'I'VE ALWAYS BEEN ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT THE WORK I DO'
ET: Of the many European countries, which country or countries do you like to photograph the most - and why?
AW: I’ve traveled to Europe a number of times over the years. In fact, my first overseas trip was to England, and 28 days later I wound up in Greece. It was very early on, and one could argue I wasn’t much of a photographer, although I thought I was at the time. Italy definitely has been one of my favorite places to go, not only for the antiquity but for the stunning scenery: the craggy Dolomites in the north, and the south’s rumbling volcanoes of Mt. Etna and Stromboli. These have yielded great opportunities and photographs over the years; I love Italy!
Equally strong for me has been France; photographing in the French Alps, in and around the Rhone River delta and up into Provence has resulted in some of my most delightful photos over the years. Iceland surely is not to be missed―its young landscape is different every time I visit.
There are huge gaps in my coverage of Europe; I dream of the day I can travel through Spain. My long-time photo assistant is from Romania, though I have yet to get to central and eastern Europe. All these places draw my attention, and it’s just a matter of time before I get there.
ET: If you were to recommend to someone to photograph the European landscape, where would you “send” them and why?
AW: Certainly it’s hard to beat the Alps, both French and Swiss. One of the striking things about the Alps is their verticality; they are very accessible initially but many of the peaks are among the most difficult peaks to climb on earth. One of my best locations has been Lac Blanc just above the ski town of Chamonix, France. I can’t overstate how stunningly beautiful Lac Blanc is as it reflects the extraordinary Chamonix Needles and Mont Blanc rising beyond.
I just love the Italian landscape, too. I love the whimsical ways the Italian farmers in Tuscany and Umbria have separated their fields by rows of cypress and pine. In addition, the rural landscapes of northern Scotland and the Isle of Skye are quite simply stunning; I have been there in the spring, when the forests around the icy, deep lochs are green and studded with bluebells. It is quite enchanting.
ET: Can you remember the first time you realized that maybe you were an “above average” photographer? How did your parents’ commercial artist business help you in your life’s work?
AW: My background initially was drawing and painting from early childhood all the way through graduating from the University of Washington, earning a degree in Fine Arts and Art Education. As far as realizing I was an above average photographer, it’s hard for me to just state that unequivocally; I would address it by saying I always realized I had an above average drive and focus. I’m rapidly approaching year 60 in my life, and the drive has not diminished. I’ve always been enthusiastic about the work that I do and sharing it with others.
Very early on I knew that whatever I wanted to do I could do it. My parents were commercial artists, and I watched my dad run his own small business. It was ingrained in me that I could do this as well. Children very often follow in the footsteps of their parents. Thankfully, my parents allowed me to pursue whatever I wanted. They had nothing but encouragement toward the arts, and in retrospect that was a blessing.
ET: You always seem to have so much fun and enthusiasm when you are photographing. Can you explain how this is?
AW: I think fun and enthusiasm is part and parcel to anyone’s occupation or passion. It’s rare in life for people to truly find their passion, especially when it’s their occupation. I feel blessed. I feel that I was destined to be a storyteller through the photographic medium, and I don’t take that lightly.
I sacrifice a lot being a photographer; I don’t have a family, I don’t have vacations, I don’t have a lot of things that people take for granted. But what I do have is a highly refined passion that gives me a deep sense of fulfillment. I can’t help but be enthusiastic and can’t help but having fun. I have a very impish sense of humor, a very free spirit about the work that I do and that just transfers to my photos. My enthusiasm is infectious; I am able to photograph people without trepidation. I have a very light spirit when I’m working around wild animals, I don’t stress about them, and they pick up on that energy so it’s a very positive experience. I wholly believe it enables me to get close to my subjects.
ET: Bad weather conditions typically thwart photography efforts. What do you think?
AW: My belief is bad weather often makes a shot. Whether it’s high winds, blowing snow or soaking rain, I get out there as long as I can protect myself and my camera. Weather makes for painterly effects: wind can be transferred into long impressionistic exposures where that sense of contrast between blurred motion and sharp focus subjects is often the difference between a mediocre photo and a great photo. So I look at bad weather conditions as the time to bundle up and get out the door!
ET: What is your advice for someone wanting to become a better than average photographer? What does it take to do this?
AW: No restraints! Just do it! There is an amazing amount of education being offered free through the internet. And some of the world’s best photographers offer amazing trips and workshops. I’d take advantage of that. Just jump in and immerse yourself into the world of photography and you will learn quickly.
ET: How do you determine where to go when you’re going to film your next show and how long does it take to arrange each edition of your show?
AW: My location choices for “Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge” were based on 30 years of knowledge about the world. After months of research and arrangements, each episode took an average of two weeks to film. The post production process added another couple months. It is a long process to get from idea to actual broadcast.
ET: Where did the name “Travels to the Edge” come from? (It’s a great line!)
AW: “Travels to the Edge” is based on my book Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky. It seemed like I traveled to the edges of the earth to photograph for that book. For the show name, my staff and I threw out words and started mixing and matching and ultimately settled upon “Travels to the Edge.” I thank you for the compliment and I agree, it’s a great line!