This week Rfotofolio is pleased to feature the work and words of Brady Wilks.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
Although I knew that I was going to be an artist from an early age, I never thought it would bloom from the stem of photography and printmaking. There was a time when I called myself a musician, a painter, a ceramic artist, and an illustrator. When I’m asked now, I usually just say I’m an artist. It just happens to be in the medium of photography and printmaking. I like to think that each process and medium over time helped to shape my current vision. In addition to making art, I also write and educate in various photographic processes be it college courses or workshops, with a book coming out on alternative process published by Focal Press. I am also a new dad and am looking forward to sharing art with my son as he grows. My wife, son, and I are in the mid-Atlantic area on the Maryland side of Washington, D.C.
How did you get started in photography?
In 1994, my mother bought me my first 35mm SLR. I would venture out with my friend Dan all over the place, making photographs. I was more or less self-educated in analog and later digital processes over the years. I worked in commercial photography, music events, product photography and some conservation projects. It wasn’t until I moved from Southern California to the Maryland that I really focused on using photography as a fine art medium. In fact I attribute a lot of my art success to my mentors and teachers while working on my MFA in 2009. Before the move I did a lot of painting and commercial work, but essentially left that all behind when I moved. Nothing can replace the resolve I now have making art and educating in the arts.
Which photographers and other artists’ work do you admire?
There are many on the list. I can admire and appreciate most of the artists that I have discovered along the way, especially those in my little corner of alternative and historical photographic processes. I feel like every artist can teach me something and the ones I remember are the ones I admire the most be they historical, contemporary, students, or otherwise.
Historically, I can narrow it down to a couple of really important people that have a relationship with photography, which I admire. Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen’s earlier periods are important for me. I can really appreciate their drive to elevate photography, as well as, their creative voice.
In a more contemporary context, I have a strong admiration for my teachers, those individuals that have taught me directly or indirectly. Dan Estabrook, my mentor of over a year, was by far the most influential and important person in my artistic development. I also really appreciate his relationship with photography, and more so his conceptual intellect. France Scully Osterman and Mark Osterman are my workshop teachers of many processes. Beyond their ability to teach and to command various processes, they have amazing art that I really admire in different ways. Sally Mann, who I have never learned from directly, has taught me so much through her work, writing, interview and lectures. Henry Horenstein, my mentor and friend who, like Sally Mann, has a beautiful relationship with his subjects that I not only admire but also actively practice. I make art from the things I love, the things I am interested in, and the places near me.
To give a little more clarity on the spectrum of artists I admire, I would also list Robert and Shana Parke Harrison, Joel Peter Witkin, Duane Michals, Keith Carter, Michael Kenna, Adam Fuss, Binh Danh, Edward James Bateman, Joseph Mills, Jerry Uelsmann, K.K. DePaul, and hundreds of others. Essentially, I admire the moody, the conceptual, the romantic, the humorous, the mysterious, and the weird. I like the artists and art that makes me ‘feel’ something.
Did you have a mentor?
I am so thankful to say that I have several mentors. In addition to Dan Estabrook and Henry Horenstein, I have others from my MFA program and workshops. They started as professors but quickly turned into people I looked to for reflection. Those teachers include, Tamara Hubbard, Trace Nichols, and many others that deserve to be mentioned.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time.
The best answer to this is actually a painting from Andrew Wyeth. I did not make the connection until recently, but I grew up with his work hanging in my childhood home and I would say he has influenced my own work a great deal. Although there are many other works that have stayed with me over time, the longest and most influential would be “Christina’s World”. When someone said my work reminded them of Wyeth, I had a wave of memories flood my brain. I revisited his art from my childhood and started making the connections. I can see why they would make that connection in my landscape work.
As for a photograph sticking with me, it would be Steichen’s, “Moonrise, Mamaroneck”, New York.1904 Platinum and ferroprussiate. print. However, I think it is more about the story that stayed with me. His ventures to the end of the neighborhood and intimate time spent in the forest interiors.
If you could spend the day with another photographer living or passed who would it be?
I feel it is important, even for those artists who are advanced in their careers, to take workshops. Learning from my peers and heroes directly is important to me. I get to spend a day, or more, with them and more importantly I learn something about them, something about their process, and something about myself.
If I could spend the day with someone, I would say Sally Mann. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from her on many levels, and although we’ve met through Dan Estabrook, I’ve never had the opportunity to learn from her directly. I’d like to think that I would enjoy her company regardless of the conversation, but I’m sure the engagement would affirm my shared relationship and philosophical approach to photography.
