Too Tired for Sunshine
Photographs by Tara Wray
Yoffy Press, Atlanta, Georgia, 2018
134 pp., 75 images, 7 x 9 in.
Reviewed by Robin Titchener

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Sometimes I feel sunshine on my face. Sometimes no one argues or raises their voices. Sometimes the fruit is sweet and the bread not yet stale. Sometimes life is good and I forget what worry means.

But sooner or later that distant cloud rolls in . . . and I have to open my eyes. Out you come, from that sometimes-life . . . oh and grab your coat. It’s cold out here.

The subject of mental illness is still an uncomfortable topic of conversation in our modern world. It is not like a broken leg . . . or a spot on an x-ray. It is not a rash or a fever that can be assuaged with hot soup and a mother’s kiss.

It is gas in the air. It is that shadow in the corner of the bedroom when you are bleary with sleep. It is the ominous silence before it all goes wrong. It is chaos . . . a chaos we cannot see . . . and we do not like what we cannot see. It makes us nervous . . . it frightens us.

We close the door on it and turn our backs.

Tara Wray documented her own experience with depression by traveling around her adopted home of Vermont and photographing the minutiae of her everyday life. Too Tired for Sunshine is a nuanced collection of images with a jet black streak of dark humour.

Take Wray’s image of a donut, for example—an image that could easily be at home in a Martin Parr shoot, except for Wray’s muted pallet and the fact that she’s squashed the donut, with its tempting “come hither” icing, under a protective dome, like the mind pinched by the skull.

Wray’s “happy” moments are ever so slightly twisted. A children’s slide positioned, for instance, at the edge of a frozen lake—a mound of snow where the splash should be. A kid’s feet, in green monster socks, sticking out from under the bed. A game of hide ‘n’ seek? Perhaps, if it weren’t for his hands, flopped flat and purposeless. If those hands don’t scream “O fuck it!” I don’t know what does.

Then the slow descent into another world. A stack of boxed plates, each with the word “disappointment” printed on its end. A field in long shot with a bonfire crackling hungrily by itself, a single house creeping into the edge of the frame.

Dogs feature regularly throughout the sequence . . . but there is one image that encapsulates the entire project. A black dog sitting on a snowy porch with what looks to be the trappings of Christmas decorations nudging into the picture. I have NEVER seen a dog look so human. The shape of the mouth, the slumped posture.

The contradictions of all the images I’ve described crystallize in this one photograph. It’s laugh out loud funny . . . until you look into those eyes—a sadness so infinite it chills. Too tired for sunshine indeed.

Laughter and tears, light and dark. Never far away from each other . . . neither able to exist without conflict. The humour of Erwitt and the observations of Soth exhaust themselves in Wray’s alchemy.

As a result of the response to her work, Wray started the Too Tired Project, which allows those suffering with depression a platform to engage and share their own work online in the hope of providing a cathartic outlet.

This is not only a beautiful book of photographs, it is its own kind of therapy: human, essential.