Friday, May 29, 2020
Wendel Wirth Shoots for Atmospheric Nuances
Wendel Wirth benefitted from an Idaho Commission on the Arts Visual Arts Fellowship.
Friday, August 30, 2019


We’ve seen the grain elevator tucked away amidst a variety of agricultural buildings every time we’ve motored down Highway 20 bound for Boise.

Ditto for the steel barn and the wind-ravaged sun-soaked painted barn.

But Ketchum photographer Wendel Wirth’s tightly cropped photographs invite us to see them anew as  we’ve never seen them before.

Wendel Wirth was able to capture the linear detail of the Woolford Mill & Elevator, thanks to her medium-format camera.

Several of those photographs will be on display at tonight’s Gallery Walk from 5 to 8 p.m. as Gilman Contemporary presents an exhibition of Wirth’s works titled “This is the Place.”

“Hopefully, these photographs will get people to look at things differently,” said Wirth.

Wirth braved bone-chilling temperatures that left her fingers stinging to get some of the photographs.  She trudged through thigh-deep snow. She shot during blizzards and she shot as snowplows sprayed her as she stood focusing her camera near the side of the road.

“It’s challenging. I had to keep my batteries in my pocket and rotate them in the car,” she said. “But I love shooting during the winter time of year. It’s something different and there’s not too many people out and about.”

The sign pointing the way to Soldier Mountain stands out during a whiteout.

Wirth got a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in photography. But, when she moved to Ketchum, she found herself caught up in selling artsy dog collars to companies like L.L. Bean, along with T-shirts and postcards featuring her photographs.

Finally, she decided it was time to get back to her true love. She sold her business and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2012. She had her first solo exhibition in October 2013 at Gilman Contemporary. Then she staged a second solo exhibition in 2015 titled “Then the Wind Blew North,” which featured large-scale color photographs taken from a single vantage point on the Caribbean Sea over several days.

Wirth became interested in agricultural scenes while volunteering with American Farm Land Trust.

“I learned that we were losing three acres of farmland a minute in the United States. That breaks my heart as we have some of the most fertile farmland in the world. And, once they’re gone, they’re gone,” said Wirth, who grew up in New York City and Chicago, where she thrilled at seeing rolling farmland in Vermont and Wisconsin.

This Farmers National Warehouse stands among a cluster of buildings along Highway 20.

Wirth began shooting farms around Fairfield in 2010 but became serious about it three years ago. She began driving a three-hour radius from Ketchum to see what’s out there.

She stopped in her tracks to take photographs of subjects like a grain supply building near Rupert because “the atmosphere was just right.” Other times she spotted a subject and returned at another time of day that she figured would offer the atmospheric nuance she coveted.

Her constant companion on these trips is her Hasselblad 503cw, a medium-format camera that boasts a slower process than modern- day auto cameras but is not as slow as the older cameras. What it lacks in speed, it gives back in detail.

It takes her 35 minutes to set up. She takes a shot straight on, then steps to the side a couple inches at a time, taking additional shots. Or, she steps forward a couple feet at a time taking still more shots.

The vertical lines in this barn captured Wendel Wirth’s attention.

“Shooting straight on pulls the emotion out of the image. Taking a shot from the side or while looking up gives your point of view,” she said. “I choose to keep my photographs lighter and more delicate because I feel like that helps with what I’m trying to say. When the image is darker, it’s heavier, more grounded to earth.”

Wirth loves open space, as seen surrounding the horizon lines of farm fences near Richfield and Gannett on foggy winter days.

“I’m always looking for minimalism and slightly abstract images to get viewers to focus on the texture and color. It’s a balance between knowing what is and being caught up in the details,” she said, scanning the linear quality of a building in one of her photographs.

Wirth has used a Polaroid-like border to evoke nostalgia and the fleeting essence of the barns and silos in her photographs.

“Just like the farmland, these buildings in my photographs might not be there in a few years,” she said. “This Farmers National Warehouse at Hill City, for instance—the older grocery store that stood next to it all these years has vanished.”





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