An Eye for Detail
By Marjorie Howard
SLIDESHOW: On her daily photography excursions, Lynn Wiles finds beauty in the ordinary
At lunchtime, Lynn Wiles leaves the filing cabinets and computer screen in her office in Eaton Hall in search of a different view. She dons comfortable shoes, grabs her camera and takes a walk.
As she wanders, usually somewhere around the Mystic River watershed, the busy pace of the morning recedes. Wiles may see a branch hanging in sharp relief against the sky or sunlight sparkling on the water. She captures those moments in photographs, sometimes only a handful, other times as many as 100 shots. There is beauty, she says, in the ordinary: a plant growing alongside a river or raindrops on a car windshield.
Wiles, the department administrator for the departments of anthropology and religion in the School of Arts and Sciences, has been working at Tufts for eight years. But in her life away from the office, she is an artist and photographer. She’s exhibited her photographs in many galleries, but now exhibits online at redbubble and keeps a daily photo blog, where she has posted new photos each day for the past two years, with only a rare break. She started the blog to meet her goal of making a daily commitment to her photography.
As a child growing up in Minnesota, Wiles liked to draw. She later pursued her interest in art through photography. Originally, Wiles’ images were hand colored black and white photos, developed and printed in her darkroom.
When her children were young, she took a break from photography to start a knitwear business, and supplemented her income with freelance illustration work. She became a member of the seasonal crafts cooperative the Christmas Store, now known as the Sign of the Dove, which was located for many years in Porter Square in Cambridge. She sold her hand-loomed knitwear and acted as treasurer, learning bookkeeping and accounting skills, which helped her find other work to support her artistic interests.
At Tufts, she began her lunchtime photography strolls over two years ago. “It’s sort of like a walking meditation, observing what’s around,” she says. “I may go to the same place over and over, and there are changes because of the seasons, the weather and the light. I need to get out and away from the ringing phones, the emails dinging, the people lined up waiting to see me. I let all that go and focus on the other side of my brain.”
In 2001 she began shooting with a digital camera and started exhibiting again. Wiles’ photos often isolate fragments from the whole: a pink flower, a shimmering ripple in the river or a windowpane catching the light. “My photography has a lot to do with simplicity, finding beauty and power in simplicity,” she says. “That is partially influenced by the Scandinavian ethos I grew up with all around me in Minnesota, and from being a Quaker.”
When taking photographs, she says she is “ultra-aware,” noticing details in the water or foliage. “I have spent an amazing amount of time looking at water,” she says with a laugh. But she acknowledges that she can also be as oblivious to her surroundings as anyone else. “It’s almost an on and off switch.”
Wiles’ blog keeps her motivated and helps provide a routine. “Each morning I get up, have a cup of tea and give myself half an hour to post photos and answer comments,” she says. She also enjoys the global online community of artists known as redbubble, where artists exhibit their work, encourage one another and have the opportunity to sell their work.
As the Internet becomes the focal point for photographers, both amateur and professional, she wonders, though, about the future of her craft. “What is a snapshot and what is art? The line is blurring,” she says. “People don’t necessarily respect photography as art or craft. Everyone can take pictures with their camera phones and put them online. I’m not sure how many people care about quality anymore.”
For Wiles, though, taking time and care to make art are what guides her on her contemplative walks. As she meditates on the landscape near Tufts, she carefully searches for just the right moment, just the right detail.
Marjorie Howard can be reached at email@example.com.