Interview with Photographer Matt Wilson, L’Enfant Terrible of the Chilean Wine Industry

Interview with wine photographer Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is an award winning photographer who studied at the International Centre of Photography in N.Y. in the early nineties. He went on to become a touring music photographer in the USA, working notably in the Hip Hop scene, with artists such as Mos Def, The Roots, Method Man, Redman and Common.

Matt, based in Chile, has worked for the likes of GQ, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Decanter and Wine Spectator (just to name a few). When it comes to wine photography, he likes pushing the limits and while he does, the Chilean wine scene is changing because of it.

1. How did the transition from music & skate photography to wine photography come about?

I was a music photographer in the US for a few years. As I was in NY on 9/11 to shoot The Roots, things got a bit messy and the gig was cancelled. It was then I decided it was time for me to leave the US and head back to the UK. I then almost completely gave up photography due to the stuff I saw in NY during the week after 9/11. However, in Brighton I met Solange Leon: a designer, artist and curator of a gallery. She convinced me to exhibit some of my rap singer photographs. I spent 18 months in Brighton showing my US work.

I then met Solange’s sister Andrea Leon, a winemaker from Chile. We hooked up fairly quickly and I ended up moving to Chile. Andrea told me “Chile has better light than the UK, and I don’t want to make wine in the UK till at least 2020 when global warming will help your vines out” So the decision was made and I headed to the Southern Cone.

Once in Chile I was at a loss as to what to photograph. My only experience was in skateboarding, fashion and music. All three of these disciplines are pretty non- existent where we’re located in Chile (or were at the time). All the people I met here worked in the wine industry so the only things I could photograph were wineries, vineyards and winemakers. I brought my own style into this scene. For me I don’t think ‘I’m photographing a winery, winemaker or vineyard”, I just see the light or composition which I need to get right.

2. The wine world is filled with their fair share of “personalities” and I’m sure you know quite a few. Is the wine world as tame as one would think?

It took me a few years to actually realise that the wine world is not completely dull and full of nerds. There is a lot of that, but once the surface is scratched there are, as you say, definitely some “personalities”.

3. You finalised your studies in 1994 when the photography world was analogue. How did you feel about digital photography when it started emerging in the late 90’s?

I was interested in digital photography from the very beginning. I always thought of it as more of an aid to analogue than the progression. It started a bit too early in the professional field in my opinion, I think the magazine world took a huge drop in quality of printed images. However it’s now getting back up to par on some levels.

4. How do you feel wine photography has changed over the past decade?

I think wine photography has changed dramatically the last years. I hope in some small way I have been part of that change.  The wine world needs to know that lifestyle photos are what makes people ask about wine.

5. Do you still shoot analogue at times?

I still own an old Nikon 35mm camera and one of my cameras has an analogue film back. I wish I used them more. I miss film terribly and would love a client to actually demand some analogue images, but it has not happened yet.

6. What’s in your gear bag on a typical shoot?

I still use Canon cameras as well as Sony mirrorless cameras with Canon lenses. I like the small size of the Sonys and that helps when working in the field and not lugging heavy bodies around. The lenses weigh enough already.

My main studio camera is a PhaseOne with an IQ260 sensor. I do take this on location at times, when I have a strong assistant. It’s a beautiful camera to use and gives stunning quality. I pretty much shoot tethered all the time now, even on location. Except when chasing a harvester down a vineyard row.

And the past couple of years, I never leave home without my drone.

7. How many of your jobs include drone photography?

Most jobs I shoot these days I take a drone. They are always good for locations shoots weather permitting. In fact I always have at least one drone in my truck, because you never know when there may be some crazy action needing drone footage is happening.

8. Print magazines in general are cutting back in the Internet age (many mags even seizing to exist) therefore photo budgets aren’t what they used to be. And to top it all off, we’ve reached a time when virtually everyone can be a “photographer” due to high-quality, affordable equipment. Is the professional photographer a thing of the past?

I don’t think professional photographers will die out. However I think we will become scarce. We need to give that little bit extra to survive. Shoot in new ways and always have an edge. Now that so many people are shooting, magazine quality has plummeted and this is sad so I am sure will not last.

Some of the high-end magazines I shoot for – Vanity Fair, GQ and Robb Report -only accept the highest standards. There is a never-ending influx of new photographers who never went through the training or years of assisting that I and others did. These people charge very little and usually last about 2 years, before they realise they are not going to make a good living at it. They then open cafes and exhibit work by real photographers! Haha.

9. Any big plans for 2020?

I built a new house and studio recently and have rediscovered the fun of studio shoots with really old school lighting. I am shooting on medium format digital and trying to get back the feel of the early 20th century portraits. So in many ways, I am devolving back to my analogue photographic roots.

For more information on Matt, please visit:
Connect with Matt on Instagram (@matt.wilson.gc) and on Twitter (@Photos_in_Chile)