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Profile Spotlight: Photographer Jimmy Wilson

Capturing Beauty: Photographer Jimmy Wilson
It’s evening and the gallery is asleep, even art needs to rest. Art is the one thing that brings everyone together. It’s what we all call magic, because art is life- 
Jimmy Wilson

If you had a passion, a real passion, how long would you be willing to pursue it and turn your dreams into a career? To take all which stirs within your heart and watch it build and develop despite any obstacles which may come your way. A year, maybe five?  Let’s be honest. For many of us, unless we receive immediate gratification, most would likely give up, take one setback as a "sign" to stop and move on. Now, how about twenty years? Twenty years of working hard and pursuing your craft with little or no assurance that eventually all that hard work would pay off.  But while most would quit, one man-photographer Jimmy Wilson persevered and worked day in and day out until he turned that passion and parlayed it into a successful career. 

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Jimmy has always loved the outdoors. As a child, he would ride his bicycle within the surrounding areas of his neighborhood while spotting wildlife such as deer, owls, foxes and eagles.  After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Jimmy pursued other successful careers: first in commercial real estate, and then a stint as a bush pilot. But his true passion was always photographer and film making. 

Eventually, he would combine his love of film making with his other love–nature. Though the path of success was often not picture-perfect, Jimmy, nonetheless, has always maintained his optimistic nature. And in a world where fortunes are sometimes made overnight and many artists may enjoy an immediate though often fleeting taste of success, Jimmy kept his feet to the ground and pursued his passion with a quiet determination. 

His photography journey began when he started taking pictures on morning walks five or six years ago and began receiving compliments from friends and family. Eventually, he caught the attention of an experienced art agent. After working together with his agent for a year, Jimmy eventually decided to embark on a journey on his own and open up his own gallery in his hometown of Minneapolis. 

Jimmy Wilson Gallery

Located in the picturesque neighborhood of Linden Hills, a place where you can shop, meet friends, grab a cup of coffee and feel like life’s pretty darn great, Jimmy’s Gallery is an oasis of calm and beauty, a fitting setting to showcase his work. No clutter, no loud music, it is for those who want a break from the noise and the rat race of the world.

I remember not too long ago when he expressed to me his desires to open his gallery. A daring move for both an artist and a businessman, but he was determined. It was a gut thing. Jimmy follows his instincts and so far, they have paid off. Soon, he showed me the beginning stages of his gallery: the construction, the color scheme. And though there was some trial and error, one had a feeling that Jimmy had a clear vision of what he wanted. It was just a matter of making that vision come to life. 

I met Jimmy a few years back when I wrote an article on his film career and his award winning children`s series.  I spoke to him a few times and since we live in different states, we communicated by Skype and phone. But soon, the distance became of little importance; and soon, I learned a couple of things. For one, he takes walks daily.  When I say everyday, I mean everyday. Whether it would be on a frozen morning (he bundles up) where most would not dare to venture out, or a warm summery day, he will be out there walking, saying hi to the other walkers, enjoying life while occasionally stopping to capture a photo. 

Second, he is lovely to talk to. He knows a great deal about photography and art, but also about music (He played in a band and continues to sing) and business (he was a commercial Real Estate agent).  He also does something which I find rare: he likes to ask questions and seeks other peoples’ opinions. But most of all, I noticed there is an inner calm, a gentleness that remains even when stirred. And I believe this part of Jimmy clearly comes out in his photographs. 

The photos reflect Jimmy’s inner calm. Whether the colors are vibrant or subdued, the photos remain clear and uncluttered. They evoke a sense of serenity, and they represent simple but stunning moments in life that are beautiful. Indeed, when life often seems heartless, noisy and tragic, Jimmy, through his art, reminds just how lovely life it actually can be.

Gaya Lynn: The last time we spoke,  I wrote an article about your work as a producer, director, and creator of the award winning "Jimmy Wilson Films Children`s Adventure Series".  In this body of work, you literally went to all corners of the earth to film. Places such as Churchill Manitoba and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania Africa. In these videos, you filmed stunning shots of many of the world’s most beloved and endangered creatures. What was that experience like and what lessons did you take away when you were done? 

