An Unlikely Photographer: Interview with David Wilson (Wales)

David Wilson
David is a celebrated fine art landscape and documentary photographer specialising in images of Wales and Welsh life.
When did you become interested in photography and why?

When I was seventeen, I bought a motorbike, fancying myself as Haverfordwest’s answer to Eddie Kidd – the British Evel Kneival! The bike gave me the freedom to explore parts of Pembrokeshire I never knew existed, acknowledging for the first time that I lived in a beautiful part of the world. Seeing all of this natural beauty, I decided to buy a camera to take with me on my aimless rambles, snapping artless pictures, and falling in love with photography. My inability to remain on the bike soon flagged itself up as an issue and after a few warm-up crashes I suffered an accident which left me with a broken neck, back and a few other inconsequential bones and bits. Paralysed from the neck down the prognosis was grim. But, six months later I walked – after a fashion and with help - out of hospital in Cardiff to begin a long rehabilitation which failed to deliver a return to the previous me. I had to contemplate the rest of my life as a permanently damaged person – not easy for a vain young man. The camera helped though, encouraging me to venture out of the house, which I was loathed to do. In the dark years following the accident, as well as from the support of my family and friends, the camera kept me going.

At what point did photography turn into a professional way of life?

It was to be many years before I began to imagine – dream more like - that I could make a living from photography. Those years witnessed terrific highs and all-too-often, terrible lows. Approaching forty, though, I was stuck in the latest of a succession of soul-destroying jobs and so I decided to see whether photography could pay. It was of course madness to cash-in a secure job to become a landscape photographer. Factor in my determination to specialise in black and white and that madness was twofold. Then, to complete the insanity, there was the not inconsiderable challenge of a physically compromised person accessing that landscape when just walking along a street was a challenge. But I was desperate. Anna, my wife, gave great encouragement – no doubt desperate to dump the miserable git that came in from work each night for someone a little more positive. And so, I took the plunge.

How has photography helped you overcome your injuries?

Photography has brought a sense of achievement and provided me with a haven of peace and mental calm. It has also engendered in me a conviction that I am good at something; that notion of self-esteem and worth. You see, until I began to take photographs and produce books that people wished to buy, I had never excelled at anything. There had been no hint during my life that I could be viewed as having any discernible talent. School had been a disaster followed by a dull semi-skilled job followed by a life-changing injury when I was eighteen. The narrative had been underwhelming and unfailingly bleak. My twenties were dogged by anger at the injustice of what had happened to me. My thirties witnessed the start of a fightback. Becoming a professional photographer at the age of forty completed my personal renaissance.

"No longer was I that useless, physically limited duffer. I had discovered something within me that gave me a sense of fulfilment."
David Wilson
What aspects of photography do you love the most?

When I started out on this glorious photographic journey, I was content to disappear into the middle of nowhere alone and shoot what I found. The solace and silence were beautiful. But over the fifteen years that I have earnt a living from my camera my work has evolved. For example, my latest book – to be published in Autumn 2021 – is The Village, a year-long documentary project recording life in my home village of Llangwm, thankfully prior to the restrictions of Covid. I loved it. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s the most fulfilling project I’ve undertaken to date. And the book after that – due out in Spring 2022 – is my memoir, An Unlikely Photographer. Writing it has been cathartic, and on occasion difficult; dredging up buckets of pain. It’s been ultimately redemptive though, furnished as it is with the joy of family and photography – at least in the second half of the book!

Have there been any funny stories along the way?

Funny stories? There have been many incidents over the years, which in hindsight have shown themselves to be hilarious, but which perhaps at the time were less so! Lots of comic tumbles, mostly landing on grass. On the occasions when Anna accompanied me and I fell, she was always heroic in stifling the giggles. Aside from the associated cuts and bruises and wounded pride, I emerged pretty much unscathed.

For those contemplating photography be it as a hobby or professionally what benefits are uppermost in your mind when you think of this form of art?

When I think of photography, I imagine the outdoors. Huge emphasis has been placed on the notion of ‘green therapy,’ that belief that being out in the landscape brings with it a sense of well-being. Exercise, fresh air, an uncluttered mind; photography has it all. As for subject matter, just photograph what interests you the most and you’ll enjoy the results so much more.

"My favourite seasons for photography are late autumn, winter and early spring when the sun's arc is low in the sky, each composition enhanced by highlight and shadow. Those seasons are also blessed with proper weather: rain coming at you side on; wind that threatens to cut you in half; frosts that numb the extremities."
David Wilson