We had the good fortune of connecting with Bruce Wilson II and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Bruce, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I was born and raised in Arizona. Specifically in Mesa, which, as you know, is one of the cities in the valley surrounding Phoenix, AZ. My family was pretty big. Out of five kids, I was right in the middle with an older sister and brother proceeding me and a younger sister and brother following me. The five of us are all very close in age too. Despite that, each one of us has vastly different personalities. I’m sure that didn’t make things easy for my parents. Interesting maybe, but not easy. As a kid, I loved being a part of a large family. With my brothers and sisters being so close to my age, I had my crew everywhere I went. We looked out for each other.
I am incredibly grateful to have grown up in a creative family. My parents fostered creativity, and my brothers and sisters overflowed with it. We were always experimenting with paint, drawing, pastels, watercolors, charcoals, colored pencils, film photography, music, even creating rudimentary voice-overs and skits from a young age. I remember just being in awe of my siblings. To me, they were the people you read about or watched made-for-TV biopics featuring them. For example, when my sister was in 6th grade, she wrote a complex music piece on the piano. Something far too advanced for someone her age to be playing, let alone writing! It was one of the most beautiful songs I ever heard. I remember hiding on the stairs listening to her play. She would stop if she knew anyone was listening, but her song was one of my favorites. Growing up surrounded by people like that leaves its mark. To this day, I am inspired continuously by brothers and sisters.
There was a lot of variety too. My siblings and I all have very different personalities. Because of this, sometimes we would clash. When we were young, a lot at first, but the clashes became infrequent as we grew older. That experience taught me a lot about building relationships with others, especially regarding the importance of honor and respect. My siblings and I always loved each other, but looking back, I think we fought because each one of us couldn’t see past our thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Myself especially! When someone would do or say something we didn’t understand or that was merely different from what we’ve said or done, we would become critical, callous, or even cruel—but showing honor and respect changes that.
Eventually, we saw it was worthwhile to honor each other by attempting to understand one another. Then, to respect each other enough to listen carefully to each other. Not just stay quiet while the other person is speaking. Instead, we had to learn how to turn off the dialog in our heads to hear the words spoken by others.
To this day, I carry this lesson with me. Although I still have not fully mastered it, I can see how this attitude has helped me maintain healthy relationships. Even professionally, honor and respect play a vital role in understanding my peers’ and clients’ perspectives. It also helps me not take myself too seriously by getting frustrated when the need arises to change direction or learn something new.
Being the middle child in a large family has also made me aware of my need for balance. In my life, this need manifests itself in many ways. Artistically I often find myself exploring themes, textures, and ideas that can beautifully balance each other—light and shadow, near and far, rough and smooth-dynamic serenity.
This need for balance has also affected my approach towards my latest artistic journey, photography. Online there is no shortage of discussions about whether “real” photographers should use programs like Photoshop to enhance their work. Purest will say that a real photographer will only enhance their images using in-camera settings. They will point to the skill and patience required to manufacture light or wait for the right moment to capture an image. To a degree, they’re right.
It does take considerable skill to learn to do these things. However, for me, this approach seems unbalanced. It doesn’t acknowledge the level of skill and patience it takes to navigate the digital darkroom skillfully. To pay attention to the subtle nuances of light, focus, and texture to enhance an image so convincingly that it appears to be unaltered at first glance.
Maybe thinking this way makes me a fake photographer, but as an artist, as a person, I have to find the balance. Honestly, I don’t want to solely rely on my skills with a camera to create beautiful images any more than I want to handicap my photography by relying on Photoshop. Instead, my goal is to be skillful and proficient in both.
So far, that has meant putting in years of practice to understand the principles of light while learning to navigate the digital darkroom. I’ve encountered failure many times and expect I will continue to as I work towards my goal. But I believe accepting failure is necessary to grasp the lessons it teaches. Besides, it’s part of what makes a creative journey exciting!
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My wife Ashley and I started our business, Kindle Bard Studio, in August of 2018. Our vision was for it to start primarily as a photography studio and grow from there. However, over these past few months, we saw the need to focus most of our efforts on developing our studio’s artistic side.
Event photography took a significant hit with the pandemic. I’m glad to say that, despite challenges, we have been able to make considerable progress. In July, we made a major pivot by launching our new and improved online art gallery. It’s designed so that our clients can easily shop for art in the safety of their own homes using an augmented reality tool that utilizes a device’s camera so that visitors can preview the artwork on their walls. There’s even a service where visitors can upload and order prints of their own images on high-quality materials like canvas, metal, and acrylics.
Implementing this new direction has been a significant change for us. Ash and I have learned a lot over these past few months. For one, we have seen the need to be adaptable and willing to try and learn new things.
As far as our art, between Ash and me, our work is pretty versatile. Combining traditional photography techniques along with artistic works created in the digital darkroom allows for this. From me, we have pieces that are clearly photography and pieces that blur the line between photography and abstract, surreal, and impressionist art. I would say that versatility what makes our studio unique.
