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The ART of Photography
“In the last issue, we introduced you to Art Wolfe, a renowned photographer who talked about his connection with nature and everything it hosts. In this second installment of an insightful two-part series, Art Wolfe talks about his most popular and gorgeous set of photographs — the art of camouflage in nature, his eye for the human canvas and as a bonus, his 10 commandments for aspiring photographers. Pick up the new issue to read about his genius.”
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Nissi Unger at Ami Magazine interviewed me.
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Have a look at an article that features Art and a select group of great images.
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Angels Gazquez Espuny from Spain, recently interviewed Art for a school project. The title was “The Artist’s Psychology”. Here is their dialogue.
From your experience, what is art and what is an artist? – A true artist is an individual who creates from their soul be they a musician, writer, dancer, sculptor, painter or photographer etc…They have a need to express themselves in a creative way, revealing a part of themselves in the process. To restrict their creative outlet, whatever it may be, whether they sell their work or not, is to imprison their soul.
Art is a journey, for both the artist and the viewer. An artist will grow and mature over time. Myself, I began with a more realist approach to my painting and photography and have trended towards a greater appreciation for the abstract as I have followed my own journey. The same is true for the viewer. At one point in your life you may not ‘get it’ when you look at another’s artwork, perhaps it is too abstract or unusual, but later in life you may return to these same pieces and see them from an entirely new perspective; appreciating them in a way you couldn’t have before. Everyone sees and interprets art from their own experiences. It is because of this that you can’t simply define “art” or an “artist”, each is an ever changing and growing interpretation for the individual.
For me personally, the highest form of art is something that enriches the viewer and speaks to them evoking an emotional response from within. I fill my home with art, both my own and pieces I have collected during my travels all over the world. Some are highly prized pieces such as centuries old Native American baskets but they run all they way down to simple indigenous crafts I have picked up for a few dollars. I have even transformed my yard over the years into a work of art inspired by the Chinese paintings of the Haung Shan landscapes.
I am an artist, I have been since a child. It was when I was a young boy in middle school the teachers, upon seeing my paintings, were so moved, that they actually paid me for my work. It was right then that I knew I would make a living selling my art, my creations, and I have followed that path ever since. My roots are set deeply in painting. I went to the University of Washington receiving my degree in Fine Arts and I saw this as my path. It was only in my 20s that I would transition to a photography and make my name as a wildlife photographer and in my journey, now at 60 years old, I find myself returning to my roots as a painter more and more.
Why and what motivates you to create, what do you normally create? – As I said before, I am an artist and I have that same drive inside me that all true artists feel which continues to motivate me even after 30 years. When I return from a trip my mind is instantly seeking out the next opportunity – whether it is with my camera in the field, a studio session, or time with paint and a brush, as an artist I will never rest.
I have always been a strong conservationist, even as a child. I grew up spending more time outside than inside exploring the woods near my home in West Seattle, Washington getting to know every bird, reptile, mammal, and plant I could find. At a young age I could see the need to protect and preserve our fragile natural resources. I strive to capture the natural beauty in works of art with the hope that it will inspire the viewer, evoke that emotional response, to see the need to preserve and protect our diminishing resources.
In my career as a photographer, I first began photographing animals and landscapes and that is perhaps what I am most well known for. Over the years, traveling the world, I was fortunate enough to encounter the elusive animals that inhabit the remote corners of our planet, and at the same time I got to know and appreciate the indigenous people that inhabit these lands as well. Their culture in many cases remains intact as it has been for countless generations. Getting to know these cultures, fostered an appreciation for the beauty of their approach to life and balance with the planet. With a career spanning over 30 years, I have images in my archive that can not be replicated today as cultures give way to outside influences.
Traveling the world I have also been exposed to a wide variety of religions and practices giving me an appreciation for the beauty you can find in each. Over time I have found myself bringing home more and more creations around culture and religion from these travels.
