Spine De/Re Construction © Wayne Swanson

“Love the personal storytelling. I think the images are successfully applied to the square here also. I admire photographers who are thinking outside the flat box these days and experimenting with alternative surfaces, from unusual papers to these shapes.” Sally Davies

Today we are pleased to share the work of Wayne Swanson, his work was chosen as one of the2019 Rfotofolio Selections.

Would you please tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a photographer and writer living in San Diego. I was born and raised in Chicago, and I still cling to my Midwestern sensibility despite living in California nearly 40 years now. I’m a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, and for many years nonfiction writing paid the bills, with photography on the side. Now photography is the main focus with writing on the side.

Where did you get your photographic training?

I got hooked on photography at Northwestern when I learned the magic of the darkroom in the introductory photojournalism class. I loved the way I could work a print to make an image really come alive. More recently, I’ve taken a variety of workshops with prominent photographers who have helped me refine my skills and develop my aesthetic.

Why do you create? 

I love the sense of discovery. I’m often surprised at what I find in the frame, and thrilled when an image leads me to new ways of seeing things and expressing myself.

Who has had an influence on your creative process? 

Aline Smithson. I took an introductory workshop of hers called Shooting with Intention several years ago, and it knocked me out. First it knocked me back by making me realize that just being able to take pretty pictures didn’t necessarily mean much in the fine art world. Aline explained the realities and provided a road map for building a fine art career. I’ve been taking workshops with her ever since. Under her mentorship, I have taken my work in directions I never would have dreamed. My spine cubes are a prime example.

Please tell us about an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time. 

Many years ago the California photographer Roger Minick did a classic project called the Southland Series. It consisted of black and white images of the vernacular Southern California landscape. One of the images shows a somewhat nondescript highway from the driver’s seat of a car, with a Holiday Inn marque in the distance. For me the image evokes strong childhood memories of summer road trips, none of which took place in California. It reminds me of the power of imagery to conjure personal reactions, and the importance of leaving room for the viewer to find their own meaning.

Stenosis © Wayne Swanson

What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson? 

The most important was a grid of images from my Self-Portraits with Stenosis series. It was one of my first attempts to move beyond the individual image. After creating a lot of stand-alone images for that project, and wondering what to do with all the ancillary materials like X-rays and medical reports I had gathered, I started playing around with grids. I loved that I could arrange images in a way that created an interesting visual rhythm and told a narrative story. It has helped me dramatically broaden my view of what photography is capable of. And it definitely led me on the path to the 3D cubes selected in this call. 

What makes a good day for you creatively speaking? 

When I’m working on a project and discover a new connection between imagery and ideas, or a new direction I can take my work — that’s a good day. An important part of that is having the patience to give a project time to develop. That’s when the best discoveries seem to reveal themselves.

Spine De/Re Construction © Wayne Swanson
Spine De/Re Construction © Wayne Swanson

Please tell us about the work you submitted for the Rfotofolio Call.

The cubes that make up Spine De/ReConstruction are 3-dimensional expressions of my struggles with spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease. The image on each face of the cubes illustrates an aspect of the cause and effect relationships inherent in these conditions. The stackable cubes emphasize the fractured nature of the experience.

The cubes are part of my series Self-Portraits with Stenosis, which examines what it’s like to live with a debilitating condition that is largely invisible to others. The series is my way of dealing with a new reality, shared by many, when we must question basic assumptions about health, personal mobility, and what lies ahead.

If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?

Keith Carter. The way he can find magic in the mundane is so inspiring. It would be fascinating to see what catches his eye and how he turns it into art. And it seems like he’d just be a kick in the pants to hang out with.

How important is the photographic community to you?

I think it’s essential to find people whose judgment you respect to bounce ideas off and get feedback on your work. I’ve been lucky to have Aline Smithson and the people in my workshops with her, as well as a group of San Diego photographers called the Snowcreek Collaborative. They have been invaluable by providing input to validate my ideas, offering suggestions for moving forward, and also offering criticism when I’m headed in the wrong direction.

What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?

A camera and Lightroom. I’ve gotten over equipment envy and worrying about film vs. digital debates. It’s the image that counts, and I try to keep equipment as simple as possible. Then I figure out what else I need to make my vision happen.

Is there something in photography that you would  like to try in the future? 

I want to continue exploring ways to do photography that doesn’t just hang on the wall. I’m only getting started with 3-dimensional work, and I want to see where it can take me.

What’s on the horizon?

Thanks to my spine cubes, I will be part of a 2-person exhibition in June 2020 with fellow San Diego artist Stacey Prince at the Photographer’s Eye Gallery in Escondido, California. My cubes were the Director’s Choice and Stacey’s work was Juror’s Choice in an exhibition there last fall. The prize was having an exhibition of our own. Now I need to decide what to show.

Thank you for sharing your time with us.

To learn more about the work of Wayne Swanson please visit his site at
Wayne Swanson

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