Art Wolfe

For over 30 years legendary American photographer, Art Wolfe, has recorded stunning images of wildlife, landscapes and cultures from every corner of the globe. Here he reveals the inspiration behind his artistic approach to composition Out of interest, I recently searched the database of the online photo agency Alamy. A search for ’returned 1,088,448 images and 2,015 videos for me to browse through. Narrowing the search to Eye’gave me 27,944 possible image options. Other searches also came up with plenty of choices: ’—865,949; Mara’—35,068;  —86,614; and no doubt these database figures are increasing all the time. Even one of the worldrarest big cats, the Amur leopard, has 25 times more images than there are cats surviving in the wild. It started me wondering if there is anything in the world left to photograph.

Art WolfeOf course, the unequivocal answer is that there is, but how do you photograph subjects that have been so extensively documented, in a different way? In the genre of outdoor photography, to answer that question there is perhaps no one better placed than the legendary American photographer, Art Wolfe.

In a career spanning over 30 years, Art has captured over a million images and created more than 80 books. draw my inspiration from an enormous variety of sources,’he tells me, from the various artists Istudied throughout my career. I make definite comparisons of many of the famous names, from the impressionists all the way to the abstract expressionists. In many ways, my photographs are homage to these great artists. When this is combined with my many years of experience out in the wide world, I never run dry of new ideas.’ Artknowledge of painting stems from his early training. attended the University of Washington, where I studied for Bachelor degrees in Fine Art and Art Education,’he says. doubt, I approach every subject with the education of a painter. That means I scrutinise the photographic composition as if it were a painting. I look at lines and textures and patterns; the way light falls on a subject. Every aspect of my photography is framed within artistic endeavour.’Artallegiance shifted from painting to photography when he started climbing extensively in the Pacific Northwest of the United States during his six years in college. His art training also plays a practical part in his work. —creating an image in the mindeye —plays a profound role in how I approach photography. Before I shoot a subject, often I will sketch my ideas on paper. Together with planning, visualisation really helps me to find and frame the photograph I ultimately take.’ Walking around Artgallery in Seattle, perusing iconic images that are powerful in their design and evocative in their meaning, I never cease to be awed by the quality and consistency of his photographs. Every image arouses in me a powerful emotional response. To this extent, I am proof that his photographs achieve their aim. , itabout emotional impact,’he says, think a compelling image fires on many fronts and I view photography as a form of communication. My general approach to composition is first and foremost to enable the eye to move fluidly throughout the image space. I achieve this by capturing leading lines, by incorporating a sense of balance between positive and negative space. I try to refrain from revealing the subject immediately; I disguise the subject many times in an attempt to hold the viewerattention, allowing them to discover the subject for themselves.’He goes on to explain, this approach to composition, by concealing the subject to cursory glance, I am able to keep the viewer tuned in to the photograph, compelling them to scrutinise and stay with it. The longer they stay engaged, the more likely they are to perceive the message I am trying to convey.’ Art WolfeDoes he approach different subjects in varied ways? photographing the landscape, I try to capture the mood and essence of an environment that will reveal my experience there or remind the viewer of their own experiences in that same environment. If ita photograph of wildlife, I am trying to convey a sense of power or mystery to the animal. If ita composition of a human, I am trying to make that human connection compelling. The image may tell a story that will cause the viewer to laugh or smile or feel compassion towards the subject; I am always trying to affect the emotions of the person who is ultimately looking at the photograph.’ His admirers are many and multi-national and include one of Britainvery own treasures’, Sir David Attenborough. Together, these observations reveal the multi-layered, multifaceted nature of Artphotographs and, perhaps therein, the secret to his worldwide success. think you can have an artistic photograph that still has a documentary element,’he says. To achieve this mix takes certain skills in the field, which he openly acknowledges. of my work documents and showcases indigenous cultures and modern cultures around the world. Very rarely do I have the time to stage my photographs, as opposed to documenting the scenes on the fly, but even with limited time and access I do not avoid trying to frame the shot with an artistic mind and eye. I think you can move quickly and that is one of the reasons I think photography, more than painting, is a medium that is well suited for my temperament. I make quick decisions,’he explains, always moving myself into a position to best capture the subject, even though it may be unfolding in a very natural and candid way.’ While Art draws on his fine art background when composing photographs, he relies on his truly extensive knowledge of the world and his broad network of contacts when deciding where and what to photograph. have travelled nonstop for the past 30 years, often visiting every continent in a calendar year. I have written or photographed over 80 books; I own thousands of books produced by colleagues and friends; and I know a lot of people in all corners of the world. From that perspective, there are few stones Ileft unturned. Inot suggesting that I know every intricate detail of every country Ivisited, but I know the basics of the place and I know the cultures of the people that live there. I choose photographic locations in the knowledge that I have limited time on this earth. I ask myself, are the places I most want to see and who are the people I most want to meet firsthand?”’ Despite the length of time heon the road —he spends around nine months of the year away from his Seattle home —and the extensiveness of his travels, he rarely tires of a location. annual itinerary always includes a mixture of new places I want to see and places where Ialready enjoyed great success that I want to experience again. For me, every journey is a voyage of discovery.’ It is the knowledge of his subjects that enables Art to continually conjure visual stories from even the most commonly visited locations. He gives an example from his hugely popular television series, Travels to the Edge: been visiting south-east Alaska for a long, long time but every time I go to Glacier Bay I find something that surprises me. During filming, we came upon a pod of whales and I managed to capture them breaching. It was an amazing sequence of images and a truly exhilarating experience.’There is little doubt from the passion in Artvoice about his love for the natural world. This year, Art is embarking on a major European tour, where he draws on his wisdom from 30 years photographing and travelling to deliver his message and ideas and inspiration in seminars from London to Rome. An infrequent visitor to UK shores, he explained to me his hopes for and vision of the tour. about pure learning and developing a creative energy between the audience and me. And when you get that... magic happens! Ita great challenge for me,’he says, see somebody who has a passion for photography change and move that bit forward and higher. Thatwhat it is for me.’

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