Matthew Wylie is a brilliant young street photographer living and working in Toronto. His low-key black and white street photos are very impressive, evocative and full of life. Writing, poetry and photography are the creative pursuits and outlets of Matthew and he pens his thoughts through his lens, too. It’s is not just an urge for capturing a moment that forces him to take a picture, but a deep connect that he has with the world around which is reflected in his images. As a student and teacher of literature and philosophy, he’s out there on streets, in search of truth and beauty… and he finds it more than often. Let’s move onto our interview section to have some words with the artist:
I spent most of my life growing up and living in Texas, but have lived in Toronto for the past 7 years. I have a Master’s Degree in English and teach literature and philosophy courses here in Toronto. I guess it makes sense that I am quite interested in the idea of the written word and the image, storytelling with both mediums, and so on.
I’ve always taken photos, from my first Kodak disposable in high school to cheap digital cameras throughout university. I never owned a “serious camera” though until I got my first iPhone, the 4S, which totally changed everything. For the first time, I had a camera that I could really work with and that offered me both the technical and aesthetic tools I needed to produce and communicate in meaningful ways. Now I shoot every day and usually take a few hours to explore the city and shoot once a week or on my way to work. I would say I take anywhere from 500-2,000 photos a week, with probably 99 percent of those being deleted by week’s end.
I guess, in short, I take photographs because I have to. Something from inside (or beyond) compels me to take pictures, and so I just do.
I can say though that photography has allowed me to extend my eye towards others and even back into myself. It’s a medium for me to communicate in and create with, and by doing so, I have started seeing the world in different ways – things I may not have noticed before and things that probably most don’t notice, such as the half-light cast on the top left corner of a bakery in which the banner is singed with a triptych of red, turquoise, and black, and just because of the light at that particular moment in time, which may never cast those same shadows / hues again – or that gentleman and his shadow on the street, whom I passed at exactly 3:37 p.m. on a Sunday in March, and nobody else saw what I saw that day. That type of thing.
I mean, I think we can all agree that photography can help us notice things, moments, that we would not have noticed otherwise. To give license to your eye like that – it certainly does make life more interesting and more beautiful, at least to me. And I hope to share that with others – or at least join in the conversation with others who can’t help but see the world in this way. There’s just so much beauty out there and a camera helps me not only find it, but capture it – at least for longer than an instant. It’s the closest I think we can get to immortalize a moment.
Writing and poetry have always been my first creative outlets, so being able to pair the two mediums, photography and writing, has been a very fulfilling experience. I guess I began by using photos taken on the streets to inspire an idea for a character, or a storyline, or even simply a theme for a piece of creative writing. But that’s all morphed into this totally dynamic, reciprocal relationship between the two outlets. Like now, I will oftentimes use an already established story or theme or what not, even one that I have not written, and seek to visually illustrate that on the streets.
And I guess in general, just learning how to tell stories with my camera, rather than ‘my pen’ only, has been fun. The exercise is cyclical and fluid and it’s just been such an interesting process to me personally. It all boils down to the same thing: Creating.
Because I focus on street photography, the iPhone has been an incredible tool for me. It’s just so conducive to the types of shots I seek to capture and it’s never a hindrance in terms of physicality. I primarily use the Hipstamatic App, using one of the black and white films, such as US1776, AOW DLX, or Black Keys Super Grain. With these films, you can play around with a variety of lenses that will work well for street photography, depending on the lighting and what type of aesthetic you’re aiming for that day. I use the Lowy, John S. and G2 lenses the most I suppose. For colour, I usually use the VSCO app. It has an amazing palette that is wonderful for capturing the colours in the streets on any given day.
Well, I guess I am considered a ‘mobile photographer,’ so I come from a new generation of photographers who perhaps view this issue a bit differently than traditional photographers. Editing and photo manipulation occur inevitably, and immediately, from the moment the photographer takes his / her camera and hits the streets. From the direction you choose to walk in to the film you’ve chosen to the angle you choose to shoot in to what you choose to let pass you by and not, this is all editing. This is filtering. This is manipulation of ‘reality.’ And that’s wonderful. That’s all a part of the creative process.
In terms of editing a photo after it’s been shot – if it helps to tell your story, of course! Mobile photography is beautiful to me in this regard because we see a new genre arising that is fusing traditional street photography with the new technology available to us and I think it can be really great when it works. It just depends on the subject and what you’re trying to do with it. Attempting to dismiss mobile photography because it’s new or goes against some code of “purity” is just silly nonsense to me. It’s just like any art form. It evolves. It’s never static.