The Boat by Jimmy Wilson

Jimmy Wilson: The filming, the actual filming was one of the favorite parts for me.   I went everywhere..  From filming jets at international airports, to the wilderness of Churchill Manitoba,  Africa, and the north woods of Minnesota.  I became a pretty darn good shooter, and years later this helped and made photography easier for me..  Watching and filming polar bears, lions, moose, and wolves up close was pretty exciting to say the least.

Because of the diverse climates in most of these areas, I had to find special ways to keep my video camera working.  I was in climates ranging from -30F to over 100F.  The heat wasn`t as much of a problem for the camera but the equipment did not care for extreme cold.  So I figured out a way to keep my video camera warm in the cold by using disposable hand warmers which I wrapped around the camera and the batteries as well.  Many extra batteries were needed to be kept warm because my filming days were 10 hrs long, and I was off grid, so there was no way to recharge them in the field.  

After a ten hour day of filming, I would review every frame of the footage I shot.  If I got 1 to 3 minutes of usable footage per hour of film shot I was overjoyed.  And it took many hours just to shoot an hour of film.  

The lessons I learned?  As usual my number one lesson has always been to keep your eye on the prize. Producing a film takes time and you must be focused.  It`s a multi layered project that does not only include filming, it`s just one part of the whole, although a very important part.  So you must keep focused for its duration.  Most of the 9 films took six months to produce, from inception of idea to retail ready product.  My longest film project happened to be my ninth and final film; it took 3 years to produce!  So always keep your eye on the prize, which is completing your task at hand to its end.  And when it`s over, it`s over, so do the best you possibly can.    

GL: You had a career in commercial Real Estate and then decided to pursue your dreams as a filmmaker and photographer.  Tell me about the process and did it turn out well for you?

The Silhouette by Jimmy Wilson

JW: It was a very difficult process; there was no road map. I had never been on my own before, I had always worked for someone else.  I had just spent 13 years dedicating my life to a company and job….  I would take the skills I learned in that career and use them for the rest of my life.  I remember being very scared at times, but I`m a risk taker, so there was no looking back, no matter what. Then, suddenly I was the owner, the employee, the boss, the worker, I was everything!  I wanted to do what I wanted to do career wise, not have someone else tell me what career I would have. I remember that quite vividly.. I remember I had the proverbial imaginary little man sitting on my shoulder waving his finger and saying into my ear, "Just wait until you see what you`re getting yourself into!"   But all in all it`s turned out quite well thank goodness.  But it took twenty years! So when people ask me,"Jimmy how did you make it?"  Or, "Jimmy, how do you become successful?"  I always say,  "Do ya` have 20 years?"

GL: It seems looking back at your life and career, everything has come together almost like a mosaic. Your directing and filming has helped you develop such a keen eye and capture only the best images; your real estate expertise has helped you in marketing and social media. I know many of us do jobs that feel are so far away from our purpose, and we are frustrated and feel stuck, but we do them to pay the bills. Do you feel that all your previous experiences helped you as an artist today?  

Outside of Jimmy Wilson Gallery

JW: Yes, very much so..  I take lessons I learned from all my past experiences and from other people as well that I`ve met.. The experience of not giving up is something one has to teach themselves though, and maybe the greatest lesson of all..   So few artists of any kind are able to make a living producing their art form.  It however does not mean that those artists who cannot support themselves producing their art are failures.  I`m just saying, there are so few.    If you produce something, you`re successful..

So my experiences in the past of not giving up, focusing and sticking to something has helped me immensely as an artist. There have been so many times through the years that I have wanted to stop and maybe move onto something else because I wasn`t where I wanted to be professionally.   Although thank goodness I always believed in the art and what I was producing. I was just a break here, a break there away that could change things for my art and me. I didn`t stop because of habits I learned long before becoming an artist that would serve me well when I became an artist.  The work habit of basically not giving up when you really believe in something. 

GL: You are mainly a photographer now, tell us about that journey and what are your main subjects you enjoy taking photos of? 

