C.F. Wilkinson’s photography not only captures visually stunning pictures from all around the world, but provokes viewers to think and feel. His conceptual art aims to tell stories out of objects and subjects and move the viewer to look deeper than their own surroundings.
Where do you come from and where do you live? How does it affect your work?
I just recently returned to the States after living in China for 4 years. I’m in North Carolina currently with plans to return to Asia in the new year. In China, my work had a lot of city and development themes, as there wasn’t much nature. I also found myself geared more towards street photography there as there was so much going on that was unusual to me. It was a wonderful time and helped me build a lot of confidence in just taking a picture whenever, wherever.
Back in the States, I live in a small town in the middle of huge national forest. I try to incorporate that into my work as well–less new and more old, less development and more antique.
You are an educator. What do you teach and how does it change your view of the world around you?
I taught English at 2 separate universities, a lot of creative and academic writing, and then I had one minor class where I taught photography…of course, that was usually my favorite one. Teaching in China introduced me to a new style of classroom (quite different from Western culture). Chinese culture taught me, over time, to be less ethnocentric. Just because things function a certain way in Western culture doesn’t mean they do so elsewhere, and that doesn’t equate to something being “bad” or “good.”
I just learned a lot about appreciating where you are and who you are with instead of trying to force things into your comfort zone.
How did you first get interested in photography?
I first got interested in photography about 5 years ago when I lived with my parents in British Columbia on Vancouver Island. They gave me a Fujifilm digital camera and I had a lot of free time to explore the island. Getting to explore nature and capture it that way was the start of my hobby.
What are your favourite subjects and themes to photograph?
My favorite themes always involve people. It’s a shift from what I used to like, but I’ve found that people have a lot more to say through body language and expression. A lot of my work has a “spiritual” element to it, something that I know confuses people. That all comes from being a Christian and exploring my faith through the idea that what is unseen can be seen, and what is felt can interact with us in a more tangible way.
A lot of my work in my “Spirits” project shows a lack of control in some way, such as the picture “Coercion.” I like ideas in photography that bend reality just enough but not too much–it’s a fine line that I haven’t quite figured out yet haha.
How do your staged and unstaged pictures differ from each other?
When I’m going throughout my day–working, running, listening to music, trying to sleep, etc.– I’ll get ideas in my head for a picture. I’ll have a rough of idea of location and subject, and oftentimes color. This is definitely my staged work. A staged shot can take me 20-30 minutes to shoot if I’m by myself, but half that time if I’m using a subject other than myself. I do a lot of self portraits both because of a lack of models and sometimes because it’s just something personal, like writing a song or journaling for some people. The staged work usually, though not always, has a message I’m trying to give. Sometimes I just do it because I think it will look cool, but that’s fair, right?
My unstaged stuff is usually in the form of street photography. In China, I would wander the (very) busy streets and find places to sit or even lie down. It was an odd sight to see a blonde haired blue eyed foreigner in awkward positions taking candid shots of people, but Chinese people are kind and accommodating so almost always people left me to it with no problems.
What are you working on at the moment?
At the moment I’m continue my “Spirits” project. It’s interesting to see it evolve over time with me as I go. I started it about a year ago…I don’t have an end to it and I don’t know that I care to. Other than that, I’ve been working on portraits. I like directing people in how to pose. There are always elements of control in my photography, and this is just another way for me to exercise that. If and when I return to Asia, I’ll pursue the street photography a bit more, as I feel I started too late with that and there was much more to capture.
Interview by Amanda Akiyama