Photography professor Wildey balances teaching and art

Wildey teaches photography classes at CMU, but also frequently enters his work in shows and competitions

Art and Design faculty member Al Wildey's photograph Power Lines.

Art and design faculty member Al Wildey has taught photography at Central Michigan University for 15 years. 

“I love photography and believe it is an important story-telling medium,” Wildey said.

Wildey was born and raised just outside of Grand Rapids in Wyoming, Michigan, in a hard-working, blue-collar family. He attended Wyoming High School where he fell in love with the arts. Because of his school’s lack of funding for the arts, he said, his class was taught in trailers in the school parking lot. 

There wasn't a senior art class, so he did an independent art study his senior year with his favorite teacher. During his independent study, he considered attending college to study art. He visited universities in Michigan and decided the best way to get a degree was by serving his country. He joined the United States Army and attended Rochester University in Monroe County, New York. He was the first person in his family to receive a college degree.

He bought his first camera during basic training in 1977, because he said it was a good way for him to practice art while on the move. 

When he got out of the military, he finished school and moved to Los Angeles. While working as a freelancer, he did head shots, modeling shoots and photographed the 1984 Olympics.

After three years in Los Angeles, he moved back to Michigan where he met and married his wife, had two boys and was hired to work at Michigan Tech University in Houghton. After a few years, he received his master's from the University of Idaho and got a job at CMU as a professor.

"There aren’t many photography professors in the art department, so he’s been one of them who has looked at my photography in class, and outside of class, giving me feedback on how to conceptually and technically strengthen my photographs" said Mount Pleasant senior Danielle Little. "I’ve seen his work in the 2018 Department of Art & Design Faculty Exhibit and I was really impressed with the saturation of his photographs on aluminum."

Wildey said he loves teaching at CMU and watching his students grow as artists and overcome challenges. He doesn't just teach photography, he enters his work in shows and contests.

In 2010, Wildey's piece, “Midland” was displayed in the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The piece was about the last time he saw one of his friends.

Wildey's photograph, Midland, was featured in the Grand Rapids Art Museum in 2010.

“Having my piece in the GRAM where my family can easily see my work is extremely meaningful,” Wildey said.

Wildey has won many awards with his work. He won third place in landscape photography at the 2018 Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, Australia. He received the 2014 Grand Rapids Frey Foundation Artist Seed Grant of $2,000. At the Florence Biennale (International Biennial of Contemporary Art) in 2009, Wildey won the Bronze Lorenzo il Magnifico for photography. He also won the 2006 Saginaw Valley State University Artist Award at the Midland Center for the Arts.

Wildey has participated in Art Prize, a Grand Rapids, Michigan art competition, nine out of the 10 years it has existed. His entry, “Power Lines” is displayed in the Fountain Street Church. The church only accepts pieces about social issues and controversies. 

The piece is a series of photographs of a 360-degree walk around an electrical line structure. The photographs are merged into a single image to create a sense of movement. Surrounding the lines are quotes from President Donald Trump, typically beginning with "I" or "my.” The title refers to both physical and rhetorical "Power Lines." Wildey received recognition from the church because his work was well-composed and provided thought-provoking content, a representative for the Fountain Street Church said.

Quotes from President Donald Trump are embedded in power lines in art and design faculty member Al Wildey's photograph.

"I might not have noticed the words if I didn't look closer," said Phoenix, Arizona resident Dan Packard. "With the statements it is a totally different piece." Packard traveled to Grand Rapids to attend Art Prize and visit family.

Wildey said he enjoys his job at CMU because he can freely practice his art and become a better artist by learning from students. In class, he often shows students his work and lets them do the critiquing. 

“I identify myself as an artist and a teacher,” Wildey said. “To able to put them together for a career is amazing.”