Teaching Photography with Wilson Hurst

Month after month, we’ve been seeing a steady stream of creative, abstract photographs in our Flickr group from one particular person: Wilson Hurst. Most of these are long exposures, featuring light, smoke, or a spinning “fireball” or sorts (we’re not sure exactly how he does it). His photos are so impressive that one of them usually ends up in our monthly photo contest – indeed he’s in it again this month. Turns out that Wilson is a photographic instructor at the University of Central Missouri. Dig in to find out more about this creative photographic artist and teacher…

wilson hurst

Wilson Hurst

Name: Wilson Hurst

Hometown: Warrensburg, Missouri

Tell us about yourself.

I am a philosophical artist working in the medium of photography, leveraging the intrinsic unique characteristics of energy, matter, space, and time to explore the boundaries of physical and transcendent existence. In this capacity, I exhibit images in juried shows and select art galleries. Additionally, as an integral part of my artistic practice, I teach photography and imaging science at the University of Central Missouri. Committed to the concept of life-long learning, last August I earned an MFA in visual art from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

How did you get started in photography? 

While earning a B.S. in Biology from the University of South Carolina in the early 1970’s, I became interested in visually representing the natural world. Upon graduation, I became a pilot in the Navy, and began photographing in earnest, to record and reflect upon my associated travel. During this time, photography was used as a tool for exploration and enhanced observation, and creative expression through image making became something of an obsession.

What’s the best thing about being a photography instructor? Worst? 

It is extremely gratifying to have a positive impact on a young person’s life, enabling them to realize their dreams and potential.  Schools are incubators that provide the potential for accelerated learning, offering opportunities that otherwise would not exist. All education, however, must ultimately be self-education. Everyone develops differently and at varied rates depending on both motivation and exposure to stimuli. By presenting abundant relevant information in an environment of exploration, my goal is to proffer stimulation to all my students on a daily basis. It is sad when some students are less than engaged and squander their fortuitous opportunity to learn.

Were you shooting professionally before you were an instructor? 

I have been shooting continuously in support of my fine art practice since graduating from RIT with degrees in Professional Photography and Printing Technology in the early 1980’s. Additionally, much of my professional career prior to teaching was in the role of imaging consultant, helping graphic art companies improve their processes and efficiencies. I worked at the executive level in a variety of organizations where I recommended and directed the implementation of technology across the entire production process, from content creation to distribution. In addition, I provided my photographic, artistic, and creative skills for corporate communications and product development.

How has being an instructor changed your approach to photography? 

It has made me more committed to evolving with rapidly changing technology and to sustaining a steady rate of creative image production. As an educator, I respect my obligation to act as a role model and to impart desirable behaviors in my students. I take this responsibility seriously and consider teaching to be a noble mission. It is not about celebrity, status, recognition, or acclaim; but rather, it is about inspiration, discovery, expression, and growth.

Do you teach more about the business side or more about the art side? 

Our photography program is professional in scope, and thus we offer classes in aesthetics, technology, and business. Over 11 years of teaching, I have been the instructor of record of classes in all these areas.

If you weren’t teaching photography, what would you be doing?  

Perhaps allocating more time to my fine art practice, and pursuing more education for myself as a student. In this regard, I am researching available PhD programs in visual art, both in the states and abroad. The artist acts as a selective content collector. In this role, the artist’s job is to accumulate ideas, and one of the best ways to assemble ideas is to read and assimilate. I seek deep intellectual stimulation. Recognizing that nothing is totally original, I desire to expand my genealogy of ideas by exposure to the best things that humanity has done. An ongoing motivation is to add something relatively new to the visual lexicon by pushing the envelope of my understanding.

If you could shoot anything/anyone/anywhere, what would it be? 

For me an innate need to create seems less a subjective decision and more like a life-sustaining requirement, analogous to breathing or eating. This inherent motivation sensitizes me to circumstances and information relating to that motive. Thus, as a photographer I consider visual sensation more munificent than other stimuli. When capturing imagery, selecting from the many available contingencies constitutes adaptation to the intrinsic need for visual conception. From my perspective, the entire universe is a support system providing an abundance of raw material. My desire is to select quintessence light patterns and fashion them into worthy expressions, exploring the fundamental issues of what, how, and why anything exists.

What would you rate as your biggest accomplishment in your career? 

My willingness to continue to grow and develop, never resting on any past success. Rather than consider the production of art as the goal, I am more concerned with how the process and production of art affects my thinking, awareness and understanding. The process of photography is of course temporal. Radiant energy is recorded by carefully controlling shutter duration. The resultant images represent how something existed at a defined point in time. To me this interplay of slicing up time while stopping time with a photographic record is significant to consider. To support this, I publish a new image every day on my web site, www.latentsifier.com, along with a poem and commentary relative to each quotidian representation. The time stream flows only one way. As it flows, all things change, although the alteration may occur at different rates. As I photograph, I frequently consider the mysteries of a non-spatial continuum in which events occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future, and this concept is manifest in the Image Stream. It is the temporal order that opens the future.