JW: I was a filmmaker for over 15 years before I became a professional photographer. Film making really developed my eye. Being a film maker I believe made photography easier for me, or maybe it was just refining my craft, or both.  In film making, I got used to 34 frames a second, that`s 34 pictures every second.  With photography I deal with one image at a time, so it`s simplified in a big way.   Film making I believe made me a good photographer.  When I capture images I usually do not have a plan.   You can capture a masterpiece right out your front door.  I bring along my camera and I look for something to catch my eye.  That`s really how I work, something has to catch my eye, I trust my eye more than anything.  I like simplicity, uncomplication, classicness, and a touch of elegance.  I try to capture and look for the ‘Cary Grant’ of images..   That`s my goal and what I go after, the image above and beyond all others.  "I want the best and get rid of the rest."    I like the simple things in life and I try to see them look as beautiful as I imagine them when I capture them.  I shoot mostly outside but not exclusively.  The number one thing is something catches my eye that immediately stimulates my imagination.   So the two most important factors in photography in my view, are having a good eye and an even better imagination.

GL:  After years of hard work and perseverance, your work began to get recognized a few years ago. Your photos were featured in art shows, galleries and in the media. How did you maintain such patience during those years when it must have been frustrating and not give up? 

The Surfer by Jimmy Wilson

JW: It wasn`t easy, I had gotten to a point many times of giving up.  And after producing the 9th children`s film, I knew I wanted a change, something new but I didn`t know what.  So I made up my mind after the 9th film that it would be my last.  I felt 9 films was a good number for a series, and someone told me right about that time that the number nine means completion as well.  So maybe it was meant to be after all to stop film making..   I then decided to bring a little camera with me on my early morning walks before work.  I began taking pictures and posting them on social media.  To my surprise people liked them!  I kept taking pictures and got better quickly and more and more people would comment how much they liked my images.  I gained more and more confidence and found what I was looking for, a new career that I would call ‘Jimmy Wilson Photographs’!  

GL: Congratulations on your new gallery. I saw photos of the space from the ground up. I remember you saying you were thinking about opening a gallery, then everything just fell in place. You found a great location, tell us about the process and what it has meant for you.

JW: I was thinking of opening up a gallery off and on for a while.  I had an agent for a year, a person who knew art like the back of his hand and was qualified as well as anyone, and knew exactly what he was talking about.  He became a mentor to me.  He showed up at the precise time in my life where I could accept mentoring and needed mentoring. I`m basically a rebel and unmanageable in the first place, but this man settled me down and guided me on the path to success.  He had me focusing more on what I did best, we talked about art and the art above the art, and the art inside the art for a year or so.  He had a lot on his plate and still took the time to be interested in my work.  Why? Because he knew I was good.  He knew what I could do and how I could focus. He knew my attitude; which was, "There isn`t another photographer on this earth that can kick my ass artistically.."  He knew my eye and imagination was as good or better than anyone’s.   That`s the two most important qualities you`ll want to have to be the best.   Although I wasn`t getting ahead professionally with him at the time, and felt I had to go off on my own.  I did, but I always replay in my mind all the wonderful advice I received from him.. 

I had a successful show a few months later and a few months after that found a space I could mold into a perfect gallery!  I took the risk, signed a lease and moved in.  I now work in a place surrounded by beauty every day, the place is called the ‘Jimmy Wilson Gallery’!  A place I couldn`t even imagine 5 years earlier when I decided to take a little inexpensive camera with me on my early morning walks.  Sometimes, a magical moment happens in one’s life when you don`t have an exact plan and you want a change.  When that experience happened to me, a plan materialized right in front of my eyes, and I was ready..

 GL: Thanks Jimmy. You are a true artist. Any special announcements? 

JW: Special announcements?  Yes, If I wake up it`s a great day!  Appreciate every moment.  That`s my most important announcement…


Open House
Thursday June 16th
6-8 pm
Jimmy Wilson Gallery 
4304 Upton Ave So. 

55410 Minneapolis

For more: 

www.jimmyfilms.com and www.jimmypicture.com

*All photographic images copyright Jimmy Wilson Photographs*