Nathan wirth

Posted: December 7, 2013 in Interviews

father & daughter (1)

Nathan Wirth is an English teacher from America. Photography is one of his hobby. He introduces himself as ‘ Father and Husband, English composition teacher at City College of San Francisco, photography enthusiast, and occasional writer’. In a lighter vein, he brags his ability to sneeze with open eyes:-)

If you are interested to enjoy his complete works, please look at his website

I like not only his art, but his deep insight about intellectual and philosophical aspects of photography. In addition, his main contribution to g+ is in finding and promoting talented photographers. I must say he has unearthed many gems of art and made them known to the world. You may like to have a look at his blog page for interviews,

Well let us know the person behind the persona. Read and enjoy his depth of understanding art in contemporary world.


1. How would you describe yourself briefly (including your equipment and editing program)?


First and foremost, I am a father and a husband.  Second, I am a community college English teacher.  Third, I am a simple photographer who uses whatever equipment I can afford so that I can try to capture the silence of the ocean and the gentle quiet of a landscape.  For my long exposure images, I currently use a Sony Alpha 850, a Sigma 17-35mm lens, a Lee Big Stopper, and a set of Lee Grads.  For my infrared work, I use a Sony Alpha 100 that I had converted to an infrared camera and a cheap, but remarkably sharp, 18-55mm lens that has been calibrated to work with my infrared camera.  I use Photoshop CS5 to dodge and burn and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for other minor adjustments.


2. Describe your photographic vision in a few words?


I try to photograph the silence of solitude, the solitude of silence.


3. . Do you think a formal training in principles of art and elements of composition is as necessary for a photographer as for a painter? How did you learn this art? From books , academy or just from senior photographers?


I suppose that it all depends.  I, personally, have never taken a  photography class and, at most, have only read a few how-to articles.  In other words, I have no formal training whatsoever. Then again, painting techniques take much more time and guidance to master than digital photography.  And I should add that traditional darkroom work takes much more time to master than the digital darkroom, which is, if we are all being honest, really very easy to get a handle on.  However– that said– in the end, any art form, be it writing, painting, music, or photography, takes much practice, much time spent on creating substandard output as one learns through each new level of experience that comes with time and practice.   I do feel fairly comfortable with my work these days, but I know that I have yet to master it and seriously doubt that I ever will.  If that unlikely time ever comes, it will be decades from now.  And, to be entirely honest, it is not a goal of mine.  I am far more interested in the actual experience of taking the images and the experimental possibilities of making photos than I am in finding perfection of any kind.  Mastery, in the end, always seems to be a perspective bestowed upon one by others who claim to know about such things.  I suppose other photographers are able to make such judgments about their own work, but I can never truly know what perfection means for my little slices of silence.  I am and happily remain a simple amateur.   


I have studied, and more importantly, thoroughly enjoyed the work of many photographers.  My early favorites, many years before I ever began taking my own images, were Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Wright Morris, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, Brett Weston, Walker Evans, and Henri Cartier-Bresson.  After embarking on the road to figuring out how to make my own images, I encountered Michael Kenna (whose work speaks to me more loudly than any others), Alexy Titarenko, Paul Hart, David Burdeney, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and, most recently, Susan Burnstine and David Fokos.  But none of these artists have necessarily shaped my direction.  More than anything, I have bathed in the pure pleasure of enjoying their work, a pleasurable photographic consumption that also expands to my deep admiration for the work of the  photographers that I know personally, such as Steve Landeros, Brian Day, Kevin Kwok, Jeff Gaydash, Moises Levy, Julia Anna Gospodarou, Andy Brown, Keith Agget, Maria Stromvik, Karen Atkinson, Grant Murray, Stephen Cairns, Joel Tjintjelaar, and my friend Lydia / Lila Limited.  All of these artists contribute to my overwhelming joy of photography, a joy that has so much more to do with the art of photography as an ongoing dialog between many, many, many styles, genres, and artists than it has to do with the simple little slices of silence that I create.  


In other words, what I am really trying to say is that I have learned how to take photos by immersing myself in the dialog of photography that has been ongoing for almost two centuries.  I believe that finding pleasure in the work of others is the greatest teacher.  I recommend that everyone distance themselves from only caring about how their own work is received and, instead, dunking themselves in the true pleasures of partaking in that ongoing photography dialog.  Everything else about photography can be learned with time and practice. 


