Tara Wray – Year of the Beast

Review by Douglas Stockdale •

Regretfully 2020 is going to be known as the year of the pandemic and that this is a beast of a year for many reasons. The pandemic affected us all in a myriad of ways, some tragically with a loss in the family, for others a short bout of induced isolation, and for some the isolation became extended with the resulting and cumulative emotional anxieties too difficult to calculate.

Tara Wray’s recently published Year of the Beast is an attempt for her to come to grips with the impact of this pandemic on her and her family. In her earlier photobook Too Tired for Sunshine, she reveals her emotional challenges, which was published prior to the start of this pandemic. We can only imagine that what haunts her was probably not improved with the imposed isolation requirement of this pandemic. As she now states, this autobiographical narrative is “a stream of consciousness photobook spanning 2020. A chronological diary featuring dogs, twins, and domestic scenes from rural Vermont, under a looming specter of doom.”

If I were dropping in from Mars, I am not sure that in reading this photobook that I would understand that it was created under the spectra of a pandemic. The opening photograph of what appears as a thorny seed pod stuck in a hand that leads to another photograph on the following page of a child dressed in a skeleton costume does hint at something being both potential painful as well as a dire condition. That the child appears to be in the process of dressing or undressing the costume is not clear, while it is an interesting visual metaphor for something dreadful that might be in process. A visual question is raised, but left unanswered.

What is apparent is that this book is a mixed bag of photographs; a laughing boy in the snow juxtaposed next to a photo of a child wading in water (which looks like a lot of fun to me), followed by a photo of a kitchen mess resulting from a dropped pizza. Her narrative appears to reveal the normal ups and downs of family life at a rural home; driving on snowy days, a hunting trophy suspended from the front loader of a tractor, headless turkeys milling about, young goat found roaming in the house and something white and hairy that appears to be consuming someone’s thumb.

As to the pandemic, there is an inclusion of individuals wearing a mask occurring only once as a group photograph, and a posted signage to please avoid all contact sports and games as a nod to the persistant need to socially keep six feet apart. Perhaps like COVID-19, which cannot be seen, the resulting anxieties resulting from its looming presence cannot be readily observed, perhaps at best, hinted at. Otherwise, I do not become aware of any specter of doom, while I agree that this photobook is a stream of consciousness revealing a sense of family living off-grid in a rural community. That there is more of a sense of normalcy to Wray’s visual narrative bodes well to remember as we do work our collective way out of this Year of the Beast.

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Previous book by Tara Wray featured on PhotoBook JournalToo Tired for Sunshine

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Douglas Stockdale is Senior Editor and founder of the PhotoBook Journal

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Year of the Beast, Tara Wray

Photographer: Tara Wray, born in Manhattan Kansas and resides in Woodstock, Vermont

Publisher: Too Tired Press, Woodstock, Vermont, copyright 2021

Text: English

Stiff covers, perfect bound, four color, 80 pages, First Edition is 100 copies, ISBN 978-0-578-82459-8

Photobook Designer: Tara Wray

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Articles & photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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