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I’m a member of a photography group which was recently invited to attend a presentation from photography legend Art Wolfe. I have been admiring Art’s work for the past two decades while I have been exploring photography and hoped to get a chance to meet him. Living under the principle, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no” I presented the idea to Seattle Photography Associates Executive Director When Paddison. When has been a great resource for this community group and didn’t let me down. She was able to procure me a 15 minute interview with Art before a presentation of his work at the Kirkland Performance Center in Kirkland, Washington.
Before I get to the interview, let me say that Art is not only a fabulous photographer, he’s also down to earth and a pleasure to talk with. He’s engaging, has an easy, yet excited manner and makes those he contacts feel at ease. After our interview and before the presentation he walked through the Performance Center audience and spent time sitting and chatting with those who had come to experience his presentation. He’s a real class act and I am very glad I got the chance to sit with him and pick his brain.
Note: part 2 of this interview with Art Wolfe will be published here at DPS tomorrow. Stay tuned via one of our subscription methods to get that update.
PETER: Your schooling was in art, specifically painting, at the University of Washington yet you are most widely known for your photography. What about photography changed your focus?
ART WOLFE: It was at a time in the late 70s when photography and 35mms were becoming more and more and more handy. I got a camera when I was in a climbing class outside of college and I started taking pictures just to document the climbs and I just took to it like a duck in water. The speed with which I could take compositions and make multiple compositions was much more suited to my temperament.
Having said that, I’ve just recently got back into painting after 30 years. And now it’s been great because I’m taking it a step further and melding my paintings and my photography together. So it’s kinda like a full circle.
PETER: When I was asking on Twitter for questions readers would like to ask you, @wrighttony told me to ask to see some of your paintings.
ART WOLFE: It’s amazing, I knew because over the years I’ve had interviews and people would invariably ask me if I ever would get back to painting; I said,”Someday”. I never threw away the paints or brushes. And suddenly I think one of the interviews spurred me to see if I still have any kind of eye-hand coordination. And you never lose that. In many ways the paintings I’m painting now are way more abstract are more sophisticated because the intellect has evolved over 30 years. So, it’s been fun.
PETER: What elements are you most interested in while choosing a travel destination?
ART WOLFE: The elements are the same ones that would make me want to go to that place. In other words, a sense of have I seen this scene over and over and over again in peoples pictures or on TV shows. Or is there a sense of wonderment and adventure to go and see something not quite seen before. And if it’s been seen before, can we more importantly put a different slant on it. So those are some of the motivations. But I pick the greatest places around the world (smiles). The most remote cultures the biggest mountains. The most austere, remote deserts. And that’s a great starting point. If the show continues for 5 years I’m sure we’ll get down to exploring the Kent wetlands, but right now we still have a lot of places to get to.
PETER: You’ve been a professional photographer for over 30 years and you’ve seen some great photographers come and go. Who out there inspires you today?
ART WOLFE: Wow. It’s a lot of my non-nature colleagues. I love the work of Greg Groman and his nudes and celebrity photos. You know it’s….what’s his name…..you know I’m at the age quite honestly where I have to relax the brain to access the short term memory. Let’s come back to that one because there are some but you know it’s like, pulling names out of the hat is really difficult for me.
PETER: Ok, no problem. How important is it to you to have professional equipment?
ART WOLFE: Absolutely, I’m not at all a techy, nor am I someone who polishes the latest camera and plays with the latest gadgets. I’m pretty uninterested in technology and that’s the bottom line. Having said that, I’d be idiotic if I’m going to take anything less than the best equipment into the field. Because I’m spending as much energy as you can imagine getting into the middle of the Sahara and to have something to capture the culture and atmospheric conditions that is less than what I could have brought would be ridiculous.
So, I bring really high end cameras along and I’m working on a project right now that involves human nudes, abstracts and I’m using Phase 45 equipment so it’s a huge file. Because I’m really rapidly heading towards fine art prints and collectors prints and I want the best equipment to capture that.
PETER: Digital Photography School has a fair amount of beginning photographers who are regular subscribers. For someone just finding they have a passion for photography, what would you say is the best thing for them to focus on from the very beginning?
ART WOLFE: To pursue their passion and to not worry about money. In other words, I think so many photographers really want to figure out where’s the economy and whether they can justify their interest in photography by the amount of money they can make from it. I think that’s wrong headed. I think; don’t think about money, follow your passion, make whatever you can work in continuing your adventure with photography and someday if that’s part of what you want, money will come.
But I think people feel that if they’re not selling their work or making money from it, their work is some how inferior and I don’t think it’s ever been a measure of whether your work is of value or not. A few of us neurotic folks make our living from the work but it is by no means a very easy occupation and I don’t think it’s either a measure of whether your work is good or not.
So, I think people should follow their passion, whether they make money or not.
In Part 2 of the interview, Art Wolfe speaks to his use of design in taking and teaching photography as well as his transformation to only shooting digital while on a trip to Antarctica.