A passionate love affair spans 45 years

By Joyce Wilson, M.Photog.Cr., F-ASP
Images By Joyce Wilson
First published in August 2005

“If you’ve learned photography as a craft, working hard but not having much fun, maybe you’re ready to rediscover your passion,” says Joyce Wilson, PPA’s 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.

Do you remember your first camera and the awe of producing that first magical photograph, the thrill of your first PPA merit print? My love affair with photography began with a magnificent, though previously owned, 35mm Pentax and an image I took of my year-old son drinking from a bubbling water fountain.

From that first magical moment I was hooked. During those early years in the l960s, I was busy learning the craft, developing a business, marketing, networking, and balancing a career with the responsibilities of raising a family. All of it was exciting, challenging and rewarding.

Fast-forward 20 years. I had lost my husband to heart disease in l970, remarried in l977, relocated across the country in l980, moved back to Indianapolis and resumed ownership of the studio. By now the children were out of the nest, I had a special life partner, my business was thriving, I was winning awards, I was teaching. I had it all.

There was one big problem. The joy and wonder had become hard work and repetition, and I was miserable. To put it mildly: I hit The Wall.

Early in my career, my path crossed with photo-documentalist D.H. Moore. He was also a photographic critic, author, lecturer and publisher of The Photographic Bulletin. This man became my hero. I was constantly searching for answers and trying to resolve the age-old problem of craft vs. art. I needed to earn a living to support my family, but I didn’t want to lose my soul and my passion in the process.

I came across this profound statement in one of Moore’s bulletins: “A photographer produces a product for a price and that price is determined precisely by the merits of that product in the terms of the client and not your creative ego or your concern with creativity or self-expression or mechanical, optical, and electronic hardware.”

It was a light bulb moment. I added my own principle to the statement: If it is necessary to create work for hire, the photographer must realize it, and [also] create art by producing personal work that does not depend on profit.”

In the mid-l980s I took a venture into the unknown. I began to play again with my beloved 35mm camera and high-speed film, in the pursuit of my personal vision. Daunting at first, it required a mindset different from the routine of classic posing, careful lighting and calculated cropping that I had relentlessly trained to master. Often, it would take more than an hour and a roll’s worth of film before the music and the new vision took over.

Taking the time to play was the single most important step in my development as an artist. These past 20 years have restored my passion, renewed a love affair that burns brighter than I ever imagined.

I found a way to weave my art into the commercial marketplace. My motto became “one for thee, one for me.” At the end of a regular session, I would ask for a little more of the subject’s time to experiment. Usually, this meant abandoning the trappings, the tripod and the medium-format camera for the 35mm camera and available light.

If the motive had been money, this work never would have evolved. It must come from the heart, for the art itself, let the chips fall where they may. Yet it’s brought me rewards beyond my wildest dreams. Many of my clients would purchase the traditional portraits as gifts for others, but for themselves, they would also buy the “one for me.” Add-on sales soared.

In 1989 a stock agency discovered my lifestyle and experimental images, and the extra income from stock usage allowed me to further refine my portraiture business.

For the last 20 years, I’ve been photographing the beauty of the human spirit. My personal work celebrates the spirituality of the human body and our oneness with the universe. I am working in the darkroom again, applying nearly forgotten techniques, and using the early 20th century art of bromoil. When I combine these works with digital imaging, the possibilities are endless.

My sister, Emily Connolly, collaborated with me on a two-year project that led to the recent publication of the tabletop book “Imagine: People, Places, Passions” (Kitestrings Publishing). Our goal was to help photographers find the inspiration to play, and to become more creative with their cameras. [“Imagine” is also available in a limited edition with two original giclee prints, a certificate of authenticity and a slipcase, at]

If you’ve learned photography as a craft, working hard but not having much fun, maybe you’re ready to rediscover your passion. In the sabbatical workshops I’ve been teaching since l989, I’ve found such joy in guiding photographers to a higher plateau of creativity. Five years ago, I was appointed to the faculty at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. In the process of teaching a class titled “Beyond Portraiture,” I continue to learn and grow. The students are fresh, enthusiastic, unbelievably creative, and they keep me inspired.

I do only a few select portrait sessions a year, and submitting my fine-art work to major museums and photographic art gallery exhibitions, as well as juried shows. I also do pro-bono work for a charity that benefits women and children, to fulfill my desire to give back to society. The circle of life for me has been extraordinarily sweet, and I am eternally grateful that I was guided to this passionate love affair with my camera.

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