Wyatt Gallery, a person not a place, is an award-winning photographer who uses his photographs to raise awareness and support for communities damaged by natural disasters. His books, which include Tent Life: Haiti (Umbrage Editions) and #SANDY (Daylight Books) have provided Gallery with the opportunity to give back to the community in a positive and empowering form.
The recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship to Trinidad, Gallery has also spent a fair portion of his professional career documenting Spiritual Sites around the globe. He began the project in Costa Rica in 1996, but did not realize that’s was what he was doing until later, while editing the work. The project, which focuses primarily on the diversity of the Caribbean also includes photographs taken in Sri Lanka, India, Japan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Europe, Oman, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, and the United States.
Gallery observes, “The experience of taking the photo is the ultimate high and joy for me because it allows me to meet people and go inside someone’s home and real life, in a way that I never would on my own without being a photographer. The camera is the bridge, the open door, to this other world that I fortunate to get to enter. I feel so alive when taking these photographs. I also feel so very at peace, almost like a meditation. Many of the photos are long exposures and almost all are with a tripod. So it’s a slow process which forces me to have patience and to really soak in the environment.
“For me the camera is just an excuse, a bridge, to be able to experience foreign cultures, people, and their places. The photograph is just a byproduct of the experience. I don’t care so much about the final photo as I do about the act of photographing as a technique to experience the world. I feel more alive and more at home when I’m an outsider in a foreign environment. If I could travel non-stop I would. I almost do at times. (Laughs). Last year I was so fortunate to travel to Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Peru, Brazil, Dubai, Iraq, and Oman. This was a mix of paid gigs, personal work, and non-profit assignments. It was simply amazing!”
Gallery reflects on the path that brought him to this life, the life of a world-travelling artist whose camera guides his path. He recalls, “Photography first entered my life when I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia. My parents started collecting twentieth-century photography in the 1970s, around the time when I was born. Without ever paying more than $400 per photograph, they were able to amass a nice size collection of American Masters like Alfred Steiglitz, Paul Strand, Imogen Cunningham, Ansel Adams, Joel Meyerowitz, and more. During my day-to-day life I would walk pass these photographs in our house and look at them all the time. Some of them would grab my eye every single time I walked by, daily! This began to form my eye for beauty and composition.
“The next part of the puzzle was my high school had an amazing art teacher named Randy Granger who taught photography. In tenth grade I had a childish falling out with all my friends and they unexplainably stopped talking to me. I was isolated and didn't have a table of friends to sit with at lunch. So I'd go eat in Mr. Granger's art/photo/film room. Often times there were these two older students in there who were the ‘super cool. I'm smart but don't give a shit’ artists. I saw their photography and thought their B&W photos were so cool. So I signed up and instantly photography became the best way for me to show what I saw within the ordinary everyday world.
“I didn't know what the point of college was, but I knew I wanted to be in a diverse city environment and I figured I'd study something that made me happy. I applied early to NYU Tisch and to the amazement of everyone, I got in! That’s when my photography really grew to the next level.
“Spiritual Sites grew from a grant I received when I graduated NYU Tisch. This Rosenberg Grant was for a travel project and I received it to photograph Spiritual Sites of the Caribbean. That led to a Fulbright Fellowship in Trinidad in 1999, which in turn led to me living in Trinidad and the Caribbean for over 15 years off-and-on.
“The true freedom and excitement of travel was really born from a decision to vacation in Costa Rica with my college buddies and turn down a photo-research job for Entertainment Weekly. After a couple weeks, they were ready to go home but I decided to stay… for two and a half months! I traveled by bus around the country and began to photograph places that I later realized were my Spiritual Sites.
“I’ve always questioned religion and thus wanted to learn more about it through visiting religious places. I became interested in Buddhism and Taoism in high school and I meditate daily. I am a very spiritual person but not a religious person. I feel my photographs are actually of the unseen spirit of a place and the people who give life to it. I allow my intuition or my inner spirit to be my guide and compass when traveling and when photographing. Don’t think—just listen, trust, follow that inner voice that exists beneath our thoughts.”
It is in this way that Gallery’s photographs act as a guide to center us in stillness and silence, in order to receive our own inner voice. The photographs featured in Spiritual Sites are without people, creative a space that is at once private and all our own. Gallery notes that the decision to not include people was a conscious decision for a couple reasons.
He explains, “First, if there is a person in a scene, they become the subject and what our eye is drawn to first. The place becomes a backdrop and plays a supportive role. I wanted the place to be the person! The place is a portrait of the people. Just like my tagline, a person not a place. My photos of spaces are actually a portrait of a person, not a place.
“Second, I wanted these photographs to be a study, an observation, which allows the viewer to enter into a space where they normally would not go. It’s a learning experience for the viewer.
“Third, it’s also because I’m actually kind of shy and quiet, so it’s more comfortable for me to photograph a space void of people because I can take my time and I can be in a meditative silence. But I do take portraits too, and that is when I get to talk to and bond with people.”
Gallery reveals, “I like to photograph negative space too, that’s really the subject of the photographs. The emptiness. Both of my parents were architects. When I was young, they would always point out interesting architecture to me. It was actually very annoying at the time (laughs), but they trained my eye. I also was privileged to meet some of the most successful architects and each one told me the same thing: ‘Never become and architect!’
“But I have a love for architecture because of this upbringing and I do actually photograph architecture as a living in addition to my personal work. In college, I always thought I’d become a professional architectural photographer. I actually turned down a big apprenticeship position with one of the top architectural photographers, so that I could travel the Caribbean on the Rosenberg Grant!
“The main idea is: follow your heart, follow your crazy ideas. Travel! Experience the world. You can do it. Slow down and observe spaces in order to feel the spiritual sacredness of all places. My experiences, and the people I’ve met along the way, are my greatest wealth.”