Experience And Memory: Al Wildey [Q&A]
A big part of my childhood was spent looking out the window of a car, particularly in the summertime. Most weekends between June and September, we would load up the bed of my dad’s 1974 Ford pickup with camping gear and head east on Interstate 10. Passing the dinosaur at the Wheel Inn meant four hours to go until we reached our spot along the banks of the Colorado River. Over time, the details of the drive gave way to just impressions. I began to recognize where I was based solely on changes in the color and texture of the landscape.
The wonderful composite photographs by Al Wildey take viewers across the lost highways of America and allow unexplored European cities to reveal their treasures and secrets. For me, they are a way to experience the feel of places I have never been while revisiting memories of the open roads of my youth.
I am fascinated by Al’s work and recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about how the work evolved and where he sees it going in the future.
F&B: Many of your images, particularly those in Road Trip beautifully capture the color palette of a place. Is this something you are conscious of when making the images or does the palette emerge later?
Al Wildey: Yes, it was an element that developed over time. My initial interest was in the passage of time and space as rendered in the merging of images within a particular journey. As the series progressed, it became apparent to me that the palette became an integral signifier of place.
“Painterly” is one word I would use to describe your work. Is there a fine art background at work here? If not, what led you to this particular process/aesthetic?
I earned my BFA in Fine Art Photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology and my Master of Fine Arts at the University of Idaho. After initial experiments with layering/merging photographs as a method to suggest travel through time and space, I began to embrace the idea of an aesthetic Trojan Horse – viewers seemed to be attracted by the “painterly” appearance and, once engaged, began to ask questions (or begin to question) a variety of photographic elements contained within.
I’m curious about how the different styles in your work are received by viewers. Do you notice a different response between the literal work (eg Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, etc.) and the more abstract pieces. Do people react stronger to one vs. the other?
Not surprisingly, the response to the different styles is based more on the individual than the rendering. Still, the abstracted images tend to appeal to a broad national/international viewership while the more literal works connect with localized or visiting audiences.
Has your approach or technique evolved as you have developed this body of work?
My approach has widened through experimentation from a single vanishing point perspective of the road trip to lateral, vertical and circular journeys on foot. One of the biggest leaps occurred when I transitioned from the horizontal view of driving in American cities to the vertical view of walking in the streets of Europe.
Conceptually, the root of this suite of images has to do with making an ordinary journey extraordinary; by referencing experience and memory symbolically through a medium so often regarded as objective, viewers are invited to consider their own journeys and the environmental markers they retain over time (season, color, architecture, weather, etc.) That the images are suggestive rather than descriptive invites serious contemplation of the ways photography can, and does, function.
Where do you see your work going from here?
I continue to record my personal journeys with the hope they will resonate with others. Additionally, a recent movement within the suite involves visits to historically significant sites whereby the composited image is rendered in a faux autochrome style.
I’d like to thank Al Wildey for allowing me to share his work and for taking the time to answer a few questions about it. If you would like to see more of his work, I encourage you to visit his site where you’ll find a number of terrific galleries, including one devoted to some pretty incredible panoramas. All images © Al Wildey and used with permission.