Masterpiece of a photo copyright of Tim Andries. Used with permission.
A little something different …
Grab your coffee and join me.
My ears were muffled by the water as he washed my hair. “So, this new hair-do you have …” He quickly replied, “It’s Chris Isaak inspired. Do you like it?” “Well, I think you look more like Lyle Lovett and since I love all things Lyle then yes, I like it.”
He proceeded to ask if I knew of Michael Wilson. “No, I can’t say that I do. How come?” “Well, he’s Lyle’s sole photographer. And, he lives right here in Cincinnati.”
Right after I left from getting my hair cut I had an appointment with my massage therapist/prayer warrior. She’s a woman I’ve come to love dearly. She not only releases the tension in my body with her incredible massage techniques, she also prays over my seemingly broken body and often times broken heart. I’ve been there dozens of times, but this was the first time I noticed his book. “Michael Wilson” typed out clearly across the front.
“Michael Wilson … do you know him?”
Come to find out she is dear friends with him and encouraged me enthusiastically to connect with him. “He’s a delightful man,” she promised.
She wasn’t lying.
We met at a lazy coffee shop, mid-morning. I had told him that I would like to interview him for my blog. It seemed like a good excuse to have coffee with him. From the second I entered his website I knew he was a man to be inspired.
As a photographer who easily jumped in head first due to the luxury of the digital age I am quite enamored by film photographers. Film photographers that are as brilliant as he. They’re quite sparse, so it seems, so having the opportunity not only to connect with one, but also to do it over coffee face-to-face was a pleasure.
He’s a quiet man, one that I knew might sometimes seem “out of it,” but is probably taking in everything around him. An observer with an introspective soul. My kind of friend.
Since meeting him I have found through a bit of research that he is not new to being asked for an interview. He met with me with a story that was concise, hitting the high points, knowing what I ultimately was after.
I didn’t come with a list of questions like I normally do. Instead we just talked. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his story.
He received a free scholarship to Northern Kentucky University. Not because he had a 4.0 GPA or was already a brilliant photographer, no they were brand new and looking for students. He had no plans on attending college, but when the opportunity came around, and for free no less, he knew he’d be crazy to pass it up.
His first love in high school was the French horn. It was something he pursued passionately, hoping to one day be a brilliant horn player. Unfortunately, he was never quite good at it, no matter how much he willed himself to be. He had saved up $800 in order to by his very own French horn and when he knew his future was not in music he decided, on a whim, to buy a camera.
He sat in front of his advisor at his University and when asked what he’d like to major in, he simply replied, “Well … I have a camera.”
“Once the curtain opened I was a goner,” he explained. His eyes smiled, proving to me that photography still very much feeds his soul.
His love for photography grew with reckless abandon while his appreciation and thrill of music stayed just as strong. He spent hours in record stores looking over the covers, pulling out the ones that he resonated most deeply with. Most often the photographer linked back to the same Art Director: Jeri Heiden. He decided, with the push from friends and encouragment from his wife, to go for it.
He and his wife delicately put together a book of some of Michael’s favorite photos and stuck it in the mail. Michael didn’t expect to hear anything back. Two weeks later he was contacted by the manager of The BoDeans, “Jeri Heiden gave us your info. We’d like for you to come photograph the band.
Shortly after photographing the BoDeans, Michael was asked to photograph another band. All he was paid was travel and hotel costs. He took the opportunity to get close enough to L.A. to meet Jeri in person.
This was the part of our time together that I’ll always remember the best.
To make the best impression Michael and his wife spent good time and good money putting together the most “professional” looking portfolio book they could. Michael explained to me that although he did not consider himself a professional he wanted to present himself that way to Jeri Heiden. This was his big chance.
Jeri kindly looked though his book and then with disappointment written all over her face she asked if he had anything else. His big chance at seeming professional had flopped. Lucky for him she not only asked to see more, he had more with him. Prints he was working on for a book he hoped to publish were tucked away in his coat pocket.
Those prints, the ones he took only for himself, were the ones that landed him a career as a photographer of musicians.
Since then Michael Wilson is known for his brilliant work photographing such people as The Replacements, Lyle Lovett, BB King, David Wilcox, Sarah Mclachlan, Randy Newman, John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris, Over the Rhine, and The Black Keys to name only a few.
Michael reminded me why I love so much to sit over coffee and chat photography with others. Even with his simple re-telling of his story I learned from him.
First, sometimes the paths in life we are to take find us first
Second, allow yourself to dream. Find work that inspires you and learn from it. What about it makes you tick? Grow from there.
Third, don’t fear to leap. Even if you don’t think it will get you anywhere, go for it. You never know.
Please, please take the time to visit Michael’s work. You will be refreshed and inspired. You will see that the simplest of settings with the simplest of props, when taken of a beautiful soul in beautiful light, is breath taking.