Featured artist spotlight: Carl Wilson

By Randy Golding

Aggie BluePrint

Featured Photo: Carl Wilson, taken by Randy Golding. All other photos taken by Carl Wilson.
 

Carl Wilson is a graduate student of photography here at Utah State. He was born and raised in West Virginia, where he discovered his interest in photography at an early age. He received a bachelor’s Degree in photojournalism from Ohio University before coming to USU. Carl was initially interested in photojournalism, but his interests are now from a fine art perspective. He focuses on the personal side of photography and the personal motivations for making art. Carl’s MFA thesis exhibition, “parallaxis” is open April 23 – 27 in the Chase Fine Arts Center, Gallery 102.

How would you describe your work?

The work that I’m starting to do for my thesis started in some way before I came to Utah. I was in West Virginia, where I lived with my family and I noticed that there were a lot of businesses that had gone out of business while I had been in Korea. I would do a lot of driving at night and I noticed these places that were out of business, and there’s a sort of empty space there, but they still had lights on illuminating these places that weren’t being used anymore. So I started making photographs of these places. I would get up really close to the window and photograph into these abandoned areas, strip malls and things like that. In my mind it triggered this fantasy that I had when I was a kid, where I would think about how great it would be to be locked up in a toy store at night. You would have all these toys to play with, you know, everything was available there. And then I got older and I thought about it; for a little kid, that would be fun for maybe a half an hour or maybe an hour, and then you would realize you’re all alone and in this dark place. It would become scary after a while. The idea crept in, of that sort of lonely, scary place. When I came here to Utah State I was still thinking about that, so I started dabbling with it. I would shoot that stuff and it changed after a while. I was photographing into these places and I was trying to block out any reflections. Sometimes I would have an accident where I would get a reflection in my image. After a while that became the interesting point of the image; this mixture of the inside and outside. So I would have to mask the camera with black fabric, I didn’t like the fact that there was this camera in the image that the viewer would see.  That would work sometimes, but I started getting a rounded shape in the image that looked like a cloaked figure. I didn’t like that. Through my critiques, it was brought up that I could use double exposures, or use two exposures and merge them in Photoshop.  For me, I didn’t want to work on the computer as much; it is not as enjoyable to me. So I started doing double exposures for my images to replicate that feeling of a reflection. Most of the images in my show will have that quality, with this feeling of being trapped in between the glass.

Why did you choose USU for your graduate studies?

It was the place I got in. I mean that sounds kind of awful. But for me, my interest in getting my master’s was not that I was going to a certain place to learn from somebody, I just wanted to go to a place where I could just work on my photography and develop something that I am interested in. I felt like this place would allow me that. You know, it’s a pretty small program and I’m not very competitive with my work, so personally I don’t get anything from trying to be better than other people. I’m always in this struggle with myself … I’m my own worst critic and my own worst enemy when it comes to my work. I’m battling myself more than I am battling with others. Being here, I have also been able to take advantage of summer semester with study abroad that will allow me to progress in my degree.

How would you describe your style?

I always like getting to a place where everything just kind of works. I’ve always been interested in a state of flow, or this idea of working from intuition. Most of the time, you know, I am, I wouldn’t say technical when I start, but methodical when I start. I try to figure out everything that needs to be done and once I get those steps placed, I just go out and do it. I look at the situation and my mind is working on this other level, like I am working without struggle.

When did you discover your interest in photography?

I think I was always interested in photography as a young kid. I remember, I was the one that would have the point and shoot camera, you know? I would be the one who would take the pictures when we were on vacation. I can remember watching a news program and they had this thing about a young kid making photographs. I always thought that was interesting. I also had this interest in being a National Geographic photographer. I don’t know if I could be one of those today or not, but that was kind of like one of the goals in my life when I was younger. When I was in high school, between my junior and senior year, I was able to go and learn photography at a summer college course. That’s when I learned all the basic technical stuff that I didn’t understand.  Working with chemicals and developing film is kind of scary at the beginning, you’re very mystified by how all this stuff works. Once I got that, I was off and running.

