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“Steve Wise: No Stigma – The Sublime Power of Visual Narrative Through Acceptance and Collaboration”, by Gina Williams

Capturing the true essence of the whole person, physical, psychological, emotional and vulnerable in a single moment in time.

Along with his impeccable technical skills, this approach and the creativity and storytelling that go along with it, is the genius of Australian photographer Steve Wise in his portrait work as a fine art photographer.

When he isn’t tackling personal projects, Wise lives a very busy life as a medical photographer at Royal Perth Hospital. He holds an R.B.I. Accreditation (Registered Biomedical Illustrator) with the Australian Institute of Medical and Biological Illustrators (AIMBI). He is also known for his creative wedding photography but has backed away significantly from weddings due to COVID-19 impacts on the industry and increased responsibilities in his medical field.

Ideal Female / © Steve Wise

He explains that the department he now coordinates was historically known as “Medical Illustrations,” dating back to 1954, but has recently been re-named “Medical Multimedia Design.”

“We currently have four medical photographers, five graphic artists and two videographers – and we cover clinical and general photography, videography, clinical and general medical graphic design, web development, animation and much more,” he says.

Team members collaborate on everything from photography for teaching, education and research; wound photography to document healing processes; surgery photography; and non-clinical work to cover needs like staff portraits, marketing, studio photography, etc.

Often, his personal projects intersect with his medical photography.

For the striking and award-winning image, “Robbie,” Wise formed a strong collaboration with his subject, who met through his hospital work. The portrait won First Classified in the Portraiture category of Siena International Photography Awards’ Creative Photo Awards 2021.

Robbie / © Steve Wise

“I’ve been a Medical Photographer for around 14 years and through this job you get to meet some amazing people. This is how I met Robbie. The State Burns Unit was originally at Royal Perth Hospital where I work before it moved to the new Fiona Stanley Hospital in 2015. I moved to Fiona Stanley Hospital at the same time for a year while the new Medical Illustrations Department was being set up,” Wise recalls.

“After visiting the Burns Unit and checking in with the nurses, I was able to contact Robbie and ask if we could catch up and discuss my ideas – he was very excited about the opportunity and after a coffee and some discussion, we organized the shoot. This was a strong collaboration, and we wanted the narrative behind this image to be about 23-year-old Robbie, who smokes, drinks and holds down a job like any other young man his age. Only he also carries the story of his burns with him every day – the trauma of recovery and constant battles with pain, scarring and the mental anguish that accompanies his physical condition. So, it was a pretty simple but raw portrait in the end. Shirt off to give the viewer a glimpse into the extent of his scarring. A lit cigarette: indicating some normalcy as a young man who smokes, like many others; showing his dexterity with the loss of his fingers; and the metaphoric link to smoke and fire. The most important aspect of this portrait though is Robbie’s expression. One of strength, determination, knowing who he is. Almost defiance. But this is open to interpretation and many people see many different things. At the end of the day though, Robbie was proud of the final portrait, as was I. For the first time he had been depicted as a strong young man who was proud to show people who he was—not asking for pity or understanding, but to be recognized as someone of immense strength and determination.”

Wise added that he is beyond honored to be chosen as Robbie’s wedding photographer. The ceremony is set for early August of this year.

Each of Wise’s portraits contain this powerful alchemy that fully explores the subject, internally and externally, telling their unique and authentic story as a human being.

Mike / © Steve Wise

His recent series, the inspiring exhibition Depth of Field: Exploring Minds, Hearts and Voice – the third collaboration in the Depth of Field series of projects with Associate Professor Gabrielle Brand, offers additional examples of his excellence in this regard.

“A major component of this project is a series of large format portraits, co-produced with six Western Australian mental health consumers and their families, recounting the honest and raw reality of living and recovering from mental health issues,” Wise says. “The collaboration with each of the mental health consumers included at least two meetings prior to the shoot, to plan out exactly how their final portrait was going to look. The plan was for each portrait be a strong visual narrative about each of them – to somehow remove the stigma of this condition through visual storytelling – educating the viewer in a way. A vignette is then designed around the portrait, as an educational tool for health professionals around the stigma of mental health – using art and portraiture as one of the tools of learning.”

Scotty / © Steve Wise
Monique / © Steve Wise

This video elegantly showcases the sublime power of the images.

Despite being a photographer who loves the control of the studio, Wise admits that he is a huge fan of Lee Friedlander and his free-ranging “shoot from the hip” style and street photography.

“This genre of photography has always been a little foreign to me,” he explains. “I’ve always loved the control of the studio setting, the creative freedom to mold a portrait through light, shadow and expression – so to be on the street and grab that exact moment is still a little scary for me.”

Wise says he first came across Friedlander’s work after “getting hold of a Hasselblad SWC and researching it.”

It’s the camera Friedlander used for his trademark black and white “social landscape” images during the 1960s and 1970s.

“His images are full of character and a record of time and place,” says Wise. “They are also raw – straight out of camera. I would LOVE to shoot with that freedom. Unfortunately, the Hasselblad hasn’t come out for a while, but it will. I’ve promised myself that.”

Poppy / © Steve Wise
Kate / © Steve Wise
Steve Wise

STEVE WISE

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gina Williams is a Portland, Oregon USA based journalist and poet. She covers photography and photographers internationally. Learn more about her and her work at GinaMarieWilliams.com and follow her on Instagram at @gina_williams_writes


FRAMES Magazine
Every year we release four quarterly printed editions of FRAMES Magazine. Each issue contains 112 pages printed on the highest quality 140g uncoated paper. You receive the magazine delivered straight to your doorstep. We feature both established and emerging photographers of different genres. We pay very close attention to new, visually striking, thought-provoking imagery, while respecting the long-lasting tradition of photography in its purest incarnation.
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Comments (1):

  1. Amy Helmick

    July 11, 2022 at 01:40

    Wonderful series.

    Reply

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