Where are you from originally?
I was born in California. Sonoma County. But my family moved to a small horse and cattle ranch in the Rogue Valley in South Oregon when I was about two. My parents worked a lot, so on summer breaks I would be shipped off to my grandparents in Sonoma. I split my time between the two states.
What schooling did you have?
I went briefly to a community college for journalism but that's it. I actually got a “C” in the high school photography class and dropped out of the college one. I went back and forth, wondering if it would have been helpful to continue. But in the end, I couldn't change that. I've since taken a few photography classes and it never went well — I got bored or the instructor was really into shooting flowers and barns in order to sell them as $4 postcards in hospital gift shops. I'm not really into that. No offense to flowers, barns and postcards. I also find that people who have gone to college for photography tend to lean a lot on the technical side and forget the emotional connection that is essential — specifically in good fashion or portrait photography. There is always the exception though, as with any gross generalization.
" In Photojournalism you wait for the moment
to happen and document that. In Fashion, you
can create whatever moment you want.
That was appealing to me. "
What got you started into photography?
I got a camera for my 16th birthday. It was a Canon Rebel SLR. I wasn't very popular in high school. I wasn't un-popular, but sort of invisible. I started taking pictures of everything. People started to notice me and knew me as the kid with the camera — eventually even learning my name. I started shooting all the high school sporting events and got an internship with the local newspaper. My plan was to major in [sports] photojournalism at the university of Oregon. However, after high school I was signed by a modeling agency. A fashion photographer would fly in and do these huge weekend portfolio shoots. I fell in love with the way he directed and how he created a moment. In photojournalism you wait for the moment to happen and document that. In fashion, I realized, you can create whatever moment you want. That was appealing to me.
OH! YOU PRETTY THINGS // Schôn! Magazine
What geographical place - a city, state, or country’s style and vibe do you think influences you most or would you say your style matches with?
I would have to say LA, or really any place tropical or that could err on the side of “trashy”. What a lot of people see as that (trashy) I tend to see as authentic and real. Often, it's the ordinary that interests me. I think there is something familiar about that place. Also, the main fashion stylist I work with is from Australia, so even though I’ve never been, I see a lot of my style matching what's happening with fashion there. This last year I've been playing with what that looks like when infused with something a bit more lux or high end. I really love the results. A high/low vibe that I think is on point with fashion we are seeing from big designers. Accessible. Real.
GIVE ME THE SIMPLE LIFE // Schön! Magazine
Who are your biggest influences in the industry?
As a photographer, Bruce Weber. I love the stories he tells and what he can get out of his models. A lot of people only know him from the A&F quarterlies, which if you look back at, are so much more artistic than they received credit for. Definitely a stylized and idyllic view of college aged Americans in that time period. I love his fashion work for W Magazine and CR fashion book. It feels real. It feels grand and romantic. Authenticity meets romance- That what I strive for.
I've also been really into Juergan Teller's work. I think there is a similarity between the two that most don't pick up on. There is something raw about his work. He doesn't do any post-production on his images and I really admire that. He has the sort of grungy realness mixed with lux textures and locations that I am really into right now. And what he can get out of the subjects is incredibly inspiring to me.
Another huge influence has been Ian Cole. He is an editor, photographer, and publisher out of London. He is who published my first fashion feature, My first fashion cover, and continues to invest in me and my work and my growth. I love his take on the industry. He gives no fucks, and doesn't suck up to anyone. It's refreshing. I know I can always get an honest answer from him regarding anything.
The last is my “right hand woman” and fashion stylist Julia Platt-Hepworth. We work together as often as we can. She taught me what it really means to be cool and help me find a really raw edge to my work and add a bit of fun to my photoshoots. Before her, everything I shot was “Really Pretty” . She brought the sex, the fun and basically the party. I shudder to think what my work would look like without her in my life.
How would you qualify your work?
I would say it tends to lean toward editorial. However, I do have several commercial clients that I work with in the Pacific NW. I think a lot of clients look at my work and appreciate the story telling aspect but are afraid to pull the trigger because their brand leans a bit more conservative. But really I have some clients that see past the edgy stuff, and appreciate how I can create a story for their brand and how it's clear that I create a connection with the models which can really make or break a shoot!
" I never want a pose. I always am looking
for a purpose. If a model touches their lips,
I want them to have a reason for doing it. "
We particularly like the series Of The Moment, can you tell us about it?
Of The Moment is a fashion feature I shot for Nylon magazine. When they emailed me they thought I was in NYC and asked if I was available for a shoot the following Wednesday. There wasn't a budget for travelling but it was a Gucci exclusive and I wasn't about to turn that down. I cashed in air miles and made sure I was in the city and available. The model was a newer model and Dutch. Great look! But we did have a communication barrier to overcome. In the end it came down to myself and the Fashion Editor just using our own movement to help her understand what we wanted. We weren't looking for poses. I was shooting 35mm and the thing I love about shooting film, is that it goes so much quicker and also that it gives me the unexpected in between moments that I feel is on brand with what Nylon is doing. I never want a pose. I always am looking for a purpose. If a model touches their lips, I want them to have a reason for doing it. Otherwise fashion photography just becomes a game of Simon says and to me that isn't authentic. It becomes a bit of a joke!
