Trained as an anthropologist reliant on the power of observation and words, I am attracted by the potency and reach of images to meld ideas, evidence and emotion enabling us to empathize and, yes -- assist -- indigenous cultures fending-off modern-world threats. Cultures – that is, our kindred fellows – 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, environment, politics, nutritional decline and, alas, ill-managed tourism.
When I begin a project I understand the parameters of what I want to capture 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 - storylines unfold in the assembled pictures. I admire photographers who can begin with a refined concept, and doggedly follow it to a conclusion that satisfies them, but 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 real-time shooting with minimal calculation and a great deal of instinct to take pictures that portray situations if not answers.
As an imagist I attempt to 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 an 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 compose or direct situations, I do not feel obligated to present my images without some 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 is not so much a chronicle as it is a drive to evoke or vivify a time, a character or a place. This work is unscripted. I lie in wait with my tools, in full view, to catch life on the fly.
I have photographed extensively in Cuba, East Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, the United States and, Upper Mustang in Himalayan Nepal. My photographs have been exhibited in Santa Fe, New Mexico; Havana, Cuba and at The Louvre in Paris.
For digital color work I use a Leica M10 as well as a Fuji X-Pro 1; for digital black & white, a Leica M246 Monochrom.
For analogue work I use a brace of Leica M4 cameras.
Past cameras in my cabinet have been the Leica M-P Type 240, Leica M6, Pentax 6x7, Nikon F3HP and the F4. And then there was my first: an early-model Kodak Brownie 'Holiday' from the 1950s.
While I still love the look and 'feel' of silver gelatin, my main 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 2018 hardcover edition by Vajra Books.