You say teaching is learning, please tell us some of the things you have learned by being a teacher.
Students offer so much. The work they share and problems they need help solving strengthen my own abilities. We work on solving the problems together and in turn they are teaching me something as well. The biggest lesson learned is seeing how people are able to define “why” they make art. Being an educator also requires that I remain current. I have influence coming from contemporary work, revisiting historical work, student work, and my own. It is a storm of knowledge that sometimes I have a hard time processing all of it.
I have learned that there is always room for something new, and even if it is a common theme or subject, the art can be justified. Students have a way of bringing new conversations to an otherwise ordinary subject, so even the most basic of lessons have the potential to spark interesting points of view.
Would you tell us about your book?
I have a book being published with Focal Press titled, “Alternative Photographic Processes: Crafting Handmade Images”. I’d like to think this book isn’t yet another how-to. There are so many people who have already written on the subject and make great instructors for various processes, but I felt like I had some variations to share. I wanted to make it a compliment to books written by my friends, such as Jill Enfield. Think of the book as having some instruction, but also many variations, suggestions, and artists’ examples of what is possible in image making. It is written for artists, educators, students and hobbyists who are looking for alternatives to popular methods to help define their own unique creative voice. They might already be versed in chemical and analog processes or they may only have digital experience.
I am extremely fortunate to have contributing support from amazing artists including, Dan Herrera, David Emitt Adams, K.K. DePaul, Tom Persinger, France Scully Osterman, Mark Osterman, Edward James Bateman, Jonah Calinawan, Sally Mann, Blue Mitchell, and lots of other amazing artists with various processes and vision. Their work is a great example of what is possible in art. Sadly, I had to make a lot of cuts but tried to include a resource list for processes and artists using those processes.
While promoting the book, I gave a lecture at the Society for Photographic Educators this year in New Orleans. I was delighted to see a full house. This one was packed to the brim, which was a real testament of how important alternative process and hand made images are to educators, artists and students be it chemical, digital or any combination. It was a bit of a temperature gauge for the current resurgence of this need or desire for the hand to be involved.
If no one saw your work, would you still create it?
A large part of making art is cathartic and very much self-serving. I absolutely would still make art if no one saw it. I might not make as much art as I do currently, but it is a life requirement for me. I must make art as much as I must eat.
Please tell us about your process and what the perfect day for you.
Process is very important for me. More specifically, I choose a particular process like wet plate collodion or acrylic gel lift / transfer because I want the series to look a certain way or feel a certain way. Process has the ability to transform images or to help encode a certain range of emotional depth.
A perfect art day is three parts nature, one part studio/lab, one part process and the sum of those parts equaling a great time spent with my art, and more importantly, resolve. If that was finished with an artist talk at a gallery reception and a gallery patron came up to me asking “why” instead of “how”, I would be lucky to call it a perfect day.
What challenges do you face as an artist?
There is a conflict between making art and selling art. Would I make art if no one could see it? Yes, but I still need to earn a living and if I can do so through art sales, writing, educating, workshops, guest lectures, and a number of other related jobs then that is what I am going to do. I would love to have someone do the gallery work for me so I can spend more time making art. That challenge is finding a gallery that would represent me so that I am not only a good fit, but that we both gain something from the partnership.
Another challenge is the medium and content. I am a photographer, which is pretty common these days, and I make art using landscapes as a primary subject. There are a lot of landscape photographers, but the distinction I make is that the work I do is important to me. There is a challenge with the content being inherently pretty as well. I want viewers to look past the pretty landscape and see something more conceptually deep, be it symbolism, metaphor, reflection, or introspection. I hope a viewer feels something after looking at my work.
Lastly, there is the challenge of exposure and notoriety. Although my work is important to me, what does that mean for everyone else? Is it important to others? Does it provide something more than a nice decoration for buyers? I want viewers to see what I see in myself . . . so there is a bit of the desire for recognition as well.
What is next?
I am also actively guest lecturing, teaching, mentoring, demonstrating, and writing, but I’d like to continue making work for my “Soul of the Land” series and a few other projects using various processes. I am also working on some other book projects part-time but they won’t be ready for while. Overall, I’ll continue to keep this momentum going and continue to work hard and work happy.
Thank you for the opportunity to share, I greatly appreciate the dialog.
Thank you Brady to learn more about the work of Brady Wilks, please visit his site at, Brady Wilks Alternative Photography.
To learn more about his book,”Alternative Photographic Processes: Crafting Handmade Images”, please visit Focal Press.
Thank you to the photographers that share their work with us.
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