OF THE MOMENT // Nylon U.S.
What is the best photography project you have ever worked on?
Tough question. I like to try to bring something new to each job I take on. I don't like to compare. Comparing my work is dangerous place to be in. Comparing it to my past work or others work, is natural, but I think it also tends to lead down an unhealthy road. It's more about acknowledging where I am now, where I've been and what else is out there. Then doing things in a fresh new way. Not a “better” way. The one thing I will say is that casting the right models for a shoot is imperative!
The shoot that really stands out is one I just shot in August for L’Officiel Australia. It was a shoot with a born of my own emotions I was going through at the time. I wanted to use them and create something from the heartache I was feeling. The models were incredible and after hearing my story and the reason behind the concept they gave so much of themselves. It's a very sexy, very romantic, very intimate shoot, and those feelings come across in the final images. I can't wait for it to be out in the next month, it really feels like a new chapter in what I am creating. It's a lot less pop and really scaled down, but there is still an element that feels like my work.
How would you describe your photographic process — during & after a shot?
During a shot – Stay energetic and feed off of people. I try to have as much laid out and organized ahead of time so the day of I can just focus on finding inspiration & beauty and really telling a story.
After a shot — I try to do as much in camera as possible. I don't send anything out for post processing. I either do it myself or have an intern do it — which is great practice for them. A lot of clients have their own graphic designers or retouchers, so at the end of the day I hand them off the images and that's that. Editorials, I tend to insist on doing the post work. But my work is really very unprocessed. Some simple skin edits and creating a color story that contributes to the overall feel and mood of the images and that's about it. Unlike some photographers who’s motto is “we can fix it in post”, I like to get as much right in the camera as possible rather than relying on hours editing an image to look the way I want it to.
How would you describe your artistic and photographic style?
Candid, authentic and raw. But still beautiful. I am trying to do something new and fresh. But also it's so much about a connection. Once, an editor compared my work to Terry Richardson's, but pretty. “I like your work. It's raw but still gorgeous. I like Terry R - but he's raw and ugly. I'm tired of ugly stuff.” I really do just try to find the beauty in everything and everyone. I also really value honesty. I believe I can learn something new everytime I come to set... and alternatively I can teach something, even to the most experienced models! If something isn't working, I have no problem pulling someone aside and having a conversation about it. You never know what's going on in their life that may be hindering us getting an amazing shot. It's all about inspiring and being honest about the story we are creating but also acknowledging if something works or doesn't without breaking someone down.
THIS IS THE ONLY PLACE // C-Heads Magazine
What material do you prefer working with (Camera, lenses, etc.)?
My digitial camera is a Nikon D800 and the equipment and lenses I shoot with really depend on what the client or the shoot calls for. If I can get away with it, I shoot mostly 35mm film. I buy old Nikon tourist cameras on ebay for anywhere from $20 to $50 and keep them in my kit. They can take the newer lenses and I really love the feel the film brings.
Do you always have a camera with you? If so, which one?
I tend to always have a a 35mm camera on me. Nikon AF35 which is really small and a Fuji instax. They are easy to carry around and bring out if I see something inspiring.
What's next? How often do you travel for jobs?
I travel about once every few weeks. This year, I've already shot a winter road trip project for a new magazine coming out in London. Mostly LA, I split my time between there and Portland. Basically as that is where my agents are located. I'm toying with a trip out to NYC in December for some client meetings and I'll probably try to get a magazine assignment while I am there. I have a few shoots coming up here in Portland I am really excited about. One for a Spanish men's magazine. I haven't been published yet in Spain and it's my favorite country in the EU. Next year, I am also going to try to get to Australia and I am on hold for a lifestyle brand in January that shoots somewhere in South America.
Where is the one place you’d like to go but haven’t been yet?
I honestly want to go everywhere. But off the top my head, Argentina or Brazil! I love anything tropical and warm and I'm a sucker for a palm tree. Everyone loves that feel of vacation. I want my work to feel like the freedom of a permanent vacation. Travel is the ultimate goal. Shooting stories that are off the beaten path — infusing fashion stories that embody the culture, the people and the landscape of a place. Look at Bruce Weber’s story shot after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans! It's such an accurate portrait of that time in that cities' culture. The people and the locations are as much the star of the spread as model Karen Elson is. He captures the energy — you feel it in each shot he takes. That's what I want to achieve in my work. Exposing people in this industry to the authentic beauty of this world. Any size, shape, color and gender. Really focusing on something all encompassing and telling dope stories about this world that we get to occupy for a few years.
Cully Wright | Portland & Los Angeles Based Fashion Photographer
Represented by Nouvelle Vague, Los Angeles. Contact: Emily Noechel < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Facebook: Cully Wright Photography