In an interview with Michael Wise, Staff Photographer for The Ansel Adams Gallery, we discover a reverence Michael has for the surrounding Nature in his home of Yosemite National Park, and how he has grown as an artist since arriving here. Michael is a long-time Yosemite resident, working as both a commercial photographer and university professor before coming to the Park. He believes the natural gesture of Yosemite has offered him an emotional and intellectual grounding. Through his photography teaching and guiding work at The Ansel Adams Gallery, he continues to learn the joy of sharing and expressing the creative enlightenments that are bestowed by this natural environment.
AAG: Since arriving in Yosemite, how do you feel your work has evolved?
Michael: I was greatly influenced from the very first day I set foot in Yosemite. I went through an initial phase of feeling like I need to emulate the familiar, iconic work of Ansel Adams, as well as the contemporary work I was now surrounded by on the walls of The Ansel Adams Gallery. Like there were rules of how to photograph Yosemite. This was a challenging feeling. But from this feeling, I was able to quickly grow from the realization that I did not want to be a follower.
Another surprising challenge to my work resulted from the magnificent grandeur of Yosemite. At first it was almost too much for me to fully comprehend.
Fortunately, the past eight years has allowed me to refine my vision. I am now able to find a stillness that comes from being a part of the rhythm of this natural environment.
Furthermore, I will admit that this time in Yosemite has made me a better photographer. My technical proficiency has been challenged and improved. I have obtained an advanced theoretical sense of composition. But perhaps most transformatively, I am now working with a more developed point of view. I am better equipped at emotionally portraying the spirit and essence presented to me by a subject. My work is becoming a genuine expression of my experience.
AAG: What is it about certain places that makes you want to photograph them?
Michael: I could offer this very simple answer: I like being at the places where I make images.
However, I am still learning that there are many dimensions to the process of capturing a place in a photograph. For example, I may be attracted to the delicate rippling of water at a little corner of the Merced River and the constant thundering power of Upper Yosemite Fall in spring. Maybe the rich smell of Cook’s meadow on an early summer evening has made me take pause. Or being moved by those late autumn breezes touching my face that let me know the crispy cold of winter is on its way.
These places bring me to a heightened sense of awareness. They are places where I am able to focus and be present. They are places where I feel gratitude.
AAG: What inspires you?
Michael: A quote by the artist Chuck Close has helped with my creative development in this matter:
“Inspiration is for amateurs…The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
I have heard some artists say that they do not believe in inspiration. On the other hand, others have a whole process of bringing the inspiration to their work.
While both sides of the argument have their merit, I do believe that something that we might call inspiration is always with us. But for some inexplicable reason, we are not consistently able to experience this inspiration. What I try to do is place myself in an open-minded situation that helps me recognize that special vision for creating. In my case, this means being out there all the time making images.
AAG: Do you plan your photographic process, or do you let chance take a role?
Michael: Before I came to Yosemite, I earned my living as a commercial photographer. In the beginning, I thought that my job was to take control of the situation. As I became more confident with my technical skills and job site posturing, I was able to loosen up. I would begin the shoot by creating the images which I was hired to make and then find time to experiment and play. As the years of working in this manner progressed, many of my clients gave me full latitude to start the shoot with the experimentation and play process. They learned to appreciate these images more.
Photographing in the natural setting of Yosemite has taught me very quickly that I am not able to control nature. When going out to play, I might have a hopeful notion of a shot. But expectations are the antithesis to my abilities of creating meaningful images. My role in this process is to show up. And show up with an open mind. Then just shoot.
When I do find myself in the creative flow, I feel like I am in a different realm or time zone. My mind is not struggling with many thoughts. The inspiration for making images passes through me without great effort. I move comfortably from one idea to the next. An exchange occurs between myself and the subject. The camera does not interfere with this relationship but it is hopefully capable of recording the moment.