For every one of us there is something out there that influences our opinions and morals, our likes and dislikes and even our future. For Central Michigan University art professor, Al Wildey, it was photography. Professor Wildey started his photographic journey during his years in the Air Force. “I used the camera as a way to document where I was at. To try to understand the place I was in or really my place in the world. As it turned out it has been one of the constants in my life,” states Wildey. Photography or lens based imaging became a passion for professor Wildey as well as an influential aspect in his life.
Al Wildey grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan and unable to afford college, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. During his time in the Air Force Wildey opened up to the world of photography. A mouth into his basic training he had an “urge to make pictures”. Wildey states, “I missed not being engaged with art and that is when I bought my first camera. So I used the camera as a substitute for making images that I had done in different mediums. I started thinking about framing and composition, and essentially for the next four years made photographs of the places that I traveled while I was in the Air Force.” Wildey started with documentary photography and soon grew from there.
In 1981, after four years in the Air Force, Wildey decided that, “I was only going to do things that I was passionate about and at that point it was photography.” He then proceeded to earn an Associate’s degree in Commercial Photography from Omaha, Nebraska. After that he moved to Los Angles and was a freelance athletics photographer. Later on he continued his education and received a Bachelors in Fine Arts from Rochester Institute of Technology and a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Idaho. Wildey’s photographs are now internationally known and he has had his fine art photographs in multiple shows.
Photography became a passion for Wildey, but it his personal influences that impacted him and his career. Wildey has a long and continuous growing list of influences. This ranges from the F-64 group of landscape photographers, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, to street photographers, like Gray Winogrand. Wildey states, “I teach the history of photography here at Central Michigan University, and history, both photographic history and how it relates to the culture at large are very important to me. So I have continually investigated what has happened through the course of history, including the pre-history of photography.” There was not a singular source of inspiration or influence, “but a dynamic list where more and more names have been added over time,” he explains.
Photography is something that is a part of our culture and it is a part of our history. Wildey states is best by saying, “We live in a world where we communicate visually and the primary mode of communicating visually is lens based imaging, cameras; either still or moving. As I think about how to make images, how to read images and how those images function, I understand that photography really is at the core of our culture and photographic art doesn’t exists on the margins. I believe it is at the center of who we are, where we are, that is an important storytelling medium.” Photographs influence not only our daily lives but can influence how we view the world. There is always a passion that drives us as humans, for Professor Al Wildey it was photography, as it has been many others and many more to be.