Shutter Girl

Kristen Wright straddles the line between subculture and high fashion

At 5:30 on a Thursday afternoon, photographer Kristen Wright's Tempe home looks like it could belong to any college student. Clothes pile up on a pool table in one room, the TV blares in another, and a tiny pug with a black, spiked collar just took a dump on someone's shoe.

Despite the chaos, the kitchen is immaculate. This comes compliments of an anal roommate who likes things neat -- a roommate who obviously didn't know what he was getting into when he allowed Wright to move in.

The front door opens, and in rushes Wright. She waves hello to her friend Melinda Crick, a local makeup artist with short blond hair up in pigtails. Brightly colored cherry blossoms peek out beneath Crick's sleeves as she hauls several boxes into the kitchen. Wright's own bobbed hair is dyed black and blue, and much of her that's visible is tattooed.

Kristen Wright's self-portrait.
Kristen Wright
Kristen Wright's self-portrait.
The result of the Jaime photo shoot.
Kristen Wright
The result of the Jaime photo shoot.

"Jaime should be here any minute," Wright says, anticipating the arrival of today's model.

Together, Crick and Wright are about to transform an average home into their place of work: a photo studio. Through her photography, and with the help of Crick, Wright has transformed lanky blond girls into bloody messes and plain-Jane women into supermodel divas. At 16, Wright (now 23) fell in love with the camera. The Arizona native pursued photography throughout high school in Gilbert and, after deciding college wasn't for her, got work as a studio manager and assisting a local photographer.

She's also taken her own share of photographs. And endured her share of logistical challenges.

"I've been busier than usual lately," says Wright, who has been using her boyfriend of several years, Ron, as a taxi service while she's without a car. "I have different shoots to go to and work, and I have to fit it all into my boyfriend's schedule."

Over the past couple of years, Wright's work has appeared in Item, Java, LabelHorde and Selling Power. Some of her work is straight-up high fashion, but she consistently proves that she is the queen of transformation.

In the kitchen, sweat trickles down Crick's face as she unloads a black bag onto the counter. Her make-up case looks like it should be carrying tools. It's enormous, metal and holding more than $2,000 worth of top-of-the-line make-up. Out of the bag comes a tiny-barreled curling iron, a crimper, black body paint, Q-tips, bobby pins and other beauty essentials.

Eventually, Jaime Wynn, a tall, skinny blonde with white eyelashes and barely-there brows, wanders into the backyard where Crick and Wright are now sitting on a ram-shackled trampoline, smoking Parliament Lights.

"Why do I always have to shower when you guys are done?" Wynn says. "It's either blood, glitter or frizzy-ass hair."

She knows Wright and Crick too well.

In a couple of hours Wynn will be wearing nothing but a bra and panties. Half of her body, including her hair, will be airbrushed black while the other half will be extravagantly transformed. Wynn and Wright envision red lipstick, turquoise eye shadow, pink blush and tiny ringlets in her short blond hair.

The inspiration for the night?

"Well, Melinda's a whiz with the airbrush," Wright says, "So I want one part [of Wynn] to totally blend into the background. Like good and evil almost."

Though no one's getting any cash for tonight's shoot, the girls consider it a fair trade. Wynn gets stellar portfolio pictures and Wright gets a free face and body to toy with.

By 7 p.m., the kitchen, now looking like the bathroom of a kindergartener playing dress up, is the last place you'd want to eat. The crimper sizzles on Wynn's fragile hair and the aerosol hairspray goes "Pst! Pst!"

Wright sneaks into the living room and clears off a table, then moves it into the family room to make way for a black velvet backdrop and portable studio light.

In the backyard, Wynn sits on a small stool wearing only a terry cloth robe. Crick mans the airbrush, which effortlessly colors half of Wynn's face black and then clogs, forcing Wright to finish the job by hand.

"You just like painting her boobs," Crick says as Wright strokes black paint over Wynn's white bra.

"I saw an opportunity and I had to take it," Wright jokes, applying several coats.

After more than three hours of primping, Wynn looks super-model gorgeous. Well, half of her does.

Crouched on the living room floor with several different cameras, it's finally Wright's turn to play.

"God damn it, Jaime! I love it," she says excitedly, peering thorough her lens.

"I know, I'm a sexy bitch," Wynn says with confidence that the demure looking girl who walked in hours ago didn't seem to have.

After clicking through several rolls of film, an exhausted Wright falls with a sigh of satisfaction onto the velvet backdrop where Wynn has been striking poses for more than a half hour.

"You guys are awesome," she exclaims, giving each girl an enthusiastic high five.

"Let's smoke a cigarette," Crick suggests.

"Hell yeah!" Wright exclaims. "That was like doin' it right there!"

To see more of Kristen Wright's work, go to www.kristenwright.com

 
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