Childhood, Distilled

Upon his return to Wisconsin, Madison-based photographer Nick Wilkes started to turn from landscape photography to portraiture. Nick began taking pictures of his two young boys to capture specific moments of their growing up.

Photos by Nick Wilkes

Nick Wilkes | Madison, WI

When Nick was growing up in Vernon, Wisconsin, he spent his summers exploring the great outdoors. Nick’s photographs of his boys exude the feeling of freedom that comes with being a little kid in the summertime. They are simultaneously current and nostalgic; they capture a specific moment in time while conjuring up a feeling of a playful time long past.

“I got my first camera when I was in third grade. Sometime around then I got to go on a field trip down to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, so I brought it with me. I remember trying to take photos of the fish through the glass. My flash is going off, and I’m so excited about my photos. I’m so, so excited about the fish…and I developed the roll and it’s just all shit.

I'm like, 'Wait. I know this is possible. I have seen pictures of fish. Beautiful pictures! I didn't get that at all!' That's the first time I remember having that cognitive dissonance. I knew photography was possible, and I had no idea how to do it.

The technical aspect is something that I’ve always had to just buckle down and figure out. When I get involved in technical conversations with other photographers, it bores me to death, generally. Because the technical piece can just get in the way. It was in the way of me capturing how I was feeling when I was looking at those fish. That feeling of, ‘Wow, look at these amazing creatures.”

Become part of the Love Wisconsin

“When we moved back to Wisconsin, I started taking less landscapes and got really into portraiture. We started our family—had two boys—and I got interested in creating or capturing moments. Moments that maybe create more questions than answers. That’s become a lot more fun.

This one captures a moment…and I like that it’s not really about who those people are. It’s about an emotional space. It’s about summer, and it’s about an adult and a kid, and it’s about…it’s hard to put into words for me, because it’s more emotional. Maybe not deeply emotional, but it’s almost universal. Who hasn’t sat with their feet in the water on a summer day? Maybe with or without a kid, but who doesn’t have family? I guess some people don’t.

Whenever you can hit that, whenever you can hit universal or timeless, you’re doing okay, right?”

“I’m from Vernon, which is outside Mukwonago, near Waukesha, Wisconsin. I’m from a little subdivision stuck into some farm fields right next to a marsh.

When I was a kid I spent all my time in the marsh. Mom would let us out of the house at 8:00 am, and we didn’t have to come back until dinner time. I had two brothers, and we just spent all our time catching crayfish, catching fish, catching snakes. This picture reminds me of that; it’s just about exploring, being free as a kid, and just running around, having a lot of space to do that.

Now we live on a tenth of an acre, so I feel a little hemmed in sometimes. But there’s places here to go to and get out, and I try and do that a lot with the boys.”

“I started taking photos when I was a kid. I’ve stopped a bunch of times over the years due to hopelessness, weariness, and/or brokenness, but I always seem to get back on the horse. Depressing a shutter button is a visceral feeling for me, maybe like landing an uppercut or slicing a tomato is for somebody else. I think we all have something that makes us feel sharp and vivid and alive. Photography is one of those somethings for me.”

-Nick Wilkes | Madison, WI

Share This Post