Born in the great Midwest of the United States, I have been drawn to the visual art of documentary photography, as well as cameras as beautiful machines, from an early age.
I have photographed extensively in Cuba, East Africa, Mongolia, India and Southeast Asia, Central America, Upper Mustang in Himalayan Nepal and the United States. My photographs have been exhibited in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Havana, Cuba and at The Louvre in Paris.
Currently I use a Leica M10 for digital color work. For digital black & white I use a Leica M246 Monochrom. I still have several black-paint Leica M4 bodies for those times I get the itch to use film. I am converting my Fuji X-Pro 1 into an infrared body.
Past work horses have been the Leica M-P Type 240, Leica M6, Pentax 6x7 and the Nikon F3HP and F4. There was also my first: a Kodak Brownie 'Holiday' from the 1950s.
While I still love the look and 'feel' of silver gelatin, my main print chemistry is now pigment-on-paper.
A sampling of my photographs may be viewed at www.wilburnorman.com.
One hundred fifty (150) of my Cuban photographs will be published in a late 2019 hardcover edition by Vajra Books.
"Reportage... is a form of vigilance." Judith Thurman
Trained as an anthropologist reliant on the power of observation and words, I believe in the potency and reach of images to meld ideas, evidence and emotion allowing us to empathize with and, if possible, assist indigenous cultures who are fending-off modern-world threats. Cultures – that is, our kindred fellows – who are striving to retain age-old manners, languages and time-honored traditions in the face of rapid societal disruption and erosion; upheaval wrought by the usual suspects: technology, politics, environmental and nutritional decline and, alas, ill-managed tourism that actually degrades the places we seek to sustain.
When I begin a project I seek to keep an open mind. I outline the parameters of what I want to explore in a storyboard but it is really the freedom of creating images at-will that leads to the magic of a developing narrative. I follow where my nose and eyes lead and at some point – maybe even after returning home, story lines unfold in the assembled pictures. I admire photographers who can begin with a refined concept, and tenaciously follow their roadmap to a conclusion that satisfies them, but, like many others, I prefer to allow for serendipity and intimate knowledge of my equipment, skill-set and locale to capture a story, perhaps without fully comprehending on a first visit what that story is really about. It is a 'system' of real-time shooting with minimal calculation and a large dose of instinct, striving to capture images that portray situations (if not answers.) I subscribe to food-maven Christopher Kimball's idea that, "We must lose what we think we know so that we can come to see what we least expect."
As an image-maker I straddle a personal zone betwixt & between: documentary photographers follow a character or situation over time to present complexity and nuance; photojournalists are more akin to image-snipers freezing a decisive moment that will forever adhere in our minds-eye. None of us, however, lay claim to any comprehensive report on the human condition. All simply provide glances into slices of life. My glance is to follow (document) a story and capture key scenes (photojournalism) in a given environment. My focus is to stitch these sundry images into a tableaux, weaving a tapestry about a chapter in the human journey. While I do not direct subjects nor compose situations, I do not feel obligated to present my images without any post-processing. If I can improve the presentation to make it more artful I often will, as long as it does not materially change the truthfulness on display. Transparency is key. My work as a chronicler seeks to evoke or vivify a time, a character or a place. The work is unscripted; I lie in wait with my chosen tool, a camera, in full view, to catch life on the fly.
Main elements in going about my work
- Skepticism of much of the 'received wisdom' we tend to take for granted
- An open mind, with as much understanding & compassion as I can muster
- A smile and a flair for languages
- Natural light
- A good camera & lenses and proficiency in their use.
- Great footwear
Be realistic: Demand the impossible! – Herbert Marcuse