. Her photos also have been exhibited in MacMillan Law Library.
“I haven’t done many gallery shows, and that’s mainly because of a lack of time,” Wright said. “I’ve been directing my energies toward the books, and I’ve been shooting a lot of portraits and events, and I have a day job. I want to do gallery work, but it hasn’t been a priority.”
Wright has an extensive portfolio on her website www.cwrightphoto.com, as well as a new site devoted specifically to her wildlife work (www.vividwildlife.com), which is her true love.
“One famous wildlife photographer talks about wildlife images having a heartbeat,” she said. “For me, it’s always their eyes. You can always see the spirit of wildlife. It’s just amazing.”