ECR: So “Wenzel” is quite an unusual name. Where does it come from?
Wenzel: Actually, I've learned it's not as unusual as one would think. It's no Bob but it's apparently quite common in Germany, and I once read somewhere there are a few thousand Wenzels in the US, as well. Still, I've yet to meet another Wenzel, myself.
But in the spirit of full disclosure I’ll admit to you it is in fact a pseudonym in homage to one of my idols David Jones who traded his name in for the much more enigmatic David Bowie. Sure, it may have been to avoid confusion with the guy in The Monkeys, but I still thought it was very cool back when I was a young struggling musician of twenty years. I had this reoccurring dream as a child, one where it was sort of a take on the German fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, and in that dream my name was always “Wenzel” for some reason (perhaps because it was German sounding and it's a German fairy tale?).
My pseudonym was born easily from that dream, as if it were meant to be. I contemplated changing it back to my given name for a minute, but almost fifteen years of band-mates, friends, and a marriage and divorce later, it became apparent I was past the point of no return, and I was destined to be “Wenzel” forever.
I can't pull back the curtain entirely and reveal to you my true identity, but I'll give you (and your readers) a little hint: my mother originally named me after the “outspoken Beatle.”
ECR: As a photographer, are you a fan of taking more photos, or fewer? Do you get “the shot” every single time?
Well, it's come full circle. When I first began building a portfolio a couple of years ago, I was shooting and posting almost everything I saw, and every object or shape was “art” through the camera to me. From a little stick on the sidewalk, to an ugly dumpster, I must have had a thousand photos of crows and pigeons and I swore every shot I took was golden to me. “I'm a damned genius!” I thought (haha).
My photography completely took a turn however with me discovering lights and modifiers for the first time. From that first day-for-night photograph I became totally obsessed with controlling/creating light and manipulating environments to recreate images and ideas from past written stories, illustrations, and childhood influences I'd archived in my journals and mind/imagination. From that point on, all my street photography began to look like boring vacation photos to me.
With that turn, nowadays I rarely shoot sans intention and the magic captures are much more few and far between, and less and less of anything I do makes its way on to my portfolio. Sort of backwards I know, but once I had created something that fulfilled a grander vision, those sticks on sidewalks and bird photos just didn't turn me on anymore. To be honest, I'm a little sad that I use my camera less casually in general, but it's just the way it is now.
I suppose that could also come full circle as well, we’ll see. I'm feeling a little inspired lately with the leap in cell phone camera technology – it's making it hard to resist shooting those “crows and dumpsters,” but I expect my portfolio to be virtually “crow free” by this time next year. I'm planning some bigger story shoots, hopefully refining my portfolio, and slowly nudging out the older, less ambitious stuff.
ECR: You're obviously a fan of the zombie genre. What would you do if a zombie apocalypse hit?
Wenzel: The zombies I’ve met are big hams (and model time-for-print, by the way). So, relying heavily on the stereotype that zombies are brainless idiots, I'd probably offer them free headshots, and while they’re distracted have my assistant dole out some real shots to the head.
ECR: You can obviously draw, looking at your “digistrations.” It's unusual to see somebody so adept in two different mediums. Where did you learn to draw? Which came first?
Wenzel: I think all the flavours and colours of art are without medium. Only the tools to create them change. I believe if one is inclined to create art by any tool, whether it be voice, pencil, camera, or trumpet, crossing over into other artistic mediums should come pretty naturally.
It’s finding the time to spend mastering the new tools that's the trick. Drawing definitely came first to me (after fingerpainting) because the pencil found its way into my hands the earliest, but it's also become my least practised and most taken for granted of the few mediums I've explored. I used to be much better at it.
I was an art student and musician as a child, but if cameras, film, and developing were affordable and easily attainable as a kid (in the '70s and '80s) I'm positive it would have been added to my repertoire back then. These kids today just don't know how lucky they are to have all the new creative tools at their disposal – it's mind-blowing really. [he says in “old-man voice”]
ECR: Tell us the story behind the photo narrative “Hobo Holiday.” Where did the idea come from? Have you ever fantasized about riding the rails?
Wenzel: Well, I live in the city (Vancouver) now but I grew up by “the rails” in a place very much like that Britannia Beach shoot location. I often dreamt of riding the rails out of that little one horse town I grew up in (Goldstream, BC, Canada), so that childhood imagery may very well have been subconscious fodder for that shoot. In fact I'm sure it was, now that I think about it.
My good friend Shawn (the hobo), inspired the character for that shoot before it was even conceived. Shawn's not a real hobo but he's quite a unique guy and genius musician (with a great beard I swear he can grow in about three days).
Shawn really lives life on his own terms, as outside of conventional modern society and “the system” as one possibly can, while still actually living in it out of necessity. We met on a movie set years ago and I always knew I wanted collaborate on a shoot with him.
I really believe that if the subject projects, or relates to, the character of a concept, it lends tremendously to the authentication of the final result, and to the character/subject embodying the spirit of the story. So yeah, Shawn's not an actual hobo, but that is really “him” shining through in that shoot. And that's where the idea was born.
ECR: When you're not creating, what are you consuming? (I.e. social media, icecream, cigarettes, oxygen...)
Wenzel: Mantra: Coffee, coffee, movies, music, exercise, repeat.
ECR: In your opinion, what's the most important issue facing humanity right now?
Wenzel: Well, I read somewhere there’s an impending bacon shortage…
ECR: You like to explore themes. Are there some bubbling in your brain right now? Can we expect to see any new ones soon?
Wenzel: Yes, always, and hopefully many!
I've really enjoyed shooting outdoors, but unfortunately it takes the planets to align to do so. Being a bit of a mad scientist I have to admit I'm not the most efficient manager of time, people, and orchestrating my efforts. I'm now in the process of planning some interior concepts and photographic illusions. After all, I do live in Vancouver where it rains just a little bit, so shooting outdoors all the time just isn’t practical. I intend to focus the most on my stories going forward, but I’d like to move the themes in a much stronger, thought provoking (dare I say shocking?) direction.
ECR: If you could be remembered for one photograph, which one would it be, and why?
Wenzel: I haven't taken it yet.
But one of my favourite photographs (so far) is one I call “the searcher” (fifth image in, on my website's home page). I love it because I happened to have my camera on a tripod in front of a San Francisco church one evening when a little old woman wearing an oversized suit jacket wandered perfectly center frame and stood almost completely still for an eight second exposure.
Being a bit of a control freak who generally plots out and premeditates everything (nowadays), it truly was a great, spontaneous, storytelling capture for me. The little old woman truly elevated what was bound to be an average photograph and made it more profound and interesting. I also got some wonderful colours and light artifacts from the passing cars etc. over the long exposure. I didn't really need to do any post to that photo, since it was so good out-of-camera.
ECR: Have you had mentors in your life? What are the best three things that they taught you?
Wenzel: No real mentors, no. I didn't know my father (that's an entirely different interview), but I was inspired by my idols, and they became sort of allegorical or figurative mentors to me. Artists such as David Bowie, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Helmut Newton, and Michel Gondry taught me to trust that there are absolutely no creative or commercial limitations or rules one should ever obey, or let constrain them, while creating.
The likes of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, and Woody Allen taught me just how powerful it can be to reveal, and even broadcast, one's flaws through their work. That true art comes from the inside out, and anything but that honesty will most likely ring insincere or hollow, especially over time. Lastly, I'd say from all those artists (and many more) whom I've admired, I’ve learned to always dare to be different and hold on to your individuality. In other words, “always pose to the flash of your own camera,” so to speak.Wenzel's Online Portfolio on 4ormat.