Structures of cultural memory: the photography of Tom Wright

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


The photography of Tom Wright, archived at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, is both art and history. Wright captured many musicians on stage and off at some of the most pivotal moments in both their own careers and in the history of rock music. Although Wright played an integral part with various bands, and produced an amazing body of photographical work in a career that spanned from the 1960s to the 1980s, he has remained unknown. This dissertation argues that Wright belongs in the pantheon of rock photographers as a chronicler and artist; that Wright's photography, and the manner in which it was created, represent the turmoil and conflicts of his era (1960s-1980s) on which he had a specific Anglo-American take as a photographer born in America, but educated in England; that the so-called rock 'n roll life is embodied in Wright's life, including the concept of auto-destruction, that is a primary reason for Wright's lack of recognition; and Wright's relative obscurity is due in large part to his own refusal to work for any publications but to take photographs for their own sake. Wright's photography tells a more nuanced story of rock music. By altering the collectively accepted narrative, his photographs provide a sense of awakening for all and touch on shared memories and how society remembers. Wright's work ultimately offers a more inclusive perspective on how photographs affect both memory and accepted history.




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