Nate Allen Wilson | Social Entrepreneur and Human Rights Photographer


Bio: Characterizing myself is a taxing effort. With no true stomping grounds, a semi-nomadic upbringing, and a borderland lifestyle, much of my autobiographical details are unsystematic, indiscriminate, and tedious. In yet another respect, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and a family man.

Age: 28

Hometown: I was born in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Favorite Dallas Hangout: DSO

AHD: Why don’t you consider yourself a photographer first and foremost?

NAW: Most simply stated, I do not think of myself in terms of what I do. Behind and beyond what one does, one is. It is noteworthy that, together with photographers, painters, poets, and musicians—each one of us—the truest commonality shared is that there is a who before a what. That is, who I am is more valuable than what I do. Am I a photographer who is also, or happens to be, a Christian? No—I am a Christian whose ministry is enabled by the camera. Likewise, I am a humanitarian whose vision is enabled by the camera. Without this truth in mind, even my greatest efforts are ignoble. Even more so, my vision will become shortsighted rendering my craft to fleeting impulses of inconsequential labors.

Images courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

Images courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

AHD: When did you first start pursuing the issue of human rights?

NAW: Perhaps at a time when I was influenced by a climate of indifference and intolerance was when I began thinking about the rights of a human. Pinpointing the exact moment when I began pursuing the issue of human rights, I cannot say. Even as a young boy, I was greatly burdened by the injustices suffered by my peers, at the hands of my peers. Still, there was a convincing moment not long ago when human rights and I met face-to-face in a rather evocative event. Excerpt from “Expectations”: 

"A college-age girl once showed me a photograph she had taken while on a volunteer trip to India. The photo in itself was just another photo until, that is, she began talking about her time there. She likened the trip to a vacation, which confused me at first.  Of course, knowing the nature of how these things go, I should have anticipated the conversation surrounding her excitement.  This was the second time she traveled to India and wants to return because, as she says, “It’s so much fun.” Never mind she had been showing me a photo of a man who was dying and in intolerable anguish.  This photo, though not impressive in quality or composition, was tremendously rich in content. There was a man, who looked as if to be in his mid 50’s, lying on a dusty and stained mat on the side of a dirty road.  Now then, it is not necessary to detail his misfortune, but suffice it to say, he was in need of medical attention. To be sure though, this was a haunting image and yet, what happened next was far more distressing."

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AHD: Tell us about your latest venture. What is “Expectations” and how can Dallas’ creative community support your efforts and get involved?

NAW: I have begun a new project to reclaim truth by photographing every language in Dallas. This project, therefore, will serve several purposes. Firstly, each photograph will be a visual record of the diversity in our backyard. Secondly, the awareness raised through this project will give us a better indication of the needs calling for attention. Thirdly, promoting unity through our commonality will bridge a gap that is continually widened by prejudice and ignorance.

Perhaps more notably yet is the prospect of changing expectations. Much of what we believe about our neighbors, classmates, colleagues—people—comes from our expectations. Our attitudes, indifferences, even our hatred is based on our expectations of others. And, this is why the project exists. Here you will see representatives of every language spoken in Dallas, each participating in our city’s growth. Each is contributing to Dallas’ heritage.

Supporting the "Expectations" project can be as simple as creating a buzz about it. Or, you can make a more direct impact by contributing to our budget.

AHD: Through both photography and the written word, it seems you’re trying to tell the truth about the way things are. What outcome do you hope for?

Image Courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

NAW: In his book, "Ecce Homo", Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “We all fear the truth.” Not surprising at all, in fact, and not correct.  He makes truth a matter of disposition rather than verification. For reality, no question can be more fundamental than that of truth. What I mean is, truth is never to be feared. If it were, then our lives should be lived out in fear. Sadly, many people choose an alternative way of living, surrendering to the way things seem to be rather than the way things truly are. Persuasively, my hope in bringing this up is that we will accept the notion that appearance is not reality.

AHD: You’ve questioned the worth of work that only has artistic value, suggesting there’s more to photography and life than merely aesthetic merit. Do you find much opposition to the notion?

Images courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

Images courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

NAW: True, I have commented fairly deliberately concerning aesthetic merit. Possibly the loudest of my comments was, “art for the sake of art is self-defeating.” This comment was in response to an artist insisting that everyone is an artist and that everything is art. To my delight, very few people have opposed my comments. Without a doubt, I can only speculate as to why the comment was not rejected by more people. Either no one cared that I made the comment, or it is something deeper. I hope for the latter. As it is, most people believe there is purpose to our choices and activities. If this is so, then anything for the sake of nothing truly is self-defeating. By contrast, something for the sake of anything serves a purpose, even if it is only to serve itself. 

