Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Focus On: Ann Wilkinson

Gumballs on the Street

I know I really should’ve noticed her, I mean “really” noticed her sooner than I did.  She’s been writing this feature on the POE blog for some time now, and she’s been an Etsian for going on three years.  Like most photographers though, I’m a “visual” person and where images grab my attention, the written word is at a disadvantage.  So please forgive me if I was less than attentive to who was writing what around here before now.  I’m sorry, OK?

What did grab my attention was one of her images.  I was gathering content for a recurring feature I have on my own blog that features POE listings that are about to expire when I came across this:

Casco Viejo

 And THAT is when I “really” noticed Ann Wilkinson.

Taking over the “Focus On” feature from her, it seemed only appropriate that my inaugural post focus on her.  Ann recently moved from Utah back to her native New Jersey, and as busy as she is, she was able to find the time for us to have a conversation.

Steve:  Hi Ann.  Wow! Utah to NJ! Now there's a dichotomy of cultures! Where in Utah have you been?

Ann:  I’ve lived in Park City for the last 12 years. I grew up in New Jersey, so this really feels like “coming home”.  Utah is beautiful, but the winters just seemed to be getting longer, and skiing isn’t as interesting to me as it once was.  I was ready to leave. 


S:  For many of us the dream is to make one’s living as a professional photographer, but it seems so difficult, what with so much competition and all.  What are your thoughts on this, especially having just moved across country and getting a fresh start as it were? 

A:  It's very, very hard.  I think even Annie Leibovitz would have a difficult time getting started these days, as brilliant as she is.

S:  You like to travel, don’t you?  Where do you like to go?

A:  I love Asia, and I love Italy. The sights, feelings and textures are so different from what I’m used to; it excites me to experience those places. There's nothing better than getting lost in Venice with a bunch of black and white film!

Buddha in Tree

S:  Living across the Hudson River from Manhattan and a relatively short drive from so many famous and historic locations, from a photographic standpoint, you live in a "target rich environment". When you want to capture local images, where do you go, what do you shoot and what is it that draws you?

A:  I love the energy, sights and sounds of New York City.  I'm drawn to things that are old, a bit worn around the edges; maybe something that's been discarded or abandoned.  I also like to photograph when the weather is not the best.  Fog or snow or rain…I love it!

S:  How did you get your start in photography?  Who or what has influenced you?  Tell us about your first camera.

A:  My first camera is still around, actually. My brother has it, although I don't think he uses it.  I got some gift money when I graduated high school and bought a used 35mm Minolta.  I had so much fun going into New York City and taking my first images there.  I went to China in my early 20's and took a lot of images in the Shenzhen area, which helped shape a lot of my memories of that place.

Drama Ruled My Life

I took a darkroom class in 1999 which greatly expanded my insights. I loved manipulating images in the enlarger; dodging and burning were just magical things to do.  I gained a better understanding of composition during that time, and the teacher, Laurel Caryn from the University of Utah's School of Fine Arts, made a huge difference for me.   I have also met some amazing photography professionals who encouraged me to put myself out there.

S:  In an age when almost every cell phone is also a camera, what is it in your mind that makes a photographer?

A:  It's really hard to say.  Maybe a photographer is someone that thinks through the viewfinder all the time, unconsciously framing images and noticing things in a way that's a bit different from how others see them.  Maybe it's someone who works really hard to perfect their shots, taking images over and over until they are pleased with the results.

S:  Do you have any thoughts on digital versus film, and black and white versus color?

A:  Digital is great.  I am continually fascinated by what cameras can do today, it’s incredible.  Black and white or color?  I heartily approve of both!  Sometimes I see a subject in black and white; sometimes only color will do.  I continually struggle with converting a color image to black and white; I don't think it works very well, and I haven't yet found a b&w camera setting I like.


S:  Taking money out of the equation, what would you like to add to your bag?

A:  If money was out of the equation, I'd like to find a beautiful, vintage Leica film camera.  I did manage to score a Rolleiflex that dates back to the early 1950's, and that's my summer project.  I got a good scanner, and I'm going to digitize some of my old film work and some of my medium-format negatives.  I also want one of those little devices that turns a water bottle into a tripod!

S:  What photographer(s) do you admire most and how have they influenced you?

A:  I love Annie Leibovitz. I actually met her once at a Miss America pageant; I was awestruck!   She was working on a book, and I was helping my friend who was the "official Miss America photographer." Her work has just evolved and became more amazing over time.  She's had her troubles lately, but that's more a statement of the times we live in.  I also love Diane Arbus.  She was naturally curious and you can see how she got her subjects to trust her. I like that in a photographer. If you are photographing people they have to feel like you understand them and see them for how they'd like to be seen. Diane's subjects were very proud. It takes a special person to convey that.

Old Truck

S:  What are your favorite or least favorite subjects to shoot? 

A:  My least favorite thing to shoot: typical landscapes with the perfect foreground and the formulaic composition.

I love the curve of a child's cheek. I love the light in a bride's eye. I love the long look of deep love on a groom's face. I love graffiti on a wall and rusted car parts.

Thanks Ann!


PhotoGrunt is Steve Raley, a photographic documentarian from Seattle, Washington.  He captures images wherever he goes, and frequently he even uses a camera.  His work can be seen on his website, blog and his Etsy shop.


andrea said...

wonderful feature on such a talented photographer! i really enjoyed reading this. and that bit at the end, the part about "I love the curve of a child's cheek. I love the light in a bride's eye. I love the long look of deep love on a groom's face. I love graffiti on a wall and rusted car parts." i looove that...

Ann Wilkinson said...

thank you, Steve! it was fun to talk with you, and i'm so glad you are taking over "focus on". you do a great job!! rock on POE!

belly said...

This was a really great feature both well written and superb subject matter!

Pam Lefcourt said...

Nice article Steve!

photomcgee said...

Very interesting interview!

PhotoGrunt said...

Thank you for the kind words, and thank you Ann, for making my inaugural submission so enjoyable!

KClark Photography said...

I really enjoyed your feature Steve-Both your questions and Ann's responses were interesting and fun to read. Thanks

Hazydaisy said...

Really enjoyed this feature and the photographs are marvellous!

patk860 said...

great job steve! look forward to more focus! i've admired ann's work & enjoyed getting to know a little more about her...

schugirl said...

Wonderful article...great photos!! Loved every minute! Thanks for sharing.