Will

 

Crooks

 

 

leans forward in a fold-out chair, pouring pink wine with a cockeyed smile near fixed to his bright face. “Is this enough?” he asks me, and it is. I sip my wine and glance around his photography studio, a windowless room with all the trappings you’d expect—mismatched chairs, tall rolls of seamless paper—and some that you wouldn’t. Namely, a lingering bid to take things a little less seriously. I’ve been in his world less than five minutes and already it’s settled on me: Will is deeply welcoming, inviting whoever is lucky enough to step in front of his lens to shed that nervous pretense and be their most honest, human self.

“Melissa’s studio is located in a massive warehouse amongst a labyrinth of ceramicists’ studios. I had long found her ceramics to carry a sense of time with their muted palettes, strong simplified patterns, and incredible handmade forms. Watching Melissa work was mesmerizing as she spoke to the variety of methods she employs to make her pots from wheel-thrown to pinched to slab-built. We bonded over a shared love of Japanese craftsmanship, and she walked me through a specific Japanese style of pot formation she uses to craft her signature mugs. She spoke to the clay she digs up herself each year in northwest Arkansas, which has a mineral mix that yields a clay that helps create her distinct work. The hours of the day drifted away as I watched how deftly her hands crafted pot after pot.”—Will Crooks

There’s this photo on Will’s Instagram feed. It’s the portrait of a woman—shadow drapes half her face, quiet light rests on the other half, her Mona Lisa mouth betrayed by smile lines. You can’t extract much about this person from the photo—that she’s an Asheville-based potter, that her studio is piled high with forms in various states of process. What you can see is a strong, nameless communion with her, human to human. “I’m interested in people . . . . It’s about intimacy. [That’s] the focus of all my work,” Will says. The session with that potter wound up being a catalyst for Will’s most recent personal project, a series focused on artist portraits.

“The first descriptor that comes to mind when thinking of Kym Day and her body of work is polymath. Her work spans various mediums, genres, and content all while retaining an incredibly cerebral conceptual framework. Her massive sculptures such as a unicorn bust made of purple housing insulation board immediately come to mind. Her process and mediums vary, but her thought process behind each work follows a similar vein of recontextualizing familiar narratives or common subject matters. I found myself drawn to her figure work as I work primarily in portraits, as well, and her use of light and color gave me inspiration within my own practice. Artists like Kym are truly shifting the perspective of what the Greenville art scene can be.”—WC

“[For] artists . . . their work is forward-facing,” Will explains, steering into his uncommon take on photographing artists. “When I go into their spaces, I’ll hear ‘I’m not used to being photographed.’ In this series, there are pretty much no photographs of just work.” While his approach is direct, removing the safety blankets of artwork and detail shots, Will’s portrait-making rituals help ease his subjects to a place of comfort. He’s an artist, too, after all. He always allows about thirty minutes to just sit, talk, get past the baseline photographer-subject dynamic. “It’s more about spending the time than the actual photos; it’s a community thing,” he says. Will’s guiding light in the artist series is to deepen the regional artist community, finding solidarity in what compels each individual toward creation.

“I stepped into Jeffrey home’s quite nervous to photograph him as we had known each other for quite some time. Sometimes, I find it easier to photograph a complete stranger rather than a friend whose work I greatly respect and who I know the complexity of their character and not just their artwork. We discussed meditative practices that we both employ in our artistic processes. His work carries an emotional weight due to the color palettes selected through an intuitive process while also having strong formal structures in regards to form. Jeffrey’s meditative process of starting with small sketches of forms and ignoring color all together fascinated me endlessly. I could have spent days pouring through these small notebooks full of sketches. The processes that lead up to the final piece of art are a large part of what drove me to start this project.”—WC

The characters in Will’s Studio Visits series are remarkably diverse, across all spectrums of human experience and expression. He is intentional about selecting “people working in non-traditional mediums. I’d like to give . . . a voice to a broader group of subjects,” he says. His subjects in the art community may be young or up-and-coming; they may be outsiders, playing with materials and themes that our corner of the Southeast isn’t accustomed to. Installation artists, sound-driven artists, contemporary artists. “I want [viewers] to see artists they don’t know,” Will says. This diversity also presents an exciting technical challenge, with lighting techniques that compose a graphic narrative on who the subject is and what they create. “These artists are creating visual mediums; the photography should be able to reflect that,” he says.

“The first time I caught a glimpse of Maggie’s work I was immediately transported to the California coast. The complexity and specificity of the shades of blue she works in on top of the natural canvas with its sand-like coloration has a way to translate such a feeling of place into her abstract works. This ability to capture such a specific sense of place through abstract paintings keeps me revisiting her work. Maggie has an infectious energy that also seems to emanate from her work. We ended up chowing down on some incredible Chinese takeout from a spot literally right next door to her studio and geeked out about traditional Southwestern turquoise jewelry while making some of the more high-energy and offbeat images of the entire series.”—WC

 

Will’s reverence for his fellow creators exposes the heart of who he is as a human—confident, humble, fearlessly curious. Will is acutely celebratory of the titan strengths of others, eager to learn from them. As we talk, I eat an orange, offering him a portion. He declines the fruit, but praises me on the peel, still intact from top to bottom. In all things, it’s clear: Will Crooks delights in the magic of making, in the hands that birth the outcome. “If there’s no process,” he says, “there’s no product.”

To view more of Will’s work, go to willcrooksphoto.com.