Picturing Concepts; The Photography Of Cary Wolinsky Page 2

"I thought this would be cool--I would try to do it in English. I set out to design a rebus, a work of art that would translate into words, and to come up with a sentence in English that could be read the way a hieroglyphic panel would be read, to make a sentence out of pictures."

The "mind" story took Wolinsky even further into the realm of illustration. "The mind is what the brain does," he explains, "and eventually my writer and I were able to photograph a brain surgery in Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. It was an amazing event. Of all the landscapes I have ever seen in my life, that operating room where they were doing the surgery was the most surreal. The surgeon, I remember, had to stand on two milk crates in order to perform the surgery."

As Wolinsky related his adventures, the photographers were particularly interested in his research as well as the workflow. How does he settle on an idea and how does the final image evolve?

Brain Surgery CT Scans

Los Angeles, California, UCLA Medical Center. In preparation for surgery to remove a tumor from the brain of Corina Alamillo, extensive imaging was done of Alamillo's brain. Dozens of images are displayed in the operating room for the surgeon's reference.

"Each journey requires massive amounts of research and the challenge is always to make a picture that conveys something," Wolinsky says.

He explained that he relies heavily on his "fixers" in different parts of the world. He has regulars in places like London and Japan with whom he has worked for years. "I tell them, here's the shot I have in mind. Make all the contacts and find people who are willing to participate and if they agree, find out if there are any restrictions. We get all those things cleared and when I arrive I usually have a truck and a driver in place to begin with. It is important to have someone working on the ground for you." In answer to how one located a "fixer" in different places in the world where you are about to travel, Wolinsky's advice was to ask other photographers.

"I am a fanatic researcher," he admits. "I may just start out with one thing that interests me or catches my eye. Usually I am taking notes, getting my ideas for a story, and then finding the actual text for that story. My question is always: what is this basic story about? I list examples of pictures I intend to take and often go over my ideas with an editor. On a recent issue on the subject of poison, I gave National Geographic almost 10 examples of what I would photograph. When all arrangements are satisfactory I research down to a shooting outline, make a grid and break it up by the general concept. Finally, I make a sort of status list as to how far along I am and wonder if I'm ever going to get out into the field and start shooting.


Boston, Massachusetts. In her book, The Midnight Disease, neurologist Dr. Alice Flaherty writes about her condition called hypergraphia, the driving compulsion to write. Here, she is seen re-enacting her compulsion to write on shower walls, her surgical scrubs, and her hands and arms.

"Once I am past the proposal stage I then translate my ideas into a project. How many countries? How much time in each country? My expenses? I try to get everything prepared so I gang things into a trip. The problem is the domino effect--if anything goes wrong early on, it starts to spill over and my schedule becomes chaos."

Wolinsky has decided to curb his travels and has recently completed a unique and magnificent studio just steps from his home in southern Massachusetts, where he is currently working on an assignment for the National History Museum of the Adirondacks, creating an image to be used on posters.

One photographer asked, "How much is the idea and how much is the photograph?"

"A unique idea certainly plays a big role," he answered, "but how you get the story across comes down to getting good at what you do. Pictures and words must work together. Pictures drive the entire process but you still need to do the research. There's a story to tell and that's the most important thing."

To learn more about Wolinsky, visit his website at: www.carywolinsky.com.