The photographer talks about finding quiet spots in the city, intimate portraits, meditative landscapes and his fascination with tattooing
Heightened emotional states and moments of deep contemplation are what inspire Alex Wilson. Here, the London-based artist tells us about his work and how he made the transition from advertising to working as a full-time, professional photographer.
Dazed Digital: Your work comprises both portraits and landscapes. Do you prefer one subject to the other and how does the process differ?
Alex Wilson: Both subjects are engaging in different ways. I love meeting and photographing new people and you can get a real appreciation of how unique we all are as people. But portraiture can also be difficult because it is so intimate. Focusing a lens on someone can teach you a lot about that person and while I enjoy that, it can sometimes be a challenge.
Landscape photography, on the other hand, tends to be a much slower process. I use large format, which involves hours of preparatory work, from setting up my kit to getting to locations just for a handful of shots. In a way, I find the whole process a lot more meditative.
DD: In a climate that seems much more concerned with the industrial landscape, why do you choose to focus on nature?
Alex Wilson: It’s not that I’m opposed to working in the city – quite the opposite - but I am interested in how natural and manmade landscapes coexist. I live in London and love the energy but it can sometimes be stifling. I feel quite separated from nature and use my work as a way of trying to capture the feeling of calm I get from an open space. While many of my photographs appear to be in a wild, untouched landscape, they are often taken in quiet spots I have discovered somewhere within the concrete folds of the city.
DD: Are there any photographers working today that particularly inspire you?
Alex Wilson: I am constantly influenced by other peoples' images, but there are three photographers in particular whose work I really respect. The first is Nadav Kander. His landscape/documentary pieces are so powerful and haunting and his portraits are also very distinctive; he’s remarkably diverse. Ryan McGinley is also incredible - so raw and ethereal as well as Alex Prager. The retro feel and strong narrative quality to her work is really exciting. I clearly remember the first image I saw from all three of these photographers and I think that’s always a good sign.
DD: Did you find it difficult making the transition into full-time photography and what advice would you give to others who are trying to break into creative industries at this difficult time?
Alex Wilson: I worked in advertising for four years and it was obviously difficult letting go of that stability. I had to focus on developing commercial photographic skills and was prepared to do any paid work that I could find, even if it wasn’t always that creative. You have to learn how to apply your creative skills to business and this isn’t always easy. Certain types of photography such as shooting weddings may seem boring but they can pay well and I almost always learn something from the process. In my opinion there is lots of work out there but it is important to focus time on creating appropriate portfolios and being prepared to do anything to support personal work.
DD: What do you hope to achieve through your photography and what are your aims for 2012?
Alex Wilson: In 2012 I hope to finish some projects I have kept in the pipeline. The first is a portrait study of London-based tattoo artists. I am fascinated by tattooing and have built friendships with London artists by getting my own tattoos over the years. When I was younger I had a misguided notion that they were all burly bikers who were best avoided, but the more I learn, the more interesting and colourful I realize the industry is.
The second is a landscape series that examines nature in the city; that is, in and around London parks. I've been scouting out the most rural-looking areas and love the idea that people might see the images and think they were actually taken miles away in the countryside.
My final aim of 2012 is to exhibit. In the long term I want to present my work to a broader audience. It’s an amazing thing to do and I'm hugely grateful to everyone who has given me advice and support. The photographers I mentioned previously are all innovative and gifted artists-I would love to get to that level.