Photographer Will Wilson
Since Will Wilson began working with a large-format camera and producing tintype portraits, he has amassed a formidable portfolio. His home page at www.willwilson. photoshelter.com is arresting, full of more than 200 pictures of faces rendered in the dusky tones that are characteristic of his medium and featuring the purposeful expressions that are often the result of lengthy time exposures. He doesn’t keep any of the tintypes he makes. “I give them away to the sitters, but I have scans of them,” he said.
Wilson was speaking from Boston, where he had just given a talk about his photography at the Peabody Essex Museum in nearby Salem. “We’re also talking about me potentially coming out and doing a project here.” That would probably be related to his longterm Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) project, which he began in 2012 at the New Mexico Museum of Art. His intention was to engage participants in both dialogue and a portrait session as “an ongoing intervention into the history of photography,” specifically the history of Native American representations.
The Diné photographer was born in San Francisco but spent his formative years living on the Navajo Nation. He first started using a camera, a Nikon FE2, when he was fifteen. When he saw a show of Joel-Peter Witkin photographs at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, it was an epiphany. He went on to earn an MFA in photography at the University of New Mexico. Today he runs the photo program at Santa Fe Community College.
His CIPX project requires an oldfashioned, bulky approach. For the portraits, he totes a hefty tripod to hold his 8 x 10 view camera that is equipped with a 150-year-old lens. “It’s really a cool process. I make my own film, essentially, on a piece of metal. They call it wet plate because the emulsion has to stay wet; otherwise you won’t get an image. So I have to have a darkroom with me wherever I go.”
He mentioned an artistic windfall that has come to him from Yale University. “The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale has a focus on Western Americana and they kind of see my work as filling an important gap in their collection. They have a lot of images of delegation photography of Native Americans from the 1800s, and a lot of the Western survey, Western landscape stuff, but very little by Native Americans, so they’re going to collect like 600 pieces over the next few years.” This will be some of Wilson’s previous work as well as new work, including a current series of photographs of Superfund sites around the American Southwest.
He is also looking forward to being part of a group show at the Seattle Art Museum next June. “When I was first describing the CIPX project, I kind of framed it as a response to Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian project. Curtis’ studio is in Seattle and next year is his 150th birthday, so they’re doing a big exhibition and they’re having three Native American artists respond.” — Paul Weideman