INTERVIEW | CRAIG WETJEN
INTERVIEW BY CARLO OGGIONI
Within the privacy of their sheds men can hold the world at bay, often working on projects that allow life to make sense again.
This relationship between men and their private spaces motivated photographer and author Craig Wetjen into his project ‘Men and their Sheds’; a photographic registry of men in their inner sanctums expanding over five years. Craig recently sat down with Carlo Ogionni to discuss his career, the evolution of this project, and how passion becomes a book.
How long have you been working in photography?
30 years. I started when I was 16 in photojournalism shooting for a local newspaper, shooting sports and things like that. Then I got involved in a mini lab printing photography and moved on from there. I got interested in learning more about photography while I was on the job, and a photographer told me about Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. So I just packed up my life and moved cross country to get a degree in industrial scientific photography.
Did your experience in newspapers influence your photographic development?
Yes. I loved and still love Walter Iooss. He is a very famous Sports Illustrated photographer in America who is still shooting today. One thing of his that has always resonated with me is shooting from an alternative angle, not from an angle people would normally see something from; to have an alternative point of view. That is something that has stuck with me all through my career. I actually wrote a letter to Sports Illustrated asking what I would have to do to get a job with them, and they directed me get a degree of photography. So that is what I did.
You started your career being a photographer for NASA. What was that like?
Well, I was offered an internship with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. My industrial teacher asked me if I’d like to go and I seized the opportunity. I completed the full two years paid internship and had a chance to pursue a career as a photographer at NASA, but I really wanted to be a commercial photographer. Around that time I got an offer to come to Australia and teach, so again, I took it.
Did you experience any differences between working as a photographer in the United States and Australia?
I started my photographic career as a wedding and portrait photographer, and the difference I found was that here wedding photography was very journalistic, which appealed to me as it allowed me to be freer and focus on taking photos. I had done heaps of weddings in the States before but everything was so structured and regimented that there was no opening for creativity. I was always trying to strive for that creative outlet and the wedding photography industry here allowed for that.
How did the ‘Men and their Sheds’ project come about?
My wife suggested I take some photos of her father, and this led to an idea that I felt was original. The connection I saw between my wife and her family, her father and his shed, was something I initially saw as an opportunity to grow my business. At the time I thought I’d go around and photograph and sell photos to families of dads in their sheds doing what they love to do. Yet following some personal issues I turned that idea into a more of a personal journey for myself and also for others; the focus became what the shed actually means to them as an emotional and physical release from daily life.
How long have you been working on this project?
I finished the project in November 2015, after 5 and half years and 102 sheds. I gave myself a mission to photograph 100 sheds and I was meant to be the 101st person to appear in the book. I became 102 after receiving a very poignant phone call from a past student of mine (I’ll never forget it – it was Cup Day), saying his family would love to have me photograph his father in law who was terminally ill. Of course I accepted it. It was an honour for me to photograph George, but a little sad as to why families wait till that moment to capture something in someone’s life to remember them by. That really precipitated the whole book and what I did.
What were some of your personal highlights from working on ‘Men and their Sheds’?
Probably not one shed is the highlight, because they are all highlights. I think the opportunity for self-rediscovery of who I am as an individual and as a photographer; the ability to pick who to photograph, when and where. The amount of stories I came across when meeting these men I photographed – there were times when I spent hours with them talking before I even took the camera out of the car. Those moments were certainly the highlights of this project.
What advice would you give fellow photographers wanting to contribute with similar projects?
Just go with your heart. Let your heart take you where you want to go and don’t put money in the way. Follow your passion. Keep your eye on the prize. And don’t put a time on your project. I wrote a plan for the whole project at the start and that time frame blew out by two odd years, but it doesn’t matter: you can’t put a time on certain things.
How did you fund this project into reality? Did you receive any support?
This project had no financial bearing; I had a personal investment, not a financial one. Even though I had a lot of my money go into it, it was never about making money. I didn’t have any financial support throughout. My wife always gave me personal support and a reassurance that I was doing the right thing; she kept me focused on this project. I was only able to find a publisher who was interested in the project, and that made the book project turn into reality.
What happens now with ‘Men and their Sheds’?
The book is finished, printed and will go on sale Australia wide on August 01st through all major bookstores. It’s been attracting a lot of interest and I have a couple of ideas for number 2, and even a number 3, but we’ll see what happens. For now I just want to ride the roller-coaster a little bit after being focused on this project for so long.
Carlo Oggioni is a professional photographer and long term contributor to the Northsider. He is interested in saving drops of history and life through his lens, thus developing photographic projects of excellence. To see more of Carlo’s photographic work press here.