Commentary: Isaac Wright is the Newest Victim in Cincinnati’s Long History of Mistreatment of Photographers and Outsider Artists

"Wright faces charges for trespassing and burglary...because he climbed atop the Great American Tower to take a picture."

click to enlarge Isaac Wright on DrifterShoots - Photo:
Isaac Wright on DrifterShoots

As a photographer and writer born and raised in Cincinnati, and now seemingly an expat of Porkopolis living in New York City, I have memories of both the wars waged on the “arts world" against Robert Mapplethorpe in 1990 and Thomas J. Condon in 2002. It’s no surprise that Isaac Wright of DrifterShoots fame is facing the area’s nothing-better-to-do art police. But unlike 1990 and 2002, it’s 2021 and shutting down bullies is finally in vogue.

While each of these three highlighted incidents have their own unique stories, they all have one common denominator: Cincinnati.

A large portion of the inhabitants of this area — especially those who run its law-enforcement division — find any sort of outsider art (including art that blurs the line between legal and illegal, and art that exposes infrastructure and security flaws) to be so troubling that they must overreact. Wright faces charges for trespassing and burglary (which apparently warrants a dramatic arrest on an Arizona freeway that involved half a dozen cop cars, guns drawn, and a helicopter like we’re on some episode of CSI) because he climbed atop the Great American Tower to take a picture. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Wright is facing five felonies after he reportedly broke into the tower, as well as PNC Bank Tower and Great American Ball Park.

Wright, 25, is a graduate of Colerain High School and an army veteran, who is known on Instagram as DrifterShoots — an account which has amassed a sizable following (about 18,000 followers). He reportedly used a crowbar to enter into Cincinnati’s bejeweled Great American Tower and used wire cutters to dismantle its security systems. Authorities have used Wright’s training in the army — where he honed the ability to be stealth — as reason to lock him up pending his day in court. He has since been released and is being monitored by a GPS device on his ankle.

If I worked in that building — or leased space in it — I would immediately want to know how it could be breached so easily, especially considering its icon status. A crowbar and some wire cutters is all it took? I’m sure the building management has circulated some tenant memo riddled with excuses.

The crime isn’t really that Wright is guilty of trespassing; he has apologized, admitted that he is suffering from an illness that can cause him to do something like this (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), and said he just wanted to capture art.

No, the crime is the failure of building safety prevention, the projection afterward to punish the artist, and not holding accountable the owners of the building that Wright so easily accessed. Had Wright had malicious intent, it could’ve ended badly, but luckily he just wanted to make his art. He has no criminal history. The building’s owner, an insurance company, nonetheless, should recognize the opportunity Wright has given them.

Of all of the problems the world and Cincinnati face, we get this stupid, overkill pursuit of Spider-Man. Watching from a distance, it is another public embarrassment for an area that has eschewed mask-wearing, produced a couple homegrown domestic terrorists, and is made mention in the New York Times time and time again for its corrupt city leadership and gun violence.

Wright’s photography is absolutely remarkable and at 25 he’s already become a master of the art. Adding insult to injury, authorities recognize this.

“We’re all in agreement that the photos are great,” Cincinnati Police Detective Jeff Ruberg quipped so cheekily. “But he climbed a light pole at the stadium.”

Really? Sounds like everyone in Cincinnati whenever the Bengals finally win a game.

For such a “God, guns, and freedom” part of the country, chasing a no-harm, no-foul veteran of the army with PTSD across the country like you’re in some Dukes of Hazzard pursuit and then bonding him at nearly half a million dollars seems over-the-top, unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers money. Again, the real crime lies in the security failures of these buildings who, in the day and age of mass shootings, should have total fail-safe procedures in place.

Drop the charges, offer him assistance for his PTSD if he needs it, and let Mr. Wright go about his way. He’s already been punished enough.

At deadline, Wright had been arrested again in grand fashion in Kentucky last week when returning from Louisiana in what suspiciously seems like a tip-off and entrapment sort of event, including the tracking of his phone, which was confiscated.

Montgomery Maxton is a poet, writer, photographer, and mixed-media artist from Cincinnati. His work has appeared in National Geographic among other places. His fourth book of poetry, Shipwreck, is forthcoming in September 2021 and his debut novel, Moonlight on the Sunshine Roses, will be released in January 2022. He lives in New York City. @montgomerymaxton,

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