Lastly, as I get older I find myself drawn more and more to the abstract. The photographs you find me taking today are less often about the grand scenic landscape and more often about intimate details, abstracting the elements in the natural world to tell a different kind of story, but one rooted in the same motivation for protecting and preserving the natural wonders of our planet.
Do you think an artist is born or grows with age? – I believe both statements are true. One is born with certain passions in their soul. No matter your level of physical fitness, if you don’t have a passion to climb mountains, you won’t be a mountain climber, that is a drive I believe you have deep inside of you and an artist’s drive is no different. You are born with this drive to create though not necessarily the talent to pull it off, for talent comes with time. This is how an artist grows with age. Some may be self-taught, others classically trained, and it’s the rare exception that may be inherently talented, but even with those, I would argue that you can see their work grow and transform over time as they follow their journey.
Whether your art form is photography, painting, music, whatever…talk with any artist and they will tell you of a journey where they grew as an artist, honing their craft, focusing their talents, changing with time and improving with each creation.
And I continue to evolve, I have taken photos in the last 3 years that I never would have seen just 5 years ago – at 60 years old I continue to get better, look objectively at my art, improve on it and move forward, never stagnating. I will be growing as an artist so long as I am still able to create.
Do you have any reference artists & what inspires you? – I am inspired by the works of many classical and contemporary artists. You will see direct evidence of influences from Jackson Pollack in my work in a composition showcasing the random line and chaos which can be found in nature. I have also long admired the work of dutch artist M.C. Escher. I have photographs that I explicitly composed with his repeating geographic patterns in mind such as the repeating black and white of a tightly composed image of penguins in the artic. As I am photographing in the field, a scene will unfold before me reminding me of a particular artist’s style and I will compose my image drawing upon this style.
As a lifetime student of art, the list of artists inspiring me is a long one. You’ll find all the usual suspects such as Salvador Dali, Renoir, Van Gogh as well as more contemporary artists such as Keith Haring, Jacob Lawrence, Mark Toby… To visit my library at home would provide you an understanding as it is filled with art books spanning the centuries, it would be far too difficult to try and list everyone I draw from here.
Additionally I am also influence and inspired by the original artists, those who left their art on rock and cave walls 10-30 thousand years ago in Australia, southwestern US and the caves of Spain and France. They were true artists abstracting their subjects, suggesting movement and exaggerating their features. They were not simply recoding exactly what they saw, they were creating art.
Lastly, I am inspired by the beauty of nature. The intricate designs you find everywhere you look, from a curled fiddle wad of a young fern to the beautiful colors in the wings of a McCaw. This is why I keep doing what I do, I love nature and all her beauty and I want to share this with everyone in the hopes that they too will fall in love and understand why we need to protect this precious gift.
Do you consider yourself an artist? – Absolutely. Art is my passion and I have been following that passion my entire life.
On August 8, join Art Wolfe and Green Builder Media President Ron Jones as Ron interviews the fascinating photographer about his observations of changing conditions within natural and built environments around the globe, the adaptations that the inhabitants of these environments have been forced to make, and how Wolfe has been able to win support for conservation issues by focusing his camera on the Earth’s beauty and bounty.
Preeminent evolutionary biologist and controversial author Richard Dawkins is famous for taking on the difficult issues. We had the honor of working with him a decade ago when he contributed an essay to Art’s masterwork The Living Wild.
Join Scott Sheppard and Art Wolfe in an intimate discussion about life, art, gardening, black & white, printing, painting, dogs, composition and a lifetime passion in photography.
Australian businessman-turned-photographer Denis Glennon traveled to China with Art in April and his observations have been published in Better Digital Camera Magazine. More exciting yet, Denis & Art are planning a comprehensive seminar & workshop series in Australia & South Africa for March/April 2012. Details will be posted as soon as they are finalized.
European Traveler has a nice interview with me this month. Makes me want to travel and photograph through more of Europe.