Place is a point of reference. We know ourselves as natives or foreigners, viewing the world from our personal lenses. Photographer Terri Bright studies place. But, in an almost sculptural way, she hones in on objects, shapes, and color—experiences of place that make it unique, yet are ubiquitous moments that often go unnoticed.
For Bright, associate professor of art at Furman University, the process of making art is important. During her undergraduate career, she focused on painting and graphic design, with strong interests in color and form. After college, her paintings became increasingly about process and texture, and virtually void of recognizable subject matter.
Later, while living in New York City, Bright hit a wall. Yearning to get out of her studio, she enrolled in a photography class at the School for Visual Arts. Inspired by the documentary work of seminal photographer Robert Frank, Bright hit the streets, which offered countless photographic subjects and possibilities. “I needed a less-isolated medium.
Photography allowed me to move beyond my own interior world. Working serially around a chosen subject was an exciting prospect. Photographic projects continually expand, and this elasticity prevents boredom,” she says.
Such elasticity has led Bright to five continents, yet she titles her images “Untitled” to suggest that each photograph, though characteristic of a place, can be evocative of any place. Traveling can feel uncomfortable because of the unfamiliar. Bright’s precision is a means of control, which provides a measure of comfort in an otherwise imprecise, or even chaotic, world. In doing so, she personalizes the impersonal, carving out private moments in public spaces.
The photographer works mainly in color print film, and for years meticulously printed color photographs in a darkroom. These days, darkroom chemistry is harder to come by, so Bright is now scanning her frames and outputting digitally. “There is no doubt that digital offers greater flexibility in my working process. I can edit on the computer for five minutes or two hours, whatever time that I have available. The wet darkroom (especially color) required a significant time investment. I couldn’t leave the darkroom until I had a final print, and this might mean a four-hour chunk of time. So in many ways, digital better suits my current lifestyle,” she says.
Bright exhibits nationally and will have a show of her most recent work at Furman in February. That exhibition, titled Beautiful Ruins, presents a series of color images—a home of concrete and steel, a rusting building against a verdant tree—that capture the balance of decay and life, suggesting that one cannot be without the other.
Each of Bright’s images is like a pause—you can almost hear the silence, yet it isn’t cold. Indeed, the photographer exalts gaps in time: singular, beautiful moments that are constantly happening, yet will never be again.