As an artist, William Wylie doesn't feel the need to rush.
While living in Fort Collins and teaching at Colorado State University in the '90s, he spent four years taking photographs along 75 miles of northern Colorado's Cache la Poudre River.
Now an art teacher at the University of Virginia, Wylie has returned to Colorado for annual summer trips. During four of those ventures, in the middle of the last decade, he stopped along U.S. Route 36 in northern Kansas to explore and capture more images.
Of 400 photos from the first series, Wylie chose 49 for the book Riverwalk: Explorations Along the Cache la Poudre River, published in 2000. From the second body of work, he chose 54 for Route 36, just published in July.
Between Aug. 6 and Oct. 22, GOCA 121 will host William Wylie: American Places, which displays unframed black-and-white photographs from both of these projects. Wylie printed all his photos from Route 36 at 11-by-14 inches, and from the Riverwalk project, he produced 15 enlargements measuring 32-by-36.
All will be hung salon-style, in an effort to "create a place where the viewer will be taken in somewhat like the photographer was taken in when he documented his journey," says GOCA's Caitlin Green. "His original path was an analytical one, but then it became personal; it became about what moved him, what struck him about the place."
Wylie wasn't after the postcard-perfect shots that characterize most popular photography.
"I'm definitely more interested in marginal places than I am in the most obvious 'picturesque' ones," he says. "I also like places where nature seems to be working its way back after being pushed out or minimized, and what that can reveal about our times. Additionally, these kinds of places have great potential for hidden narratives that can give the photograph more complexity."
Take for example St. Francis, Kan., where Wylie stopped to photograph an old abandoned store. Its patterned brickwork across the top is starting to crumble, and strapping tape holds a broken plate glass window together. The interior of the store is black, and the empty sidewalk in front of the store glares in the sun. Viewers are drawn to admire the brickwork, but also to wonder when the store was built, how long it's been empty, and why it's been left to ruin.
Wylie's use of a "view camera," one of the first cameras ever invented, makes his photos even more unique: The cumbersome, old-style bellows box produces larger negatives and allows for greater detail and depth of field. With 25 years' practice on the device, Wylie delivers shots with sharp focus and striking contrasts.
"These photographs are technically flawless, with incredible depth," says Green.
Wylie, now 53, has earned many awards, including a Colorado Book Award in 2001 for Riverwalk and a Guggenheim Fellowship in photography in 2005. His work resides in many prestigious public collections, including the National Gallery of Art and Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.