Part one of a three-part series.
Boasting an intensive background of travels and documentary, American photographer Art Wolfe is hugely revered across the world for the work he produces.
Born in Seattle with a passion for painting, it was not long until Wolfe discovered his unique photographic style. Through his camera he transports the viewer to the furthest and most hidden corners of the world. From wild nature to a variety of populations and cultures, Wolfe invites his viewers to gaze upon the beauty of Earth and its people too.
At the age of 63, Wolfe has taken an estimated two million images, published over 80 books, had countless exhibitions and continues to spend the best part of his year traveling and photographing the world, always on the hunt for new projects and ideas. Focussing upon the multiple faces of the natural planet, Wolfe’s camera penetrates differences and distinctions to find a connection point between nature and humanity.
Speaking with PETRIe Contributor, Giulia Catani, in this three-part series, Art Wolfe shares his passions, his works and his curiosity for the world.
Giulia Catani: Tell us a little about your history – when did you first become passionate about photography?
Art Wolfe: I wasn't always a photographer; I began my life seeing myself as a fine art painter. I sold my first paintings while in Junior High School and went on to study fine art in college at the University of Washington, near my home in West Seattle. I like to work fast, I always have - it is a core tenant of who I am. Thus, I enjoyed painting using watercolours simply because they didn't take as long to dry as oil paints.
When looking for subjects to paint I would take a camera with me out into the field and photograph the landscape, the mountain peaks, the architecture, simply as a record to later print as a photo or project as a slide to paint from, rather than relying solely on my memory. The more I photographed, the better I got and I soon realised that this could be my artistic statement – the photograph itself – and it was even faster than painting! I was sold and in my young 20s I made the transition to photographer full-time, leaving the paints behind.
GC: How did you hone your photography skills?
AW: I am entirely self-taught when it comes to the camera; photography courses were only available to journalism majors in college at that time, so I was on my own to figure out exposure and the effects of aperture and shutter speeds. I do, however, attribute my studies in art history, art appreciation and graphic design for how I trained my eye for composition. How I see the world is through the eyes of a painter and I often see landscapes and moments in time that remind me of the great masters or contemporary artists whom I studied and admired in college.
GC: How do you go about picking a subject for your work? Do you study ideas beforehand or does the place just call to you?
AW: I always research an area before I head out into the field. I have a large library of books from photographers all over the world in my home and I will find inspiration in those pages, virtually exploring an area I've not been to before, learning about the people and traditions before I head out. I do a lot of research on the internet today, of course, and I will always try and find excellent local resources and guides to talk to and work with when I head out to a new area or even those I've been to before - the knowledge of a good local guide is hard to beat.
I pre-visualise many of my shots at home in Seattle and even on the plane as I travel to my destination. I'll make small sketches to take with me to illustrate what I am looking for when working with local people - there will be inevitable language barriers. However, it is often the spontaneous shots - the ones I could never have predicted or orchestrated - that I enjoy the most.
While working in Morocco, I could hear a thunderous commotion coming from near by, just over a ridge, so I went to investigate. What I saw was a festival with teams of men on horseback riding as fast and hard as they could down a dirt field, and then firing their ancient muskets into the air all at once. I later learned this was called the Fantasia Festival, celebrating the end of harvest - and the team who managed to fire their guns to sound as a single report was the winner. Imagine their surprise when a scrawny foreigner was running out into the path of their horses with a tripod to get a shot and dash back to the safety of the sidelines as they thundered past… you could say that this was an occasion where the place was calling out to me - I just couldn't resist it.
Words: Giulia Catani
Photography: Art Wolfe