Going His Own Way: Lyndon Wade
Cinematic. Exaggerated. Over-the top. These are just a few of the ways you could to describe the work of Lyndon Wade. His sometimes outlandish photographs are like movie sets and you wonder what the next scene will be. Though his style ranges from slick corporate advertising images, to surrealistic multi-image composites, they all tell a story that goes beyond merely what we see in the image.
Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, Lyndon Wade got his first big break as a photographer at the age of 18. He was hired to shoot a pet food ad in Los Angeles. The art director for the shoot had no idea he wasn’t even old enough to rent a car and had to hire a driver. He even used a fake ID to go out with his client that night.
By the time he was 21, he and his brother David set up their own studio in Kansas City. Working primarily in advertising, their clients are companies like Sony, AMC Theaters, Virgin, and Pepsi. They not only do photography, but have started to integrate film. They market themselves as photographer-directors who can produce still and motion assets for advertisers. They felt that having a single team working on visual assets for everything would produce a higher, more consistent quality of work and it would also be more efficient.
What is really amazing is that Wade is largely self-taught. He did go to Santa Fe Workshops at one point, but most of his knowledge has come through different internships. He never stayed with one person too long, however. He says, “While assisting people you start to absorb their style. I wanted to make sure I had my own style, my own look, and my own idea about how to light things.”
Despite the fact that a lot of his photos are composited, Wade spends as little time as possible in Photoshop or using CGI. “The more you can shoot on camera the better. Real hair and real eyes are always going to be better than something made out of pixels.” He might have 30 to 40 different pieces to work with trying to get the best photo possible by merging them all together.
Wade definitely has his own style. He likes to go to extremes, to push boundaries of what might be considered normal. His series “Room 107” was created around scenarios that might take place in a cheap hotel room. They make you wonder what happened in the room before you got there and it’s kind of creepy to think about. Some of these photos were so extreme he had a hard time finding someone to print them. He was told they looked “too real” and they didn’t want people thinking they would print photos of porn or suicide.
Although Wade’s photos look real, most of the time they are done on a set built in the studio. He prefers to shoot on sets because he can design it exactly the way he wants. He has control over every detail. He’ll work on these photos almost like a movie director. He’ll put up storyboards, work on style treatment, wardrobe, location, and color palette. For the photo of the mobster beating up the man in the hotel room he actually hired an ex-mobster to tell him how it would look, where the punch would land, how the blood would spatter.
Wade even fully develops the characters in his shoots. He determines who they are, what they’re like, what clothes they would wear, what would be in their homes. He says, “Everything should be modeled around the person you are shooting. Developing your characters makes the photographs much more believable and real.”
The personal projects he does are just that, personal. He has an idea for something that he wants to do and he just does it. He will put them up on his website as self-promotion. “We shoot what we’d like to get work-wise,” he says, and that seems to work for them.
All of that effort pays off. Every photograph is meticulous in its details, with nothing there that isn’t supposed to be. Everything has a purpose. Every object. Every expression. We may not know or understand what that purpose is, but often the not knowing is exactly what draws us in and makes us wonder. What is going on? What will happen next? And this is what his clients look for. They need something that causes people to stop and take a second look.
“Thirteen” is another personal project of his. This is a series of hyper-realistic portraits of thirteen year old kids. I can’t say that I’m a fan of it, but it says so much about what it is like to be that age. It takes everything that is awkward about being thirteen and amplifies it by a hundred. No one can look at these photos and not go back to that time in their own life. It can be uncomfortable to look at them, but I think that’s the point of most of Wade’s work. To cause discomfort. None of his photographs are “easy” or “pretty”, but they do tell us something about ourselves and the world around us.