Storyteller Series: Matthew Wylie by BP
As a member of Grryo, I frequently look through the hashtags of #wearejuxt #mobilephotography and now #grryo on all the social networks. First I find it interesting to see what people would share on these tags and secondly its a great way to meet creatives who share commonalities through mobile photography. The new Grryo tag already has over a 1000 photos in a few days and I totally gravitated to a handful of photos that were posted on Instagram by Matthew. I wasn’t the only one as that same day, Anna (who is also an editor of Grryo) hit him up for an interview. Needless to say, Matthew’s work is amazing and great and all things awesome and we wanted to share with our readers this storyteller from Toronto!
BP: BP MW: Matthew Wylie
BP: Tell us where you are from. Tell us about your family. Tell us about your non-photo inspirations (other artists, books, etc.).
MW: I’m from Texas, where I spent most of my life. My blood family is there as well, but I have been living and teaching in Canada for the last seven years. My professional background is in literature and writing, and, since I was a young kid, I have always been very drawn to stories, words, and art in general. In terms of artists most important to me? – Nabokov, Kafka, and Borges. The enchantment that each of those writers can place on words, symbols, and the story itself has always been magical to me. So, that general aesthetic definitely influences my work. And of course Rainer Maria Rilke, his “Letters to a Young Poet,” – this work has always been such an important influence on how I approach the world and my art. The line “if your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches” is particularly inspiring to me and I certainly use this as a constant motivation to find, see, document, or create the beauty and mystery that’s out there, every day.
BP: How’d you start in photography and what brought you into the realm of street photography?
MW: Oh, I’ve always taken photos – I’ve just never owned a good camera. Like, I would go through Kodak disposables weekly during high school, and then moved on to cheap, handheld digital cameras that just took horrible photos! I had a Polaroid that was fun in university, but the film cost too much for me to naturally produce. Visual imagery, especially photography, has always been special to me though. I could never draw or paint very well, but I could take pictures, so that was my visual medium. However, I didn’t get serious with my work until recently, like within the last year or so, when I got my first iPhone (the 4S). That totally changed everything for me. I now had this tool in my hand that could complement my vision and help me communicate the way I’ve always wanted to and knew that I could. What got me into street photography? I’m not entirely sure, really. I have always been drawn to artwork that is a bit raw, or . . . at least not traditional. So, I think that has something to do with it. Once I started exploring the genre and seeing what others have done with it, I just knew it was what I wanted to pursue. I don’t want to call myself a “street photographer” though. I think I just use the streets more than any other subject to tell my story, or to capture the type of images I am seeking to capture and convey to others.
BP: Your photos are captivating, as you automatically think as a viewer, “what is the story here? What is the artist’s message?” Explain to us a process for you to achieve this connection to the viewer.
MW: Thank you for that! Well, to be honest, I am not sure it is something entirely, or even remotely, conscious. But I do think of it as an exercise in reading. In my writing courses, we often discuss the concept of reading images as texts, and learning to read well is essentially the same thing as learning to see well. The world is full of texts and subtexts and sub-subtexts – just layer after layer after layer – and these texts aren’t simply written, but visual as well. We read images as texts and we’re not even conscious that we’re doing so. We’re always reading – at least those of us who are looking. So when I am out on a walk through the streets, I am constantly looking for that text that my camera will capture and will, hopefully, be able to communicate something, even if it is a recognizable emotion, or a memory even. In terms of my connection with the viewer, I am, with all due respect, never thinking of the viewer. I am not thinking a lot, actually. Just scanning with my eyes the building blocks for the story, which could range from another actual human being to a shaft of light in an alleyway to the colours in a window reflection. Once I have these tools, then I think we can begin the sharing process. I guess . . . think of it as if I have read a story and want to retell it to you. This is what the photograph is. It’s a retelling of a visual I was witness to. Once I share it with you though, it’s no longer my narrative; it’s yours. And this is the beauty of storytelling, whether with the written words or with an image. The narrative is never static.
Series: Where are you going, where have you been?
BP: Your series “Where are you going? Where have you been?” is an interesting one. Can you tell us more about it and your expectations of this series as you’ve listed it as one of you favorites? Altogether, do you feel you’ve accomplished your goals?
