By Kim Piekos
Apples don’t fall far from trees, so they say. That is certainly true of Hollywood actors and directors Andrew, Owen and Luke Wilson and their also-talented mother, Laura Wilson, a highly esteemed photographer and author. Portraits from her most recent book The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson, published by Yale University Press, are on exhibit at Lake Forest College’s Sonnenschein and Albright Galleries through Nov. 5.
Laura Wilson enjoys a moment with author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Photo by Matt Lankes
Her book features over 150 photographs depicting how more than three dozen internationally acclaimed, contemporary writers -- including Margaret Atwood, David McCullough, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Cormac McCarthy and Sam Shepard -- live and work. The 12-year project was published in September 2022.
“These also happen to be writers Wilson has read and reread,” according to the book’s foreword by Charles McGrath, former editor of the New York Times Book Review and former deputy editor of New Yorker. “Her selection process had less to do with checking off an all-star list than with something closer to ordinary fandom.”
“She is quite a force in her own right,” says Lake Forest resident Mimi Murley, who met Wilson at Bald Peak in New Hampshire a few years ago and has since developed a friendship with her. “Her understated grace and easy manner belie her adventurous and ‘go for it’ spirit.”
In 2019, Murley, taken with Wilson’s work, prepared an essay for a local writers’ group, The Coterie, on Wilson.
“I really came to know her through that research and interview process,” Murley explained. “At that time, she was working on this book, and we talked a lot about her desire to do more than just take a good photograph. Looking at her portraits and reading about the writers leaves you feeling like you know something special about that person and helps you see them in a new light."
There will be a community reception at Lake Forest College for Laura Wilson on Oct. 19. Photo by Kelsey Foster
Murley was inspired to bring Wilson’s work to Lake Forest. Her husband Bob’s affiliation as a trustee at Lake Forest College prompted them to suggest bringing the exhibit there.
“It turned out Lake Forest College’s galleries provide an intimate space to commune with 45 carefully selected pieces from The Writers,” Murley said. “The visual experience is very impactful.”
Wilson got her start in photography and photojournalism while a young mother, staying home to raise her three sons. Her husband, Robert Wilson, a museum advisor to Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, and the museum’s director persuaded iconic photographer Richard Avedon to do a portrait of the West with complete artistic freedom. Laura was hired by Avedon to identify subjects and organize his shoots. The result: In the American West, took a different view of the mythic West, a starkly realistic one.
“The show was a disrupter of American idealism and quite controversial, but ultimately hailed for its vision” Murley said.
While Avedon shot portraits for the book, Wilson photographed Avedon taking these photographs. When Avedon’s work was exhibited at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Wilson was asked to mount her shots of Avedon in an adjacent room, providing an interesting study.
"She had become a talented photographer herself in the process of working with and learning from him,” says Murley.
Since then, Wilson's photographs have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, London's Sunday Times Magazine, and The Washington Post Magazine. She has published six books of photographs: Watt Matthews of Lambshead (Texas State Historical Society, 1989), Hutterites of Montana (Yale University Press, 2000), Avedon at Work (University of Texas Press, 2003), Grit and Glory (Bright Sky Press, 2003), That Day: Picture in the American West (Yale University Press, 2015), and From Rodin to Plensa (Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas, 2018).
Wilson is working on a book documenting directors, cinematographers, and actors from old Hollywood, called Making Movies.
Murley noted, “Laura’s hallmark is she takes the time to imbed herself in her subject communities, observe their strengths and weaknesses and always respect the dignity of the people and the circumstances. She gains their trust, and we get to know her characters in a forthright, non-judgmental way in her photographs.”
“Lake Forest College is immensely grateful to Mimi and Bob Murley for bringing Laura Wilson's The Writers exhibit to the College's Sonnenschein and Albright Galleries,” said the College’s Vice President of Advancement Katie Spieth. “This opportunity aligns with the College's deep commitment to the Arts and Humanities and will also allow us to provide a unique learning experience to our students who will be able to interact with and learn from Ms. Wilson.”
Wilson is being welcomed to Lake Forest at a private dinner at the Lake Forest College’s Krebs Center for Humanities on Oct. 18 and during a community reception at the gallery on Oct. 19. She will also contribute to classes at the Lake Forest College and work with a student interested in the curatorial art of hanging photography exhibits.
“I am excited to highlight the resource we have at Lake Forest College and for the college to benefit from this most prestigious exhibit,” Murley explained.
The gallery is free and open daily from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.