To celebrate our first ever print publication, every Thursday on our blog we’ll share a new Fall inspired feature from the The Journal. This week, meet our very own image maker, Stephen Wilde…
Stephen Wilde is the artist behind all of Herschel Supply’s photography. Having been with the company from its inception, his aesthetic is as interwoven with our imagery as the threads on a Herschel Supply backpack. This interview pays homage to our favorite image maker – sharing his stories, inspirations and insights into the art of photography.
What was your very first camera?
It was a 1981 Kodak disc camera, given to me as Christmas present from my parents. I still have it now, over 30 years later.
What were your first pictures of and how did you grow to love photography?
As a kid I was totally into building plastic models. Growing up in the North, logging was what everybody did so I’d make models with logs and all, then take them into the snow and turn them into dioramas. I’d take pictures with my Kodak and people would tell me they looked like a real scene. They we’re probably telling white lies but it was inspirational to think what I could do with photography. It was one of the first moments I fell in love with photography.
I also remember going to a motocross track with my friend Tim and documenting the action. There was this guy, shooting with a proper 35mm camera and Kodachrome 64 slide film. He took a few pictures of us and later on at my friend’s house, we were looking at the slides against the light of a lamp. I was blown away by the vibrancy of the slides as they burst through the light. That’s when the desire to own a 35mm camera really hit.
Slickity Jim’s, Vancouver B.C
So what was the next step for you?
When I was about seventeen, I bought myself a Minolta x370 kit. One day it was stolen out of my car, but with the insurance money I was able to go out and buy what I’d really been dreaming of – a Nikon camera. At that time, Nikon was the camera to buy if you wanted to be a pro. So I invested in one body and two lenses. Having my Minolta stolen was a blessing in disguise, it was an opportunity to buy what I’d really wanted all along.
How did your photography evolve from that moment you bought your Nikon?
My entire life of photography has been about documenting everything – my grandparents, our dog, and learning to shoot in a more interesting way. There are billions of photos out there and my goal is to keep the audience interested. I’m always looking for the best light and composition, it’s ingrained in my brain. I see everything as a formula for an image. Even right now, I’m studying how the light is falling in the background and figuring out how I’d shoot a picture. It’s impossible for me to look at anything without composing it.
When you’re shooting, what is your thought process and at what point do you say, ‘I’ve got it’?
It’s tricky, now with digital you have to train your brain to say stop because the technology allows you to keep going. You have to rely on your instincts to be able to say you’ve got a good shot in this batch. When you’re shooting for a client, you’ve got to shoot as many angles and options as possible. I remember reading a National Geographic article that likened photography to how an artist sketches, you sketch with each click, to achieve the ultimate picture that a scene can produce for you. You’ve got to trust that everything you’re trained to know about lighting and composing will give you the right formula for that scenario. For me photography is a total compulsive obsession, I can’t not continuously take photos and document what’s going on.
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka
How many of those photos would you say you are happy with?
I always thought that an average ratio would be one great image per role of film, but digital is a different game. For the New Balance shoot I took around 800 images that fall into that sketching category, and from those there are ten that I’m really happy with. The majority of my time is spent sketching the perfect picture.
Why was getting a formal education important to you and what did you take out of your time at school?
No one in my family had completed a degree before, so for me it was an important thing to achieve. I knew I was going to study photography and I ended up going to ACAD in Calgary. The ability to spend four years working on photography was great. It was the time I needed to figure out style, method, film types and make the choices that would shape me as a photographer. It was also a place for networking and making connections.
How did you end up working in New York?
While I was studying, I was doing photography assistant work in Calgary. My friend kept encouraging me to go to New York and take advantage of a contact I had at Annie Leibovitz’s studio. I thought it was really far fetched, but what actually happened is that I got a job there. I started out as an intern, then I guess Annie saw my potential and I was hired on as her fourth assistant for the summer. I had the opportunity to stay on, but I decided to go back to Calgary to finish school.
So school was important enough to leave an amazing opportunity behind?
Yeah it was. Once I got my BFA, I was actually offered a sponsorship with Annie and everything was in place. The week I was going to leave, another opportunity came up for me to shoot for Mountain Bike Magazine in South Africa. I took that as a sign that I would just do my own thing, and that I could combine my passion for being outdoors with photography.
You’ve ended up with a great mix of fashion and outdoor photography experience going into your role Herschel Supply. How have you found adding studio photography to the mix?
I feel more challenged to be in the studio now, it is hard to set up shots. I used to see things and shoot them, but now I set things up and shoot them. It’s definitely a new challenge. Photography is exciting because there’s always new technology and techniques to keep it evolving, photography is constantly moving forward, it’s insane like that.
What role does truth play in image creation for you? Are there any do’s and don’ts you play by?
I prefer to keep things as natural as possible. But sometimes when you’re trying to create a mood, you have to play a few tricks. We just shot a fall catalogue in 28-degree Celsius weather, so there’s the need to manipulate the tone of those images to tell the fall story. Photoshop is powerful, you definitely don’t want to make anything look unreal. To me film is so beautiful, but for my work it’s not practical, so I’ll often make a few adjustments to give digital images a film look.
Baggage Handlers, Maldives
When was the last time you shot film?
I shot an event recently with my film camera and I went through ten rolls of film. It emphasized the fact that I shoot way too much digital, it’s not necessary to shoot that much. Shooting film is a valuable exercise to re-learn how to make just 36 frames count, rather than clicking like mad with digital. Going back to film, it’s really difficult to limit yourself and you have to be watchful of everything in the scene.
What is it like working as a full time photographer and how do you stay inspired?
Before being at Herschel Supply I felt I was becoming complacent. Being here has opened up my passion again, I get to be creative and really think about what I do. I was also getting tired of travelling, it’s nice to be home in Vancouver with my family and settling in at Herschel Supply. Jamie and Lyndon are amazing and have given me so many creative opportunities and the ability to pursue what I love doing. Being offered a position I can love with a salary doesn’t happen often in photography – it’s not an easy road.
It’s a challenge to avoid getting crusty and jaded, but working alongside super talented individuals everyday at Herschel Supply keeps me excited. As a photographer I often get overwhelmed by all the amazing photography out there – if you scroll through any Tumblr nowadays you’re like, what’s the point? But I still have an underlying impulse to take a picture, its my passion, and the only job I could imagine doing.
Visit www.stephenwilde.com to see more great work.
Check back next Thursday for another instalment from The Journal – ‘Cabin Fever’
To find your own complimentary copy of The Journal, visit Herschel Supply stockists around the world or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.