Sunday, February 28, 2021

Will Wilson, Photographer

I don’t believe I need to tell my readers of my life-long interest in photography but for most of the last few decades I have shifted to a deep interest in Native American Art.  It is a great pleasure when these two loves of mine come together, as in the art of Will Wilson.

I am privileged to know Will as we both serve on the Board of the Ralph T. Coe Center for the Arts.  I have written about a dozen Missives about Ted Coe and the center over the years.  If you want to know about the Center CLICK HERE and scroll down through them.

Will Wilson (DinĂ©/Navajo) was born in San Francisco in 1969 but spent his formative years on the Navajo Reservation.  He has a B.A. from Oberlin College and Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of New Mexico.  His credits could take up the rest of this Missive, but surfeit is to say that he has had visiting Professorships at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Oberlin College and the University of Arizona.  Here is a self-portrait he did for his Air Series.

As you can imagine Will is a multifaceted artist, who has created many different kinds of images. Most of his work is in black & white but he often visualizes a work in color.  He likes to work in series and here is an image from his Connecting the Dots series.  The subject is Shiprock Disposal Cell, the site of a uranium processing mill and thousands of tons of tailings and radioactive waste.  It is part of a survey of 521 abandoned uranium mines on the Navajo Nation an area heavily mined by the U.S. government during the development of the atomic bomb leaving Navajo communities contaminated with radioactivity.

Will is not happy that the Euro-American vision of the American Indian is frozen in the images of Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952) and wants people to understand the Native American of today as part of a continuous and living culture. He writes “Ultimately, I want to ensure that the subjects of my photographs are participating in the re-inscription of their customs and values in a way that will lead to a more equal distribution of power and influence in the cultural conversation.”

With that understanding I want you to know what Will has done for the Coe Center.  He usually works in mural size images and his smallest are still quite large, but he has created a special edition of what I would call domestic size of 11x15 inches for a tintype print created exclusively for the Coe Center. It is titled, “Madrienne Salgado, Jingle Dress Dancer/Government and Public Relations Manager for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Citizen of the Muckleshoot Nation.”  For those of you who do not know about the Muckleshoot they are a tribe in the state of Washington near Seattle.  Will feels that this work blends 19th and 21st century storytelling and imaging technologies. 

In this image Madrienne is doing the Jingle Dance traditionally associated with the healing process.  This dance was inspired by a vision during the 1918 flu epidemic and has become particularly relevant in the current pandemic.

Although Wilson uses historic techniques, a large format camera and the mid-19th century wet-plate collodion development process, he has embedded the image of Mareinne Salgade with technology that allows the dancer to be animated with the Talking Tintypes App (a free download and at this time only available on apple devices).

Here is the opportunity I am presenting today.  My readers have a chance to buy this photograph for $300 (plus $30 to cover packing and shipping within the continental United States).   Each print of this special edition of 50 

is inscribed by the artist in pencil along the lower edge with the title, his signature, edition number, and Coe dedication. 

Needless to say, all proceeds are for the benefit of the Coe Center.  I have never written a Missive that tried to sell a work of art but when the work is so inspiring and the cause so important it seems well worth it!

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