What To Read: Wesley Verhoeve is teaching photography

This week, we interviewed Wesley Verhoeve, a photographer who writes Process, a newsletter about the craft and process of photography. This interview has been edited for length.

What’s your Substack about in one sentence?

Process is a newsletter about photography and finding your voice.

You write about how you first picked up a camera as a 5-year-old in the Netherlands. What made you decide to eventually become a full-time photographer?

My dad is a photographer and teacher, so I grew up being around cameras. It was a natural thing for me to grab a camera and use it to process who and what was in front of me. Eventually, I realized that taking portraits of people and learning this new craft was making me feel very alive, and thankfully, this realization was followed by small jobs as a photographer based on what I was putting out through social media. 

It was about a year from the time I started up until I was paid for the first time, and it took another 2-3 years until I was officially full-time. It wasn’t as much a decision as it was something that happened unplanned. I worked in the music business for a long time, and when that chapter came to an end and I was searching for what could be next, I started taking portraits of interesting people I’d meet. It was just a way to satisfy my curiosity.

A lot of your work focuses on environmental portraiture, with photos of everyday people in spaces that reflect who they are. What do you learn about people by photographing them in this way?

It’s such a privilege and blessing to be able to use my camera as a passport and visit so many worlds. Whether I’m photographing a traditional seamstress in the Japanese countryside, an artist in their studio in Brooklyn, or a farmer in Tennessee, there is so much to learn from everyone I meet. I particularly love taking portraits of older people and getting to listen to their stories.

How has the rise of Instagram changed what it’s like to be a photographer today?

It seems to be a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, Instagram has made it possible for so many visual creatives to get their work seen and to build an audience of their own. It’s also a wonderful way to meet like-minded colleagues to befriend.

On the other hand, the best interests of photographers and photo lovers aren’t necessarily centered in how Instagram and other social media platforms are built and run. I don’t think that’s a surprise nor a requirement, but it’s something we might want to keep in mind when deciding whether and how to use social media platforms.

For a recent issue of Process, I had a conversation with Dave Krugman, a photographer who happens to have a psychology degree. We spoke at length about the addictive elements of social media and how it can limit our creative expression. And, of course, there is the bullying and harassment element that far too many people have to experience.

Has writing about photography for the Process community influenced your own process?

It has made me more mindful about documenting my process and forced me to reflect on the goals and intentions behind my photographs. Writing is such a great way to think more deeply because it forces me to take the amorphous thoughts floating around my head and turn them into concrete sentences on paper. 

Case in point: I just launched the pre-order campaign for my upcoming photo book Notice, which is a body of work shot entirely during the pandemic while in Vancouver, BC. I am not sure this book would exist if it weren’t for my newsletter, because I started it after recommending my readers to start a new photo project in order to help them process (no pun intended) all the pandemic craziness around us.

Since I wanted to show that I was following my own advice, I started taking a daily photo walk, camera in hand, in my small suburban neighborhood during lockdown. I shared the first results in an issue of Process in May 2020. After some wonderful feedback, I kept the daily photo walks going, intermittently sharing how the project was evolving. Now, almost a year later, I’m announcing the pre-order for a real-life, hardcover, clothbound photo book in the newsletter first—for the people who have been following the story from the beginning.

Who’s the most memorable subject you’ve photographed?

I would have to say Ms. Phila Hach, a legend of southern hospitality and cooking who is sadly no longer with us. I shared one of those portraits in an issue of Process on environmental portraiture, and another ran in an issue of National Geographic Traveler a few years ago.

She was the most memorable because she was the kindest and most magical. There is no way anyone would have met her and not walked away feeling a bit better and more hopeful about life.

Who’s another Substack writer you’d recommend?

This is not a particularly original recommendation, nor is it related to the arts in any way, but my favorite Substack writer has to be Judd Legum of Popular Information. He’s the first Substack writer I read and also the one who inspired me to choose Substack as the platform for Process. He does incredibly important work covering politics and corruption in a way that you’d expect major newspapers to write, but far too often don’t.

Subscribe to Wesley’s newsletter, Process, pre-order his new book Notice, check out his website, or follow him on Instagram @wesley.