Photographic Transformation Through Handmade Processes


Brady Wilks. Courtesy of Brady Wilks.


‘A Poem Could Best Describe’ (Photography, Acrylic Gel Lift, Transfer on Wood, 7.5"×7.5"). Courtesy of Brady Wilks.

Artist, educator and Academy alumnus Brady Wilks will publish his first book, Alternative Photographic Processes: Crafting Handmade Images, with Focal Press later this year. Wilks had honed his skills for years as a working artist starting in Southern California and then the mid-Atlantic area before earning his M.F.A. in photography through the Academy’s online program. He creates his art through alternative and historical photographic processes like acrylic gel lift/transfers on wood or wet plate collodion positives on metal and glass.

“In the work that I do, I have to select a process that transforms the imagery,” said Wilks. “Part of the transformation is in the fact that it’s handmade. There’s something that exists between my hand and the thing that I’m making. I feel resolved when I’ve crafted something by hand.”

Wilks honors handmade photographic processes as opposed to click and print, but first and foremost the process must support the image. “Otherwise my relationship to the concept is just a novelty,” he said. “It just looks like the process with no conceptual depth.”

Wilks creates symbolic and sometimes metaphorical landscapes using handmade processes to shift the imagery out of reality and into something of more of a dreamlike state. “They’re less about photography and more about an image or a look,” he said. “It’s not about reality or depicting reality, it’s about creating something that fits my concept. It has to be symbolic, dreamlike and moody. I have to manipulate it in some way.”


‘Giants and the Dynamic’ (Photography, Acrylic Gel Lift, Transfer on Wood, 7.5"×7.5"). Courtesy of Brady Wilks.


‘Echoes with the Wind’(Photography, Acrylic Gel Lift, Transfer on Wood, 7.5"×7.5"). Courtesy of Brady Wilks.

When people ask Wilks what he does, he says he’s an artist. If asked further, he says photography and printmaking. Much of his work focuses on the special relationship he has to the land around him, which you can see in his series Soul of the Land.

“Going out into nature was an escape for me growing up,” said Wilks, whose mom encouraged him to seek out nature when he was young. The connection grew over time. Wilks will find that as he is setting up a shot, subtle things will happen like a flock of birds flies into his shot at just the right moment or the horses line up on the top of the hill.

“It’s really about healing. It’s cathartic,” said Wilks. Though when a viewer looks at the artwork they might not necessarily see it as his therapy.

“I at least try to put them down a path to be introspective,” he said. “There’s a little bit of melancholy. The first step is for me, it’s cathartic, the second being that I want viewers to reflect on an emotional connection to the work.”

Alternative Photographic Processes teaches techniques, both analog and digital, allowing artists to bring a personal touch through manipulation of a photograph, the negative and the print.

“It’s one more book that people in alternative process can have as a resource,” said Wilks. “It’s about supporting the alt community.”

The book can be used by those who are already interested in alternative processes, however it is mostly for people who are looking to get away from the monotony of similar formats like cell phone and DSLR photos. He’d also love for the book to be used by students and educators.

“I want them to look at the book for alternative methods,” said Wilks. “I want them to be able to bring their work into the physical world and manipulate it even further.”

Artist and friend Jill Enfeld, who has her own published books on alternative photographic processes, wrote the introduction to Wilks’ book, which has a dense collection of artists’ work, including Dan Estabrook, Sally Mann and many others.

“That has helped the book be more comprehensive and provide more examples of what is possible,” said Wilks. “Hopefully readers will take what they learn from the book to transform their own art.”


The cover of ‘Alternative Photographic Processes: Crafting Handmade Images’ by Brady Wilks. Courtesy of Brady Wilks.