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Drawing inspiration from film, literature, poetry and the shapes and lines of the world around him, photographer Matthew Wylie's work is as ambiguous as it is captivating.
In Wylie's words, "I hope my images can provide an exercise in seeing, or an antidote to blindness."
BtF: How did you begin your work in photography? Was there a "decisive moment" when you knew it was a special medium for you, when you felt truly committed to it?
MW: I did a research project on Gordon Parks in early secondary school. But it was not intentional—Parks was arbitrarily assigned to me by my English teacher. To my surprise, I became enthralled and inspired by what my “research” led me to—the images, the storytelling. Shortly thereafter, I began experimenting with disposable cameras and a Polaroid—light and silhouettes at the skate park, that kind of thing.
Later on, I studied for a master's degree in comparative literature—as a result, I never had much money; certainly not enough to afford a very expensive camera! But getting my first iPhone, with its ease of shooting (particularly street photography) was probably the most “decisive moment” I have had as an adult and an artist.
Once I began shooting, getting noticed by outlets like National Geographic and LensCulture while discovering the 21st century community of incredibly inspiring visual artists—this has been a true impetus for me. Looking at others' work has allowed me to both look forward as well as revisit some of the masters I learned from early on: Parks, Metzker, and Leiter.
BtF: When you were beginning photography, were there any people, artists, books, films that served as essential inspirations? How about now—any sources of creativity you discovered recently that give you that jolt of "beginner's" passion?
MW: More than anything, I think films have inspired my aesthetic palette in terms of visual images and photography. The films and cinematography of Terrence Malick, for example, have been something I keep going back to. The visual imagery combined with the trademark voice-over narratives are so beautiful.
I think of these films as visual tone poems. They show me a path to connect photography with literature, something I have purposefully pursued for the last decade with my images. In the streets of my city, I search for ways to illustrate a theme, character, motif from a novel or poem or play I am currently reading or adore in general. And vice versa—sometimes I will use images I have captured to inspire a short story or poem of my own. The creative exchange between the mediums of photography, literature and philosophy is inherent in my approach to photography.
BtF: Cartier-Bresson famously said, "Your first 10,000 shots are your worst." Can you share a humbling moment that happened to you recently with regards to your photography? A moment when you realized, like all of us, that there's always much more to learn?
MW: I appreciate this famous quote, but I never really cared for it. Photography seems to be a field plagued by artists attempting to “get better.” Of course there is always so much to learn and so much room for progress! But this applies to any artistic medium: writing, music, film, and so on. Yet with these mediums, this idea of “improvement” does not so blatantly hound them as with photography. I’m not sure why that is and do not care to dwell on it too much...
To the question though, I am constantly humbled because the majority of the photographs I take, and have ever taken, are failures (which I can say for my creative writing as well). This is normal and okay. It’s the attempt at capturing and conveying something special that is perhaps equally important, if not more, as successfully capturing something special and worth being called “beautiful” or “amazing.”
I guess I don’t like thinking of photography or any art medium as if it were a video game or sport to perfect—as if, once I improve enough, I will be a “master” and there will be nothing left to learn, or do, or beat. Photography for me is a pursuit of something: beauty, truth, self-expression, falsity, hope, weirdness. I am not sure exactly, but I am certain that my need to pursue it is there and not going away.
—Matthew Wylie, interviewed by behindthefra.me