4. Art has been influenced by various art movements originating from philosophy and literature. Do you find similar influences in photography as well


Poetry, music, literature, film, philosophy and even theology definitely have an affect on how I think about the world, how I ponder what it means to exist, so, inevitably, these things will have a significant influence on what I create.  Most of my images reflect, in at least some way, several lines from poems or songs that have stayed with me with over the years.  The American poet, George Oppen, wrote that “The self is no mystery.  The mystery is / That there is something for us to stand on.”  These words, from his poem “World, World–“, are key to my ruminations about life– and thus my simple little images– because they deal with the traditional concerns of the great ontological questions very differently.  Instead of asking, “why are we here,” they suggest that the true mystery is not who we are but that we even exist in the first place. Indeed, these words hint at the very wonder that anything even exists at all.  I like to think that this wonder for the fact of things is present in the silence that I try to capture in my images.  Leonard Cohen, in his song “Anthem,” sings “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”  I hope that this ever present light– and light is, of course, essential to photographers– leaks into my work as well.  These are just two example of the various lines from the wealth of human expression that sift and move around in my considerations of the world that we live in– and they inevitably leak into whatever I am doing.  There are, of course, many more.


I am equally fascinated by Buddhism; in particular, I have been reading Dogen.  I have also spent some time trying to study and better understand Zen calligraphy– not because I want to create my own calligraphy but because I want to incorporate its principles into my photography.  A master Zen calligrapher empties his or her mind and, more or less, lets the characters flow. Thought, emotions and expectations should not matter in the act of creation.I am trying to adopt this approach in my own processing, but I am not succeeding very well, yet, still, I find great value in trying to remove my ego, my expectations, from my photography so that I can simply “do.This has been incredibly difficult because one yearns to have one’s work enjoyed by others, a yearning that inevitably is tied to the ego. 


And my failure to remove my ego from my image-making has just been well-documented in my response to your question. You asked if I thought that philosophy and literature influenced photography, in general, and I made the question all about me.  But, yes, I do think photography can be tied to other arts and intellectual concerns.  But, in the end, photography truly seems to be bound  far more to human experience / expression than some of the other art forms and intellectual pursuits. Images, as blurred from reality as we may wish to make them from time to time, are bound to an actual capture of an actual something.  One sees a near copy of an actual facial expression, an actual tree in the landscape, the actual destruction of a town ravaged by war, the actual violence caused by racism, the actual laughter in a face, the actual erotic pose, etc.  All images are, of course, no longer the actual thing originally photographed.  One takes away a thin slice of whatever one photographed, and such slices are subject to interpretation by the viewer, who brings his or her life experiences to every image viewed, but one still has that “actual,” an actual that seems more bound to the “real” than poetry, literature, philosophy, or even paintings.


And, in the end, the vast majority of photography seems far more bound to money making than art making, which is perfectly natural in our world, but such goals takes one far away from the typical interests of philosophers and serious novelists. 


5. What type of art movement is currently in vogue? Who are the most prominent exponents of that trend?


I am going to side step your question a little bit and take it in a slightly different direction. When you look at lists of the most famous photographs, the majority of them always seem to stem from human suffering in the face of destruction and violence, whether it comes from a natural disaster or war or another human-caused moment of death and / or sadness.  In other words, the photographs that remain in our minds the most powerfully are the ones that transcend a particular culture and speak to the entire world because they connect us to human experience.  So whatever might be in vogue, at any particular moment, will come and go– as will all the current and popular techniques like HDR and long exposure and oversaturated color and any images that wow with coolness but have no heart.  All of these are merely photographic parlor tricks.  What speaks to everyone is the human experience, and photography will always be bound to those captured moments that we think best express the human condition: its tragedies, its sufferings, its victories, its pains, its joys.  My work, unfortunately, does not fit into this category.  It is too bound to the parlor tricks of long exposure and infrared, but I do hope that something of the human search for the contemplation of solitude emanates from my images.


6. You have mentioned the influence of various literary figures in shaping up your photographic vision. How and what type of influence you received from them?


