We are used to being delivered a steady stream of beautiful images – especially in the artistic world of the average connoisseur. And to be honest, they can seem like background noise at some point.
Today we sat with Matt Wilson, a portrait and lifestyle photographer whose wine photography breathes true life into the pages of many leading wine magazines.While the antiquated image of wine is too stuffy to mention.
Passion from the start
While many of us take a while to figure out what we want to do when we “grow up”, Matt Wilson may well have come out of the womb with a camera.
Matt started taking photos as a kid in the 70’s, and grew a liking to it quickly. As he grew he created with anything he could. In the 80’s he purchased a low-quality camera and ran with the Gypsies in France for a while.
Where most of us would consider just another a young adult exploring the world, Matt found a way to translate his experience through photos, captivating many – including a magazine in the UK which offered him a job as a photographer.
Matt found his in, and has been stirring things up in the world of photography for decades since.
Respecting the process
One look at Matt’s work and it is clear why his portrait work is so popular – his ability to capture and display a person’s essence is mesmerizing.
When asked about his influences, Matt sites artists who could truly capture a person’s personality, such as Robert Capa, Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
We may be able to look at these photos and appreciate them to a certain degree, but to tap into the mind of a photographer takes it to another level. As such, we picked Matt’s brain a bit about photography.
Especially now, we are so inundated with photos, videos, and an endless stream of noise from our phones. So how do we cut through this and get a truly good picture?
We asked Matt Wilson what makes a good picture stand out amongst the noise. In Matt’s own words:
“I live by the rule ‘The extreme makes an impression.’… A good photograph for me is just one that the viewer remembers. Its not that important to me if someone likes or dislikes one of my photos, its if they remember it that counts.”
Don’t be mistaken, this is not simply going for “shock value” photos. Matt’s stunning work reveals an element of calm control over chaos. Some images may shock you or get stuck in your head, but this is a deliberate process, not the result of a cheap tactic.
If anything, this should guide you towards capturing the moment in your next photo, rather than structuring a moment to then capture. The difference is subtle, yet profound.
In fact, this is a bit of what Matt does currently. While of course there are plans, sets, and goals in place when it comes to a shoot, once on set, Matt allows things to progress naturally. At times this means they shift and take a different shape altogether. They may go far beyond the scope of the original work, but in the end, the moment he captures is genuine and true.
Matt also values collaboration. Inspiration can strike anyone at any time. Should someone have an idea during the shoot, Matt is always happy to try it, and of course give credit should it work out!
Creativity minus uncontrolled ego is a beautiful thing to behold.
The shifting landscape
For those of us quick with the math, Matt did not grow up in the digital age, spending most of his hours creating on film.
His formal training in New York in the 90’s was –you guessed it – on film. Matt didn’t enter the digital until his career was well-established.
Like many film photographers, Matt hated digital in the beginning. Yet as the benefits became more clear, he has since embraced the digital world and the amazing post-production quality it offers.
He hasn’t let digital make him lazy or turn him into a “fix it in post” photographer. As he puts it, he still believes, “99% of an image should be made in camera, however digital gives a bit more to expand on later.”
It is perhaps because of this that Matt still sticks to a few techniques reminiscent of the film era. For instance, though he now uses digital cameras in many shoots, he turns the back screen off, to avoid looking at the images.
“It wastes too much time on a shoot when people are constantly looking at screens.”
Again Matt seems to reveal a desire to stay present during a shoot, which may explain the authenticity in each frame.
With the digital age comes the digital cameras in our pockets, powerful enough to post crisp images from our phones directly to the internet – making everyone a “photographer”. We asked Matt what he thought of it, and he seemed unbothered at the idea – excited even:
“I don’t mind that everyone is now a photographer. It just makes the challenge more interesting. Everyone can also paint, but not everyone is a Rembrandt.”
Too true, Maestro.
The eye behind the lens
While many of us are still looking for that first image to carry our career or spark interest in our work, Matt is an awarded photographer with a long career behind him. This can change a person’s perspective, and if they are not careful, they may lose a bit of themselves in the process.
Naturally we asked Matt how this affects him. Does he still create for himself – or for others who may purchase or use his photos.
Again, Matt’s mix of humility and skill comes out as he lays it out in plain language: “I don”t think any real photographer takes photos for anyone but themselves. There are much easier ways to make money…I am always a bit shocked when I win an award, I always think anyone could have done this and probably better.”
…he has obviously never seen the terrible images most of us create.
Skill levels aside, Matt’s process also set’s him apart.
When he is setting up for a shoot, Matt typically has an idea in mind. It may have come to him while watching a crowd walking down the street, listening to music, or even watching a film. Sometimes another artist’s idea will light the spark in Matt, inspiring him to apply the idea to his own work.
To clear the idea, he talks with the production team and any magazines involved. Toss in a bit of risk assessment to make sure no one can die or get seriously injured, cover expenses and then *click* goes the camera.
Matt also adds in his own secret ingredient to good portraiture – loud music. From there, his intuitive guidance, as well as cooperative talent, allow the work to expand into what it needs to be.
While some want a bit more structure in the form of the work, Matt’s aim is 100% content. Get the meaning across – with style!
With that said, Matt’s untethered style obviously does not lend itself well to the clichéd images of the industry, and ‘by the book’ is not a term he is familiar with.
If you ask Matt to shoot the same image of a winemaker sitting on barrels at sunset– he may fall asleep in front of you. However, if you want some frames of a winemaker sawing a barrel in half while wine splatters the camera– now you’re speaking Matt’s language!
Looking to the future, Matt dreams of wine companies focusing more on lifestyle, where strong images such as his can really shine.
As he puts it: “I want a skateboarding punk rocker drinking a wine from a broken bottle whilst swimming with sharks to sell me the wine!”
If this sounds like your next marketing campaign, we know exactly the guy you need for the shot.
Smashing pumpkins bottles
When we look at impactful works such as Matt’s, they seem alluring, almost inviting…like they are calling you to join a party you didn’t know was happening.
Now, is Matt inviting you to smash a wine bottle over your head with every image? No. But he is inviting you to remember the power of that image, and in doing so, to remember him.
In a world so surrounded by fleeting sense memories and forgotten tastes from bottles uncorked so long ago, images like Matt’s show us the power of capturing a moment and making it last forever.
Written by: Birdie deQuay
Photos by: Matt Wilson
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