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A conversation with Wynne Neilly. Canadian fine art and portrait photographer.


1. Please introduce yourself, your current creative focus and where you’re based.

My name is Wynne Neilly and I am a photographer/visual artist based out of Hamilton, ON

2. Can you share the catalyst that influenced your creative journey into portrait photography? Do you have an early memory that inspired your decision?

I took a photography class in grade 11 and fell in love with the process of developing film and witnessing what felt like magic in the darkroom. I was terrible at actually composing images and creative interesting photographs but I just loved the mechanics behind it all. I knew I wanted a creative career and my photography teacher helped me develop a portfolio to submit to X University (Ryerson). As for an early memory that inspired me? I remember seeing Richard Avedon’s portrait work, specifically a series he did documenting working class and blue collar people in the midwest and it blew my mind. The way his portraits commanded such attention and felt so confronting with such minimal subject matter really drew me in and made me want to get better at photography. It was this series that made me really understand the power of story-telling in a body of work focused on portraiture.

3. What inspires your creative aesthetic, do you find there are specific photographers you’re generally drawn to?

Intimacy and vulnerability are probably the two main inspirations for my creative aesthetic. But - aside from a more abstract answer, I would say I am really drawn to simplicity, minimalism and a bit of a gritty aesthetic. I like muted colours, textural components and leading lines in my images. Photographers who are skilled in BW and film photography really motivate me to continue working on those areas of my portfolio. Right now I am super inspired by Ryan Pfluger, Brianna Roye, Ryan Duffin, Landon Speers, Jocelyn Reynolds, Erik Carter, Jorian Charlton - GOSH the list goes on.

4. Would you say a common theme in your creative portfolio is documenting the human condition? If so, what would you say influences your motivation?

In a broad sense, I would say that is totally a common theme in my portfolio. What interests me the most is connecting with people and learning about their stories through photographing them. The intimacy that is created and shared during the portrait session between me and the subject is something that I try to assure comes off in the final image itself. This essence is what helps me determine a successful image from a “dud”. When I was starting to get serious about crafting my skill in portraiture, I was seeking connection with folks who identified with masculinity and was looking for my story in theirs. I was looking for validation and permission to exist in documenting the people around me who had overlapping experiences to mine. It started to feel really important to me to be able to give space to individuality through portraiture as it was becoming very clear to me that although I may align with people in some ways, everyone’s path in gender and sexuality is so unique.

5. You’ve displayed your photography at a number of exhibitions. Do you find there is a larger impact in viewing art in person?

ABSOLUTELY there is a larger impact in viewing art in person. Social media has completely changed the way we interact with art. We spend about 2 seconds looking at an image, double tapping it, and moving onto the next. Exhibiting work in gallery spaces allows for intentional interaction and reflection that just doesn’t happen on our phones. The way a body of work or an image is presented might change the entire relationship to it. The paper it’s printed on, the size of the images, the height it’s hung at, the image that lives to the left and to the right… it all matters.

6. Do you have a project or piece of work you’d consider pivotal to your creative career? Could you talk through your experience?

When I graduated from university (2012), I also started HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and began physically transitioning. When this happened, I also started self-documenting as a way to journal my experience. This body of work was exhibited as a solo show at the Ryerson Image Center in 2014 and it ended up being written about by The Huffington Post. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of work being exhibited in this way and it really put my name out there and allowed me to exhibit the work internationally. This was both really validating and rewarding but also very overwhelming. It was really amazing to feel like the work I was making had an impact and it was getting recognition, but it was also really hard watching the creative community and the “capital A” art world put me in a corner as “the trans photographer who took pictures of himself transitioning”. It has taken me a really long time to get away from that label (actually I’m pretty sure I am still working on that to some extent). It was also really overwhelming to have such a vulnerable and personal body of work explode over the internet and receive both positive and negative comments about it.

7. Do you prefer to work with digital or film? What are you currently using for photography?

I am pretty evenly split down the middle here. When money and time isn’t an issue, I will usually lean into medium format film when I can. I like to take my time with the process and make sure everything is just right. Shooting film helps me keep an intentional mindset with image making since it’s so expensive and you don’t get to shoot 20 frames for 1 image. The limited amount of frames makes me think about the value of the image I am about to take which I love! I also love the quality of film and how there is always a slight element of surprise in it. Right now I am using a Fuji X-T2, a Canon 5D Mark II and my 500 C/M Hasselblad

8. Do you consider the work you create to be art? Can you explain your answer?

Yes I absolutely do consider the work I create to be art. I have been a fine art photographer for over 10 years so as I move into a more commercial space in my practice, I try to continue with the intention of an art based focus. This helps me feel like the work I am making aligns with the motivations I have being in this field. Maybe this answer would be different if I was always a commercial photographer and didn’t have as much of a personal connection to my work. Art, to me, means work that is made with creative intention and has the purpose to be seen, interpreted and digested by an audience.

9. Do you have any creative projects you’re currently working on?

I do actually! I feel like I always have 5 things on the go at once. Right now I am working on a curated collection of prints that will be offered as an emerging collector’s box. I’m in the beginning phase of it all right now but hoping to have it released in the Spring of 2022 through FFOTO.com who represents my fine art work. Apart from that, I am always shooting personal work. Lately I have really been interested in more observational detail photography. I am drawn to different colour palettes from sunsets or reflections in water. Things that exist all around us in a mundane setting but when focused on in just the right light or angle, a new world is opened up.

View Wynne's recent work on Instagram ->

View more of Wynne's creative projects ->