From time to time, one stumbles across an image which captures with penetrating clarity a single moment in time. All drama has been lifted away and what remains is the visual equivalent of water from a crystalline mountain stream. Viewing photographer/poet Angela Wahlgren’s work, one gets this sense entirely.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
AW: I was born in Germany, and stayed there through my college education as well as for a couple of years thereafter as a high school teacher. Later I traveled to France, Holland, Sweden, and India to study yoga. I did not carry a camera during my travels and yet the pictures of those experiences are the most indelible ones in my memory.
When did you first start taking pictures?
AW: Taking photographs has always been natural for me and runs in the family. My father was an avid photographer. I shot film then and enjoyed developing my black and white images in my basement lab. It was not until about five years ago that I felt compelled to try my hand at macro photography. Traveling to exciting locations is neither within my budget nor do I have the time for it, so I have to find my subjects within my neighborhood. Discovering beauty in unexpected places feels like a thrilling treasure hunt to me. It makes me feel like a detective, always on the look-out for some tiny, hidden and unexpected beauty.
Who/what would you say are your greatest artistic influences?
AW: My greatest artistic influence is of a spiritual nature. My intention and desire to experience the unity of creation lead me to meditation as a state of being. There is certainly great benefit in sitting cross-legged with closed eyes while meditating. For me, however, the state of inner peace and balance has to permeate my entire being while I do the most mundane things. To learn that is my goal in life and that is what informs my photography.
Macro photography seems to be a particularly strong suit of yours. Were you specially trained in the field or did your talent unfold naturally?
AW: I am self-taught. Photography for me is about catching joy, pun intended. We are surrounded by the joyful expressions of beauty, be they tiny, secretive, and hidden (requiring a macro lens) or the ones visible to the naked eye. Either way, the eye has to be perceptive. In addition, the mind and heart have to be open to allow that beauty to make a connection with our sense of wonder and appreciation. Photography for me is not about copying an image I see in reality but to extract the meaning of that image and bring it to the forefront in the final photograph. What touched my heart when seeing the object has to become the main statement which merely comes dressed in a beautiful exterior. The viewer, in turn, will latch on to that meaning via the beauty, therefore making a connection with the same joy I felt when discovering it. Thus the word “catching” is so appropriate. We can catch joy even more easily than we can catch a cold and we can “give” it to others, too!
What kind of equipment do you use?
AW: I use a Canon 100mm macro lens. I would like to add that the photographic equipment has to be adequate but not state of the art to achieve wonderful results. It’s the one behind the camera who mostly accounts for the success of an image. So don’t let the lack of money keep you from being a happy and flourishing photographer!
Can you tell us the story behind this piece?
AW:The story behind this image is very pertinent to [Philadelphia’s current winter]. I did not allow the enduring cold to coop me up inside entirely. I ventured only as far as my backyard to find alluring beauty. Beauty that was struggling to stay alive just as we at times struggle to remain positive and hopeful during tough times. The ice-encased buds spoke to me as loudly and clearly about faith, certitude and determination as if, within their cold prison, they had spoken into a microphone that was connected to a loudspeaker inside the shrub. I was simply listening to them.
What’s the best artistic advice you’ve ever received?
AW: The best artistic advice I received was from a friend who is a painter. She comforted me when I had a lull in my artistic endeavors. I found it depressing to go through periods when I had no desire to pick up my camera. The complete lack of creative purpose was shocking. She explained to me the normalcy of those phases for anyone with artistic aspirations. Especially when you work full-time in a non-creative job five days a week, it is possible to get swallowed up by that from time to time. No worries, it is just a break from which we can rise with renewed energy like the Phoenix from the ashes.
What words of wisdom would you pass along to burgeoning photographers?
AW: I would encourage those new at photography to take pictures at all times — mostly without a camera, though. Connect to your environment by keeping your sense of wonder alive and snap pictures in your mind wherever you are. See the play of light, expressions on faces, the treasure in the dirt, pleasing shapes and lines, see the unexpected and delight in it. Being a photographer will enrich your entire life if you train your eye and open your heart.