A Look in the Mirror

Category: arts 64

Goose Lane Editions celebrates the work of Saint John portrait photographer James Wilson with, Social Studies

Anthony McGuire
Lisa and John McLaggan – Musicians. 2014 by James Wilson.

In the age of the ubiquitous camera, the art of photography has become lost or at the very least, buried. Buried beneath the endless selfies and poorly composed snap shots taken only as fodder for social media status updates that serve only the self as a means of saying, “Hey! I’m still here. Look at me.” But beneath this surface relationship with the captured image lies a wealth of meaningful art made by those who truly believe in photography’s power to capture a time, a place, an identity. 

James Wilson’s Social Studies, recently published by Goose Lane Editions, is a brilliant collection of portraits that not only serves to remind us of the true genius of photography but also offers the viewer an uncompromising reflection of individual identity. Wilson’s determination to capture the beauty in all people from all walks of life makes Social Studies an essential document of who we are as a community of individuals occupying a shared space. As an artist, Wilson is able to see beyond perceived identities to reveal the hidden human that exists beneath the clothing, the hairstyles, the tattoos, the scars of age and the props each of us use to create the us we choose to be identified by. This is achieved in part by a process perfected over his life spent in portrait studios and his complete devotion to exploring the artistic practice of the photographers, painters and other visual artists working in Saint John from the 1960s onward. Using only natural light, his subjects stand against a solid backdrop where Wilson, using a mix of gear that includes large, medium format and digital cameras, is able to see through surface level personas and get to the core of his subjects and capture a bold interpretation of self and purpose.  

“Social Studies reflects a long-term project that has evolved over more than twenty-five years. I have tried to give my portraits a sense of who my subjects are: what they do for work, how they fit into society, or what they love,” writes Wilson in his introduction to this collection.

“My aim with each subject was to express a feeling of artistic integrity. These may not be your standard flattering portraits, but they are honest.” 

James Wilson’s Social Studies is published by Goose Lane Editions and is available now

Cover photo: Nawal Doucette, 2014. By James Wilson.

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