One camera and one lens for the rest of your life – what would it be? 

Cameras and lenses are just tools. I enjoy using all of them. The potential of a box camera has not yet been fully realized.

Words of advice for those wishing to become a full time pro? 

Follow your passion!

Please share 5 of your photos and tell us about them. 



From the “Star Trails” project.

Clay in the hands of a cosmic sculptor. Subjectivity situated on the surface of planet earth, with visual access to the enormity of space, a winter night offers rewarding celestial proceedings. It is nice to apply the progressive aspects of our world directly to artistic practice. Progression seems to be another concept in a universal construct that defines existence, as all things travel in time. The velocity of a body not subject to external forces remains constant. Anything stationary actually is simply moving at the same speed as the observer. Agency means taking responsibility for your own interpretations.

Full of gravitationally influenced structures associated with relative position in space and time, the observable universe is isotropic. This means that phenomena governing appearances operate under the same physical laws for whomever and wherever an individual witness may happen to be. In the space-time continuum, the past is identical to the distance of an energy source from the spectator. Looking up at the night sky is akin to directly viewing history.



From the “Space Writing” project.

Substance of form, night photography takes on an augmented significance with light painting. An otherwise ordinary venue can be transformed into a brilliantly surrealistic environment with science fiction insinuation. Specific incidental attributes of entities are necessary for distinctiveness and functionality. Visual art helps to identify these essential characteristics, working with a language unconstrained by words. Verbal definitions often circulate to end up in a spiraling whirlpool of infinite regress. It is feasible that there is no meaning to existence beyond what meaning we allocate. Art creation contributes to the realization of dreams and aspirations.



From the “Grinder” project.

The “Grinder” image series straddles the division between representation and abstraction. By photographing the residuals of a creative process, the images are a strict depiction of an accessible condition. Yet because the mechanics of the process are not widely identified, most viewers are unable to recognize the referent. Although the photographic medium is unavoidably a record of existing energy patterns, confidence in its documentary veracity can be exploited.

To develop greater control over the characteristics of a camera viewfinder surface, I learned how to grind various glass surfaces against themselves. This produces microscopic conchoidal fractures as the abrasive rolls about between the two surfaces and removes material from both. After completing a specific lapping job, but before cleaning off the surfaces, I am letting the water evaporate and then photographing the resultant patterns of residual substance.

Frequently processes are contained within processes, playing out both in the smallest details and simultaneously on a grand universal scale. Attentive awareness of procedural decisions and ramifications informs the result, which in turn affects the next iterative cycle. Action and interrogation are intimately linked to form intentionality, without need for an elaborately defined narrative history. Infrequent unexpected flashes of inspiration, intuitive leaps from a concrete foundation of information, punctuate persistence. These images conceptualize creativity.

Universal forces repeat at different scales, manifesting as similar natural pattern formations. Things do exist outside of the reach of our minds, yet we can only observe existence in the context of personal cognitive interpretation. After processing, all experience is immaterial, spiritual rather than physical. The creative process includes a degree of mysticism balanced between careful control and unexpected serendipity. The dynamic interplay between these dichotomous spheres of influence is a great source of satisfaction, providing evolving cognitive interest over a lifetime of engagement. With each new unpredicted discovery, process control is subsequently redefined, opening up yet more implementation potential.



From the “Smoke” project.

A cloud of fine transitory particles in continuous motion, the instantaneous photographic act transforms the insubstantial. The shapes and forms resulting from combustion are infinitely inexhaustible. Empirical observations of phenomena are based on contrast differentiation established from a sensory perspective.

This smoke shooting session employed a continuous white diffused fluorescent light and a small strobe light set at cross-positions. The particulate patterns rising in the air generated from the burning incense are empirical evidence invoking concepts expressible through distinct visual expressions. Although existence consists of nature plus time plus chance, these constructs have repeating parameters that place boundaries on variable iterations.

Construction of meaning, recontextualization of the familiar helps formulate creative effort as an application of skill and imagination. Art is form and content, but lacks a satisfactory definition. In a constant state of change, reaction to both the intended and actual messages is necessarily subjective. As a subject, is it possible to minimize the possibility of undue influence?

Point Source Filigree

Point Source Filigree

From the “Physiogram” project.

Photographing the consequence of the curvature of space-time that governs the motion of inertial objects, logically the existence of gravity seems to support the philosophical concept of universals. The problem of universals questions their status: do universals exist independently of their particular manifestations, or do they exist only in things and never apart from things? Without mass, is there no gravitation?

In light of the contemporary experience of pluralism, the viability of the universal still has currency. Core questions about reality and being human are both related but separate. Conclusions inferred from multiple observations may be tested by additional observations. Our understanding of existence necessarily is a function of self-orientation and context. Reality is independent of philosophy.

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