MW: Sure! So, this series basically centers on the relationship I explore between creative writing and photography. I will usually use the streets to inspire something in my writing, such as a character, a setting, a mood, or even conflict itself, if I’m lucky. Most of my photos feature human beings who are, usually, in movement and going from one place to another. I like to pose the question, once I’ve found an interesting moment or subject, of “Where are you going? Where have you been?” – and use these questions to lead towards some type of narrative, something tangibly poetic that I can fashion into a story: “Where are you going? Where have you been? Do you believe in God? In suicide? When you arrive at your destination, will you be greeted with a parcel, a bomb, a kiss on the lips?” – and on and on the process can go, depending on the actual shot I get. So far, it’s led to a few short stories or sketches and bits of poetry I have written, but nothing definitive, and I’m not really interested in that right now. The point is that I use this exercise as a way of shooting and a way of making the creative process between writing and photography both cyclical and reciprocal. One day, I will probably put together a handful of photos and texts that they inspired together in a formal portfolio, but I am not there yet.
BP: Who are your photographic inspirations and why?
MW: Well, hm. That’s hard to answer. There’s quite a few photographers whose work I admire and adore, both living and dead, e.g. Bresson, Gordon Parks, Saul Leiter, Vivian Maier, Dan Cristea, Markus Anderson, Amy Leibrand. But I think in terms of inspiration, it is this whole, revolutionary concept of social photography that we are bearing witness to as we speak. I mean, we are witnessing the democratization of the visual arts in a way that simply has never been seen before. Sure, there are criticisms to be made about the infinite flux of images – I get that. But you can’t deny the beauty and hope in the fact that more people have access to art and to tools to create visual arts than ever before! Photography, film, visual images – these are not just the fields of the privileged or experts or well-educated anymore. Anyone with raw talent who can afford a phone canget out there and do some absolutely amazing things with these tools! And not just that, but they can discover and reach out to other artists so easily, like we are doing now – they can learn from others, so purposefully– and all through the same device that they are using to create with! Like, ####! I think it was Koci that called this a “golden age” of photography and there just may be something to that. I mean, to think that this genre, photography, the arts, visual narratives, is so accessible to so many people now and the dialogue has grown so exponentially in terms of sharing ideas and inspiration – I think we are witnessing what will most assuredly be remembered / studied as an era of visual art production like the world has never seen. That’s just incredible to me! I just hope we embrace it now and continue to evolve with it. Think about it, can you imagine being able to travel back to the 16th century and say, “You guys are in the f###in’ RENAISSANCE! Do you get what that will mean later?” – I want us to look at what we, as artists, are experiencing now and see it as something that is significant in terms of the evolution of art in our society, rather than just a trend. And to think we are doing so much of this together! All of this, I feel, is spawning some brilliantly creative pieces and artists, which, again, begs reflection: we have the chances of seeing not just a handful of great photographers a decade, but hundreds, maybe more! This is so beautiful to me! And people are creating, producing, and communicating so prolifically. This doesn’t mean that everything is brilliant and I get the argument that art could grow saturated as a result of the influx, but who wouldn’t rather have more artists than fewer? The argument that the influx makes art less special is absurd to me because what you’re really stating with that is “there’s really only a limited amount of beauty out there to produce, or, there’s really only a limited amount to say, etc.,” which is illogical! Beauty isn’t finite, and neither is art. And let’s not get caught up in being ‘original,’ because, really, what has that EVER meant? I believe in raw creativity, and contemporary photography, especially mobile photography, is so very exciting to be a part of and witness right now and I’m excited to see where it takes us next. Again, just the fact that more people have such a powerful artistic tool in their hands than ever before – that’s just so inspiring and promising to me!
BP: For new(er) street photographers, what advice do you have for them? Please provide any technical and artistic advice.
MW: Well, I am in no place to give advice, as I am still learning myself! But I can offer advice that I’ve either been given or just learned to give myself as I’m developing. So, shoot a lot! Shoot every day and learn from your mistakes, as well as others, even if by observation only. Study light and learn to make it work for you. Shoot for one month in the same hour of the day and do this for all of the day light hours, which should take you about a year. Dispel the myth that location is everything. Location is overrated. It’s about how you see, not where you are. Learn to see differently, and well. The stuff of good photographs – all that is out there! You just have to go find it, and you don’t need an expensive camera to do so. And I guess most of all, be confident in yourself and believe that you have something to say with your photos. Too many people have very little to really say about the world around them. Having so many tools to communicate now – that almost seems absurd, no?