Now, editing a bad photo in hopes of making it a good one – that should be avoided.
Having other photographers whom I admire and respect and who are certainly a lot better and more experienced than me reach out to me in various ways to compliment my work or provide encouragement. That’s been pretty special, and all of that is due to the social aspect of the photography itself, shared via platforms like Instagram or Facebook. That ability to communicate and receive feedback from a myriad of sources is just – it’s revolutionary. It really is.
Asides from that, I’ve had a few small exhibits in L.A. and New York, and have been in a few magazines, like Snap and Street Photography Magazine. I’m also going to be featured in a book called Street Expose 2, which is being put together by Cara Gallardo Weil and involves street photographers from around the world. Being a part of this project, with so many talented photographers world round, has been quite special.
I guess the biggest achievement though is being able to see myself get better. Of course, I fail, like everyone, but that I can personally see an overall progression and evolution in my work – a progression that I am pleased with in myself– that’s the most important thing to me.
Thank… but I’m not sure. I think if you look at my feed, like on Instagram (@m_mateos), you will see that there is a trajectory in time in which I am, basically, studying light. Composition has come rather easy to me and I don’t know what to attribute that to – I just feel like I innately understand it. It’s only recently though, in the past year, that I’ve really devoted myself to light, location, and time of day. These are areas I want to continue to focus on for a while, until I feel that I inherently understand them at any given point in time and space. Again, as I said earlier, I’m learning to see differently. That’s taking time.
In terms of mood – I naturally gravitate towards a noir feel, and that’s probably due to my love of old noir films, of Hitchcock and of Wells, all the old classics. But it’s never conscious. I just shoot what I’m instinctively drawn to. The real battle lately has been for me to learn to trust my eye as it is progressing and developing. It’s a bit uneasy at times – letting a shot go you would have quickly taken a year ago, or trusting yourself with a setting or scene you are less familiar with, but I think it’s necessary for me. Otherwise, my creativity grows stale and I end up feeling cheated.
What are your views on contemporary photography? Most people say there’s too much of it thus lacking in originality?
I think it’s revolutionary!
We are witnessing the democratization of the visual arts in a way that simply has never been seen before. Sure, there are criticisms to be made about the infinite flux of images – I get that. I do. But we can’t deny the beauty in the fact that more people have access to art and to tools to create art than ever before. Photography, film, visual images – these are not just the fields of the privileged or experts or well-educated anymore. Anyone with raw talent who can afford an iPhone can get out there and do some great things with these tools. Furthermore, they can discover and reach out to other artists so easily – they can learn from others, so easily – and all through the same device that they are using to create with. Isn’t that amazing!?
All of this, I feel, is spawning some incredibly creative pieces and artists. I don’t get caught up in being ‘original,’ because ..that’s just a counter-productive pursuit – not sure we can even claim such a thing exists. I do believe in raw creativity though, and contemporary photography, especially mobile photography, is so very exciting to be a part of and witness right now.
How’s does it feel like shooting in Toronto? What is the best time and place to shoot there?
Toronto is a city that just has so much to offer. The cultural diversity of the city allows one to travel the world, in a sense, within a short amount of time. Chinatown, Kensington Market, Little Italy, the Beaches– all fun, dynamic places to explore. I think my favourite is the financial district in the early morning hours or late evening. You get a ton of great light, shadows, and classic subject matter.
My fellow photographers on the social networks continue to keep me inspired – again, another excellent thing about the social aspect of the photography. The fact that I can be so inspired on a daily basis, even if it’s simply one photograph a day that one of my friends or contacts took – that’s a beautiful thing. I haven’t read any books on photography, yet, but the quote “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera” by Dorothea Lange really resonates with me and I try to use it as a means of pushing myself to keep looking, and to look well.
In terms of a specific photographer, Dan Cristea, a photographer here in Toronto and member of Tiny Collective – his work, his vision and the passion and sensitivity seen behind his work – as well as its diversity – that is really inspiring to me. In fact, the whole Tiny Collective team is and what they are doing in terms of shifting the way we view mobile photography.
Enlighten our readers with anything… like a tip or some advice:
Shoot a lot. Practice. Practice. Observe. Observe. Learn from others. Be confident in yourself and believe that you have something to say with your photos. Too many people have very little to really say about the world around them. Having so many tools to communicate now – that almost seems absurd.