For instance, we both have nature photos in our online gallery. These require very little altering in the digital darkroom if any. So a person looking at such images would quickly identify that this is a photograph. Much like when hired for a graduation shoot or family portraits, the images produced are clearly within the realms of photography.
However, when I’m using my camera to express an idea, concept, or tell a story, my approach changes. When planning such a shoot, I know I will be using the digital darkroom afterward. I try to balance my time in the digital darkroom to complete an idea rather than fixing mistakes that I should have caught during the shoot. Spending a lot of time fixing errors post-shoot not only waste time, but it saps creative energy.
For this reason, these such shoots take considerably longer to plan and execute. The truth is, the better the photo, the better my idea will begin to take shape in the digital darkroom. So I find myself paying closer attention to light, composition, and textures during artistic shoots. I try to visualize my direction then leave room for the effects that will be added. My goal is that they blend as seamlessly as possible with my photograph. Again with the intent of mixing photography with the fantastic, abstract, and surreal.
It’s a lot of fun, and I feel like I’m just getting started! Right now, the ideas are coming faster than I can get them out. It’s a bit frustrating and overwhelming, but also exciting and invigorating!
At first, I was the only one creating art for our studio, but recently my wife, Ashley, started creating pieces to add to our online gallery! Ash is a creative person as well, but her approach is very different from mine.
I create to relax. Ash creates when she is relaxed. There’s a significant difference between the two. I can go into the studio and spend hours creating pieces for our online gallery because it’s relaxing. For Ashley, having to go into the studio and create works to fill our online gallery is daunting. She can’t create because she isn’t relaxed, focusing on the chore. So it was a challenge finding a way she could add art to our online gallery without draining her creative energy. The solution was as simple, though.
We simply needed to make time to enjoy the unique beauty of Arizona. Ashley loves being in nature. She is most relaxed in the outdoors. So now, every month, we take a day trip and explore Arizona with our cameras in hand. Here Ash is in her element, and the stunning images she captures proves that fact.
We’re currently adding her latest images to our gallery and have received positive feedback on her pictures. This development is especially exciting because we have been receiving requests for more photos featuring the outdoors. Ashley’s images elegantly capture the personality found in the natural world while communicating her passion for the trees, sky, water, and earth.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Okay, this is a fun question! Imagining there isn’t a pandemic to worry about, here’s the week I would recommend highlighting some of the best parts of living here:
Monday – You’d have to take a day trip to visit the Grand Canyon. On the way back, you could stop in at Rock Springs Cafe to enjoy some good food and pie.
Tuesday – Spend the day resting from Monday’s trip. Then take them to Cocina Madrigal Tacos and Tequila for dinner.
Wednesday – Go to the Duce for dinner and drinks. Hang out, play a few games, then stay for Salsa Dancing.
Friday – Have a picnic at Saguaro Lake. Go home, rest, then take them to Lou Malnati’s Pizza for dinner.
Saturday – Enjoy dinner at the Culinary Dropout, then chill out enjoying drinks and games in the Yard.
At some point, either on Thursday or Sunday, I’d say make sure to take them to Pomello’s At the Orchard for either lunch or dinner.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There’s a lot of people. First, there are my parents, who always encouraged creativity. Then, of course, my incredible brothers and sisters are continually a source of inspiration. (Sidenote: Check out my little brother’s music page on Instagram @zandersauti.)
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet are my teachers. I’ve had many great teachers, but four immediately come to mind. These first two are special because they were my music teachers. Music is what drives me to create.
First, there is my first real music teacher. I don’t know her last name. I only ever knew her as Chris. That’s what she told us to call her. She taught me to play the piano. More importantly, she taught me to feel and interpret the world thru music. It wasn’t anything she said in particular; it was more how she taught us with joy, confidence, and patience. A music teacher can either cause a child to love playing music or hate it. If the teacher can teach the child to love playing music, they will be giving a gift that will continually reward them and everyone around them as they grow into an adult. Chris was the type of teacher who effectively taught us to love playing music.
Then there was Fritz. Although he never formally taught us, his generosity instilled in me that music is a gift. When I was in third grade, we visited his shop in Chicago, where he made custom violins, violas, cellos, and bass. We were enamored with the smell of rosin and wood, along with all the instruments hanging on the wall. I remember Fritz looking at each one of us and saying, pick one. My older sister picked the violin, my younger sister, the cello. My brother and I both chose the viola. Until we were in high school, he continued to make new instruments as we outgrew our old ones. My sister still has her cello. I still don’t understand what moved him to such generosity. I only hope that one day I can find a way to instill the gift of music as graciously as he did.
Next, there are two art teachers. Randall Jahn and Ron Maddison. When I attended E.V.I.T. (East Valley Institute of Technology) in the late 1990s, they were my commercial art instructors. Both Randall and Ron were great teachers. Back then, I seriously lacked the confidence to move forward. I felt incompetent and held myself back because of it. One day they said something to me that has helped me combat my negative self-image for these past 20 years. They told me,
“Bruce, it doesn’t matter what you do, just know that you’re going to be very good at it.”
I respected Randall and Ron, so hearing them say that meant more than I could express.
Alex Olegton of Alex Olegton Photography