AHD: Will you tell us about "The Things I See" and "Expectations", two books available at your site?

NAW: Each book is still being written and is not yet available. The Things I See is a book written from the perspective of several international photographers. With chapters titled, Storytelling, When Pictures are not Worth a Thousand Words, and Sharing Truth with a Reality Challenged World; the subjects of this book are quite diverse. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction:

"What we see matters.  This idea came to mind as I thought about the losses our generation has suffered over the last few decades.  When you get right down to it, we aren’t sure what is true anymore.  I say this to emphasize that we live in a time when our culture desperately needs to be shown reality.  Of course, with the availability of information, determining reality no longer is a question of agreement or disagreement but rather it becomes a troubling source of confusion. 

Because of this, what we see calls for an alternative way of thinking, an alternative that confronts both the popular media and hidden agendas, one that restores life to its true context and a sense of urgency to a worldview that is consistent with reality.  While the world is held to be objectively real, our generation lacks an understanding of how imperative it is to recognize the reality of our world rather than its appearance.  Nothing is more desperately needed in our generation right now than a new movement to reemphasize the need of truth.  Without such a movement, our individual development and progression as a culture is in serious trouble.

For international photographers, especially those who have contributed to this book, our efforts are an appeal for you to look at life more deliberately.  This book, therefore, is a reminder that truth is a valuable commodity and should be approached carefully.  And yet, it is knowable, reachable and attainable."

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Regarding the second book, it can be judged by its cover—in part. Having previously explained the idea behind the "Expectations" photo project, readers will understand the premise of the book. If not by the title alone, then hopefully the subtitle will help. What follows is an excerpt from "Expectations":

"I suppose no reader of this book is unfamiliar with human rights. However, I would venture to say that defining the term is not so easily done. A task not often pondered and not unlike most words and phrases we often hear or read, a general idea of what they mean is mostly good enough. At least it was for me over the last few years as an international photographer. I was satisfied doing the human rights stuff without identifying with the essence of what is truly expected in its exercise and expression. Even still, if I search myself in an honest moment, it is difficult for me to escape the reality that I do not have the strongest grasp on that definition, historical significance and vision."

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AHD: Besides photography and writing, you also lead international workshops. What do you cover in these workshops, and how did you discover the need?

Images courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

Images courtesy of Nate Allen Wilson

NAW: Every reason for the workshops is a direct extension of my worldview. As a teacher my efforts begin with this; that knowledge of yourself and knowledge of the world are mutually interrelated. That is, we cannot attain to a clear and solid knowledge or ourselves without a mutual acquaintance with the world. Therefore, each principle covered is borne out of my worldview.

While students and participants learn the technical aspects of camera use and shooting methods, the distinguishing characteristic is one of observation. In 2007, after suffering an injury in the Army, my worldview changed while recovering in a medical unit. This shift in my worldview was not a consequence to my injury but by 16 words found in the book of Proverbs. Chapter 24:32 reads, “I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw.” The illumination of this verse is what motivated me to begin providing people with the opportunity to observe life and learn from it.

Perhaps more than any other reason, the discovery of this need was not found because I saw something missing in other people, but rather, because I was missing something.

The Things We See workshops are concentrated photography clinics generally located in an international setting. During these one and two week workshops, students of photography, whether beginner or professional, will explore not only the nature of photography but also the relationship between photographer and subject.  It is here that students will have the opportunity to define their visions as international photographers, customize their worldviews, and build relationships with foreign client expectations. Areas of study include: camera basics, composition, shooting with a purpose, deliberate observation, storytelling and much more.

AHD:  Having traveled as much as you have, do you still feel at home in Dallas? What’s your favorite thing to do in town upon your return?

NAW: This is quite possibly the most difficult question yet. I do feel at home in Dallas, but not because I am from Dallas. I live in the area now and this is my home. Prior to moving to the area, I lived in France for nearly 6 years and it was not until 2005 that I returned to Texas. Still, as a result of my traveling and life experiences, I am fortunate to be adaptable. Whether I am coming or going I feel at home. In many ways, I am mostly away from home when away from my wife and family.

More than anything, my favorite thing to do upon my return is slowing down. Unfortunately, it is not a luxury I am often privileged with.