Poetry is an art bound to language, bound to the actual, as it, at the same time, reaches for expression beyond the confines of its own actual words.  I make my living teaching composition at a community college in San Francisco, and many of my students, when first reading poetry, leap to what the language means before they ever figure out what it simply says. Whenever one wishes to ponder the “other” of an “actual,” one must always begin with that actual.  For example, a poem about a road will always be about a road no matter what one might conclude about the possibilities beyond that very simple actual road.  I enjoy photography, in part, because an image can express something beyond the confines of what has actually been photographed, but one is always grounded in the actual of the image. 


But all of that said, poets such as George Oppen, Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Gary Snyder, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorine Niedecker, Mary Oliver, Keats, Wordsworth, Yeats, and many others have touched my thoughts in rather profound ways.  Novelists and essayists such as Milan Kundera, J. M. Coetzee, James Joyce, Annie Dillard, Emerson, Thoreau, William Faulkner, Marilynne Robinson, George Mackay Brown, Shakespeare, and many others have inspired me for many different reasons.  In fact, the reasons and ways that these poets and writers have influenced me are so varied it would make no sense to explain exactly how.  Their work courses through my veins and ends up being expressed in ways that I am never entirely conscious of.  But, in the end, isn’t any attempt to express oneself creatively bound to the creative output of the works that one has experienced? 


7. In your pictures, we usually find, dark, deserted places with a solitary figure. What does it show? An innate feeling of solitude, an escapism from a material world or feeling of frailty of human against grandeur of nature?


I understand your choice of words such as dark and deserted, for the tones in my images are often dark and I frame them in such way that they seem desolate, but the connotations of both those words imply the possibility of something lonely and sad, two states of mind that are the furthest from my mind in these images, both in the experience of taking them and the experience of processing them.  I seek silence.  I find that silence in solitude.  And, in that solitude, sometimes I ponder, sometimes I ruminate, and sometimes I try to simply just exist and stare out at whatever is before me.  I hope those images express that in at least some way.


8. Why do you prefer black and white pictures or landscapes only?


I suppose I feel that truth resonates in the contrasts of black and white, in the folds of its middle grays.  However, as lovely or silly as that might sound to someone, I suppose, in the end, that I prefer black and white because I truly and very simply prefer black and white photography.  It has everything to do with the mood, with the tonal possibilities, with the many avenues of interpretation.   In a lot of ways, the photograph, in my mind, is bound to its beginnings in monochrome.  Color is wonderful. And there is much amazing color work, but it simply has little appeal to me.  I cannot express myself organically through it.  All of my color images feel forced, rushed, unnatural. 


I prefer photographing the landscape, especially the sea, because this is where I find my solitude, the silence that I yearn to find, the silence I need to remain sane. I have lived near the sea all of my life– and I feel a very deep connection to it and whether I am taking photos or not I must return to it often, if only to simply sit and look at its waves, its rocks, its repetitions.


9. You have mentioned a few photographers who influenced you. Do you still keep learning from the work of masters or do you feel they hinder and blunt your innate personal vision?


I love looking at photos.  In many ways, I enjoy the work of others even more than I enjoy making my own.  And while I have most certainly been influenced by enjoying many other photographers’ work, I have never copied them– and have rarely ever emulated anyone’s work.  I try very hard to be as unique as I can.  That said– so many other photographers are far more proficient at long exposures and infrared than I will ever be, but I still hope that my photos are at least somewhat unique. Cole Thompson, a photographer whose work I most certainly admire, has embraced a life of photography celibacy and will not look at the work of others for fear that he will be tempted to try things, to be subconsciously influenced by things, that he admires in their work.He wants to keep his vision uniquely to himself and his own evolution and processes.  I understand this, but I would rather stop taking photos than give up looking at the work of others.  I find great pleasure in witnessing the amazing volume of creativity available in this world.  In fact, this is the great pleasure of online media.  One has, at his or her fingertips, access to millions of images, and, with some fine tuning, one can easily find all kinds of great work in a myriad of genres.


However, one of the dark sides to photo sharing sites is that many people are far, far more concerned about getting their photos seen than ever taking the time to enjoy the amazing work of those around them.   Photography, as I have already said, is an ongoing dialog.  I truly believe that one should take part in that conversation.


10. Do you feel photography influences one’s personality as literature and other genres of art do? How it has changed your own personality and world view.