What is your favorite camera to shoot with?

Any type of film camera.  I still enjoy shooting with 35mm black and white film. I could shoot with digital but it doesn’t give me that same feeling that I get out of film. It’s kind of weird, I’m at the age where, when I was learning about photography it was that transition area when digital was just coming on the scene and film photography was the big kid on the block. Because I came from that background I think is why I still enjoy it. I have an old Leica rangefinder camera that I like to use for street photography.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I learned early on that looking at other photographers’ work and even other artists’ work (can be inspiring). I’ve always been a big fan of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. They have a photographic quality to them. I have always tried to build a visual library in my mind and I’ve felt that if you studied how other photographers work, then you get an idea of what works and doesn’t work. Not that you’re copying the same images that they create, but you’re using that visual library in your mind to understand composition. You know, I always tell my students that if you want to become better at photography it is better to look at other photographers and then shoot a lot of images. The more images you shoot, the better your chances of getting something good.

Do you do any special preparations before starting a new project?

I don’t know. I think what it is, is that I think about something that catches my eye. Or I always had this thing where if I became interested in something I would research it.  I think it comes from just exploring what’s around me or an idea that pops into my head.

What do you feel is the most challenging thing about being a photographer?

For me personally, the challenging thing is a personal thing, my emotional state. I always find that I have to work myself to a state of happiness to really enjoy what I do. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get into that mode. And I think for me, I was never worried about competing against others, even when I was into photojournalism. I was always trying to outdo myself, which is really hard to do.  It can be very emotionally taxing.  There have been several times in my life when I have thought about giving up photography. It’s something that I love very much but it’s also very hard.

Who is your favorite photographer and why?

For a long time it was W. Eugene Smith. He was an early photojournalist; he is sort of the father of the photo story.  He was the kind of person that I was envisioning being and so I learned a lot about him and found out he was kind of a crazy guy. But his work was very influential when I was younger. I also started looking at Garry Winogrand. He was from a newspaper background but he would do a lot of street photography. Another person I look at now is William Eggleston. He was one of the first photographers that shot on color film that was considered fine art. At a certain time period, color photography wasn’t considered fine art at all; it was considered amateur photography or commercial. His visual aesthetic is just really interesting to me and very quiet and sad, empty images. I think that speaks to my own internal self and relates to how I think about my own photography.

If you could spend one day with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?

I guess I always wanted to have been able to work with W. Eugene smith. He was the one photographer that for a long time I would look toward more than other photographers. I don’t know what I could learn from him but maybe to understand his motivation to create images. I’ve always been interested in learning others’ motivations for creating imagery.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Let’s see, I will be 46 in ten years so I don’t know. It would be nice to be teaching and still making my work. I came to graduate school to be able to teach. Sometimes I enjoy teaching more than making photographs. It’s something I have learned to enjoy. I don’t think it matters where, I mean, I’m not married yet, I don’t have any kids. So my life is pretty open right now.

What would you have done if you had decided not to pursue photography?

I don’t know, early on when I was a kid I was always interested in inventing things. At one time I wanted to be an inventor and I was a big Thomas Edison fan, so maybe that.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I think my other big hobby is bicycling. I think it was three summers ago, I rode across the United States on a bicycle. So for whatever reason, I kind of have a love affair with a bicycle, what they look like, and I have also thought about making a bicycle.

What is your favorite part about being a grad student?

Well I think now it is the chance to teach. I am in my fourth semester of teaching the introductory photography course. I enjoy that one-on-one interaction with the students and trying to help them foster their enjoyment for photography.

What advice do you have for other aspiring artists?

I think, especially for art, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, then find something that you do enjoy doing. I see a lot of students working on stuff and they just don’t really enjoy it. There’s no love there for what they’re doing. I think if something becomes busy work, then you just don’t care, and if you don’t care, it’s pointless to do it. So find the thing that you enjoy doing and do it.

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