Yours Truly - RJ Wilner
  • Dec 2, 1950 - Approx 3Hr In the world. Some might say my outlook on life has never changed!

    Dec 2, 1950 - Approx 3Hr In the world. Some might say my outlook on life has never changed!

  • First Grade!

    First Grade!

  • First girlfriend....circa Easter 1966.

    First girlfriend....circa Easter 1966.

  • High School Senior!

    High School Senior!

  • 1997 - Just outside Moab, UT at the 'Top of the World'.

    1997 - Just outside Moab, UT at the 'Top of the World'.


It's My Life......

While I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in December of 1950, our family did some moving around related to my father's career. Roughly a year after I was born, we moved north to the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA and eventually purchased a house in 1953 in Levittown, PA...a town that is somewhat famous as being one of the earliest mass planned/produced cookie cutter communities to spring up in the US after WWII. There are still occasional research papers written surrounding it's growth from a bunch of farm fields to a town of 50-60,000 approximately 10 yr later.

We spent my 'formative years' in Levittown. Then in 1966, my father received a promotion and we moved to the midwestern US town of Richmond, IN. That stay lasted long enough for me to graduate high school in 1968 when Dad recieved another promotion that took us to the St. Louis, MO area...Fairview Heights, IL to be precise.

With the exception of a work related year I spent in DesMoines, IA, I have lived in/around the St. Louis area ever since.



My Photographic Journey...


Why photography?
My photographic journey materialized when I was 19-20. Somewhat oddly, I think, I don't recall the impetus that sparked my interest at that time. Nor do I recall what spurred me to purchase my first camera, a Minolta SRT-101. But equally oddly, I can still recall sitting on my bed in Fairview Heights, IL and unboxing the camera...as well as having the sense at the time I had embarked on something that would be with me...in some way, shape, or form...for the rest of my life. Retrospectively, that was a significant change in one who had been prone to changing interests virtually as often as I changed my socks at the time.

To that point in my life, I hadn't really displayed, nor felt, any particularly strong interest of a 'creative' nature. The only creative interests I had shown at all as a youngster had been to draw the Flintstones characters while watching the show on tv. I actually became fairly adept at drawing Fred & Barney at the time, but had trouble with Wilma & Betty. But that fancy was fairly short lived and not replaced by other creative pursuits until I purchased the SRT-101.

Though there wasn't a direct cause and effect relationship, I think growing up in what probably could be considered the heyday of print media was a significant, if subconscious influence. In particular, the weekly arrival of Life magazine throughout my 'formative years' was a significant draw. Life, in my opinion and from a looking back perspective, could be deadly serious at times and take some pretty hard looks at the underbelly of life in the tumultuous 60's & early 70's, but retain a lighthearted and occasionally downright humorous outlook on 'Life in these United States' as well. And with a collection of 'staff' photographers that included at various times Margaret Bourke-White, Alfred Eisenstadt, W Eugene Smith, and Elliot Erwit among others, it's little wonder this one periodical had such a tremendous influence on American life in those days.


Education
My photographic 'education' has come from a diverse array of sources. In the early film days, it started out as mostly self taught using monthly periodicals for tips, tricks, and tutes for input, and eventually progressed to the most 'formal' period in attending evening photography classes at a local community college. In recent years of the digital era, it has come via a variety of online classes and workshops.


Perspective

I read a lot of successful photographers discussing what 'connection' they have with photography. And many seem to espouse an emotional connection as the predominant one. For me, I think the connection is predominantly one of intellectual curiosity. While I readily acknowledge that emotions and intellect are both part of each individual and as a result are tied together...to the extent that every expressed emotion has some intellectual component and vice versa. But I'm also inclined to think those roles are different for each individual and some people are primarily driven by emotion and others primarily by intellect and where those roles intersect is a variable that makes each of us different. It's not 'better' to have either be dominant, it's just different for each of us.

Me...I rarely 'emote' over a photograph. Almost never do I get a belly laugh from an image, nor do I readily tear up over one either. The notable exception to that rule of thumb is some images depicting the horrors of the 'human condition'. The perfect examples for me are a couple 'iconic' images from the Vietnam War era... the first being one of a South Vietnamese policeman holding a handgun within inches of a suspected Viet Cong's head and the latter's distorted cringing at the possibility of being shot (with an American soldier standing along side the event)....and the second being a group of Vietnamese children running down a street with one of them being a young girl running naked and crying after having been burned by napalm. I don't know how anyone can not be emotionally impacted by images such as those. It just sickens me to see such examples and I cringe mightily each time I do.

But for a primarily landscape oriented photographer with a minor in abstract images found in nature and a rare foray into other non 'people' oriented genres, an expressed emotion of any type is a rarity for me. I may think about any inidividual image extensively trying to decipher what it is about the image that appeals to me and/or the photographer who captured it, but a significant emotional response simply doesn't occur all that often.

I also tend to suspect however we make our individual connections to image making probably influences the genre(s) of photography we tend to pursue. I would guess...and it's only a guess...is that those who lean towards being driven by emotional connections are probably those more inclined to lean towards portraiture, street photography, and photojournalism...while those who experience with a more intellectually driven appeal tend to be more drawn to landscapes, architecture, abstracts, etc. That is certainly painting the picture with a very broad brush and certainly is not applicable to all. But my feeble mind and sense of reasoning would leave me to believe such is true more often than not.

However we connect to any image or what type connection is made is only important to the extent that it will probably help us to more readily tell the 'story' of an image. And telling the 'story' of an image seems to be a point of disconnect for many photographers. Despite the old addage that 'a picture is worth a thousand words', it seems many....myself included...frequently struggle coming up with 50 to describe a shot. Though I think (?hope?) I'm more proficient at it today than in years past, I do find it disappointing it's an aspect of my work I still struggle with as much as I do. And equally disappointing is that there seems to be so little 'the language of photography' discussion to be found anywhere. We can find Facebook group after forum discussion after blog post of endless questions surrounding 'EXIF' data, but try asking in any group a question about what caused the photographer to stop in that particular place at that particular time and raise the viewfinder to their eye and click the shutter...and the response 9 times out of ten....crickets. Personally, I find all those...zzz...technical questions...zzzzz...more than a little bit...zzzzzzzzzz...of a...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...snooze...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

As a landscape photographer, sometimes it is sufficient to create a 'pretty picture'. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It takes a fairly evolved image maker to craft a technically terrific documentation of a scene. There's a lot that goes into doing so and if that's what trips your trigger, more power to you.

For me, the last several years have brought the sense that being a modestly competent documentarian of sunsets and lighthouses and mountains shrouded in fog may be a 'comfort zone', but it's not a stopping point. And that has spurred an interest towards creating a variety of 'projects' or 'series' of thematically consistent images...a couple of which are currently available for viewing on this site, and several others that are in various stages of development. Almost all such projects also push me more and more away from 'keeping it real' and toward being more willing to bend reality to various degrees and in various manners. One such project is probably nearing a point where a book might be considered sooner rather than later, and a couple other projects may see various modes of publication.

If you still happen to be reading this rambling at this point, I thank you for having such patience. I'm sure many dozed off after the first couple paragraphs.

Thanks for 'listening'!


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