This is an interesting question, and a difficult one to answer.  I am most certainly influenced by photography.  For me, the experience of leaving home to go be myself is the greatest allure of the photography experience. I certainly do see things differently.  I am far more aware of framing, of composition, and I spend a lot of time staring at the sea or a hillside while taking images.  Long exposures require one to wait and during that waiting period I ponder a lot of different things– and sometimes I practice just simply existing, just being part of the landscape.  As I wander around in my daily life, I often see compositions unfold before me.


11. In one of your interviews, you mentioned yourself as some one in search of a moment of solitude midst incessant sounds? This comment is interesting and shows a sensitive soul and tender heart. How does photography help you to achieve that moment of solitude?


There is a curious silence that resides in the folds of noise that surround us.  One cannot, of course, hear that silence.  But one, I do believe, can photograph it.  Or at least I am trying to. 


 12. What is your photography routine? How much time you spend in it and how you are able to manage it with your busy professional life?


My job as a community college English teacher and my role as a husband and a father dominate the majority of my time, so photography has to be the expression that I turn to in my spare time, but I do try to make as much spare time for it as I possibly can.  Fortunately, my wife is, within reason, very supportive of my photographic pursuits. There is not a day that goes by that I do not at least look over images that I am working on.  My work is very weather dependent.  The weather needs to be foggy, misty, cloudy, or rainy  for me to go out and take images– and in general I work the hour or two before, during and shortly after a sunset.  I wish I could wake up more easily in the early morning and get out for the sunrise, for the light is quite wonderful at that time.     


13. What do you think are the benefits of social media in promotion of today’s artist? There is a frequent complaint that most of the celebrities are not personally present on media. Their publicity managers keep them alive on social media. How you can manage so much time on social media?


Your choice of the verb promotion suggests monetizing and self gain– or, in other words, self interest, which I think, in the end, is the main purpose of all social media.  We broadcast ourselves to the world.  I think, in the end, we yearn for attention, and online media has offered all that are interested a way to promote their existence, sometimes to the point of excess. I am not criticizing that fact– only emphasizing it.  I am, naturally, as guilty of this as most, but even though I have, from time to time, succumbed to the pleasures of gaining the attention of others, this is not my real goal.  Yet if one takes images, one is likely not to be satisfied to just leave the images on the computer or the prints in a box.  One wants to be seen. I have spoken to a lot of different people about this.  Indeed, it certainly does not make much sense to create a body of work that no one will ever see.  I don’t have much money (American community college teachers are not paid all that much), so the temptation to make a few dollars here and there to help pay for new equipment is desirable and quite tempting, but I refuse to run out and promote myself beyond sharing my images for anyone who wishes to view them.  As a result, I have the worst possible marketing plan for my work: to simply create images and see if anyone notices them.  Surprisingly, from time to time, a few people do notice what I am doing. 


 I manage the time I manage on social media because I love photography– and, as I said before, I love the photography of others as much as I love creating my own. Social media is meant, by design and title, to be social.  It is meant to be interactive (even though it is all too often very one-sided). I enjoy chatting with people.  I enjoy expressing my admiration for images that grab my attention.  These things are part of the whole photography experience for me, so I make the necessary time as I can.


Like many, many people, I grew up in a world that had no Internet, so I am often suspicious of it. 


14. What are your future plans in photography? 


I am just going to keep making my little slices of silence.


15. Lastly any other lesson/advice you would like to give to an aspiring photographer.


Simply do.  Take loads of photographs.  Do things that don’t make any sense just to see what you get.  Enjoy the work of others … actually and truly enjoy the works of others … for that pleasure will yield an appreciation for photography in general and that, in turn, will help you to understand more deeply why you are interested in it.


Finally some more fantastic pictures from Nathan wirth


And last but not the least


  1. Mary Anne Perez says:

    I would like to contact you about possibly using one of your photos on the cover of a new poetry chapbook. Could you contact me please?

  2. shazimalik says:

    Do you wanna contact me or Nathan Worth. If you meant Nathan Worth. I may contact him and help you in your effort

  3. shazimalik says:

    Mary Anne Perez:
    By the way you may contact him on his e mail address.
    In case you find any problem, please contact me again and I would send him a personal message on g+ for any alternative way of contact
    With regards

  4. […] Nathan Wirth en monastry (EN [19f]), […]

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