Matt Wilson is one of the top wine photographers in the industry and lives with his family in Chile’s wine region of Colchagua. Although his career in photography actually started with photographing skaters and hip hop bands. Amanda Barnes interviews him to find out how he made the transition from shooting on the street to shooting in the vineyards and what he is working on in 2019.
From hip-hop and skate photography to wine photography, how was your transition into the industry and how do you approach the subject of wine as a photographer?
I got into wine photography by marrying into it. It was not through any particular love of wine, which is probably how 99% of other journalists and photographers get into the wine industry. I met a winemaker, fell in love and moved to Chile. [As a music photographer] the music scene in Chile wasn’t really happening for me and all the people I met through my wife were winemakers, wine producers or winery owners, so I started just hanging out with those people and photographing them.
I took a portrait of a guy called Grant Phelps that won a competition in Decanter in 2006 or 2007. And everybody [thought] who’s this guy? I find photography of wine very conservative and I can’t do that. I can’t do that sort of serious photography, which maybe is not always a good thing. My outlook is not serious. I know there’s a serious side to wine and I understand that, but my side of wine is about fun, family, friends and maybe being a bit crazy.
You’ve worked for several different wine magazines as well as doing travel photography and books. Are there any projects that you are particularly proud to have worked on?
I have a contract with Condé Nast and I do a travel story once a year with Vanity Fair. I like doing travel photography and it has a bit of food and wine incorporated. I have now started making wine videos, which is quite a lot of my work now.
How have you found the transition from photography to video? People often say that wine is so hard to capture on video, what is your approach to bringing it to life on the screen as well as on the page?
I live by the philosophy that the extreme creates an impression. I never photograph someone with their nose in a glass of wine or holding a bottle – those are big Nos for me. I try to make it more lifestyle, and with videography as well. I’ve started working with James Suckling, doing his South American videos and he seems to like the way I do drone shots – very fast sweeping shots. I get very close to the action and I can’t do still shots on video. It’s the same as my wine photography. Matt Wilson wine photography is often a bit crazy, [with] wine being thrown about.
What’s coming up for you workwise in 2019?
I’ve been collaborating a little bit, but not [for] the whole book, with Pedro Parra. I’m sure most people will know him better than me. He’s doing a book on global wine and I’ve been shooting a bit for that. A lot of it is shooting soil profiles.
How do you find shooting a soil profile? What’s the challenge?
The challenge to me is as someone [to whom] soil profiles are not important, I’ve got to make them make sense to journalists and people who are into terroir. It helps having a wife who is a winemaker who can say that a shot is really good because it shows the roots can go down and get the water, or why it’s not good because it’s not showing that. I use my wife as my soil profile consultant [laughs].
What’s life like in the Colchagua Valley?
Very different to what I’m used to. I’ve never lived in the country before. I’ve lived in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, London and Philadelphia. I’m now in my 50s and I’m enjoying living in the country, we’ve got a lovely house, a big garden, a swimming pool, I’ve got kids growing up, and I’m enjoying my twilight years [laughs]. It is a lovely region. This region has changed a lot, I’ve been in Colchagua for ten years and there are much better restaurants now. There were only one or two when I came here, and now we can eat out at about 15 different restaurants which is nice.