Abandoned Beauty: Photography by J. Barry Wright

by Bella Erakko

In a discard nation, where everything seems disposable, photographer Barry Wright captures the mysterious link between abandonment and treasured memory. For example, one day he found a piano left in an abandoned church, its keys covered with leaves, unplayed, forgotten. Yet ironically rather than sadness, the image evokes a vulnerable moment of love—for what that piano once meant.

“My mother played the piano in church my whole life,” Barry remembers. We could not play on it. The church’s piano was an expensive instrument.” Looking at his poignant sepia-toned photo, he adds, “You know that piano was the pride and joy of the church … and now mice are eating it.” But we don’t see the mice; we see the memory, and rather than evoking sadness, it beckons us to beauty—the beauty of good memories.

Barry Wright explores websites like Forgotten Missouri, a rich source for potential photographic sites. Often geographic coordinates or directions are not given—to protect sites that can be destroyed by graffiti, target practice, or ordinary demolition. But occasionally Goggle Earth will unearth likely locations of abandoned farms, silos, churches, and he will head out country roads, especially if interesting clouds are billowing overhead.

He typically uses ultraviolet wide angle lens, usually preferring black and white images, and limits his digital enhancement to sharpening—not saturating—the image. Using a photo-burst technique that captures the same image with three different light settings, he can image the clouds, landscape, and abandoned structure with a preciseness impossible to attain with just one light exposure.

Like any photographer, he has favorite places that are worth revisiting: Hermann with its abundance of abandoned wineries and farms, its granite buildings, evocative downtown, scenic river, and interesting residences. He’s also photographed the abandoned State Penitentiary in Jefferson City three times.

But just about any weekend he’s free, he’ll be on the road—the country road—looking for what has been lost to everyday usefulness—but not lost to heartfelt beauty … and memory.

An opening reception will be held Saturday, May 12, from 5:00 until 8:00 pm. A piece of Barry’s work will be given away in a free drawing held at 6:00. This reception coincides with Hannibal’s Second Saturday Gallery Night.

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