A Year in Photos – Alison Wright


photos by Alison Wright

The most challenging thing about my recent move from San Francisco toNew York has been to actually spend time at home in New York.2010 began at the decadent $10,000 a night villa at the Amanyara onTurks and Caicos Island, one of the prettiest resorts I’ve everphotographed, when I got a call about the earthquake in Haiti. I raidedthe mini bar and jumped on the short 35-minute flight with little morethan my camera bag.

Even those who had houses in Port au Prince were too afraid to go insidebecause of the ongoing tremors. I befriended the dear Arty family, wherenearly three weeks later I was still sleeping in their backyard withthem. Yet they never asked when I was leaving. As is always the way, itseems the people who have the least, give the most. Every morning therewas a cup of thick Haitian coffee boiled for me, and every eveningsomething to eat. This family became my family, and cared that I camehome at night. They were a touchstone in a world of chaos. I had barelyreturned from this non-profit shoot when I was sent back to Haiti for anassignment for Smithsonian Magazine to cover a moving story on theartists who had lost so much of their work. This time, with the helpfrom all of you, I was able to raise nearly $4000 for tents for Haitithrough my Faces of Hope Fund, my foundation that helps provide medicalcare to children around the world. Please visit www.facesofhope.org forupdates. I have big plans for next year. We go on because we have hope.And that’s the greatest gift we can give to children right now. Hope.

A had a short trip to Thailand with a fortuitous stop in Dubai,connecting with the art curator of the Burj Hotel. Little did I know howthat one dinner would change the course of my year, as we went on toopen a show of my portraits in New York and I was made an artist inresidence for the Jumeirah Essex House in New York. It’s starting tofeel like home as whenever I return from a trip they generously feed mea good meal, and then send me back out in the field.

Good thing, as there’s no Sancerre wine on the Sepik River in Papua NewGuinea. A few years ago I shot a story for Islands magazine, sailingfrom Indonesia to Papua New Guinea and it was dominating my travel listto actually be able to return to Papua. Having dealt with my ownscarification I was taken with photographing the process of the raisedemulation of the crocodile skin tattooing and ritual that the men endure.

This summer I taught a couple of National Geographic Student Expeditiontrip workshops in Guilin, China and Ladakh, India. It was my first timeteaching teenagers and I loved their enthusiasm and seeing the firstglimpses of these foreign countries through their eyes. From there Ireturned on my own to my beloved remote nomadic areas of remote Tibetwhere I have been going nearly every year for the last twenty years. Idid a photo story for the New York Times on the demise of the Tibetannomad and sadly the situation isn’t getting any better as they’re beingforced by the Chinese government to abandon their yak hair tents andwith no job skills live in the cities. I don’t think they’ll be aroundfor another generation. Because Kham in Eastern Tibet has such importantmeaning to me, I hiked up to spread some of my mom’s ashes at animportant sky burial site, with the sound of the prayerflags beatinglike horses hooves in the wind.

I spent the rest of the summer months in London and Great Britainshooting a couple of books for National Geographic. Being a dual citizenof the United States and Europe (where my parents are from) it’s wasgreat fun to return to a country of so many childhood memories for me,but a challenge to shoot in lots of typical rainy weather and having tomaster driving on the other side of the road. I was quite proud ofmyself for having covered Great Britain from Cornwall to Scotland,(twice!) and was actually on my way to return the car, when I heard aterrific scraping noise while backing out of the driveway. In the lastforty-five minutes of summer car rental, I managed to take out the wholeleft side of the car. Although, as I often say, nothing’s so bad onceyou’ve been hit by a logging truck. I got my first tattoo this summer,to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of surviving my devastating roadaccident in Laos and I found myself often referring to the mantra I’dgotten tattooed onto my wrist, “Breathe in, breathe out,” written in oldTibetan script by a lama in Tibet this summer. Yes, I did get doubleverification that it actually says this before ingraining it into my skin.

Then it was back to China to teach another photo workshop at the LindenCentre in Yunnan, China, run by Jeanne and Brian Linden. It’s such avisually rich area, I look forward to teaching again there next year.Updates on my upcoming photo tours for next year to China, Mexico andIndia, will be posted on my website.

There were two trips to Canada this year. One was to Quebec, and theother to Churchill, Manitoba where one summer I had snorkeled andphotographed the magnificent ghost-like beluga whales. Now I returnedfor the rare and wonderful opportunity to photograph their white winterpride, the polar bears. I ponder the strangeness of a profession where Ican be photographing in the open icy tundra of the Arctic one day,battling a stand still traffic jam on Fifth Avenue in New York the next,and then off to the heat and humidity of a Rio de Jainero summer, toshoot the Christmas tree lighting.

I’m now about to have knee surgery next month, which should ground mefor awhile anyway.

Here’s raising a Caipirinha to a healthy, happy and inspired new yearfor all.