In 2013, we we met a young photographer named Andrew Wilson, who approached us to mount a small exhibition of his photographs at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. He called his subjects ‘old sea dogs’ and that’s just what they were – the lined and be-whiskered faces of some of Tasmania’s best-known maritime characters. Encouraged by strong positive reaction to his images, Andrew took the leap to self-publish his first book, Old Sea Dogs. The book was a success and following a deal with a commercial publisher, it went on to sell hundreds of copies in bookshops and tourist centres around the state. Andrew has just published his second volume, Old Sea Dogs 2. Old Sea Dogs 1 and 2 are not just beautiful books to look at, they also represent a courageous new business founded by a young Tasmanian entrepreneur. The Australian Wooden Boat Festival is proud to be a sponsor.
We caught up with Andy Wilson to ask him about his story and how he came to make Old Sea Dogs
“I grew up in Lauderdale and started sailing with my father from the age of 5. Dad was a physiotherapist in town and owned the clinic BodyTech, while Mum ran the business. As a child we would go away on my parents’ yacht every Easter and Christmas down to the channel and anchor in Barnes Bay. Dad used to own the classic gaff rigged yacht Cygnet, which I only discovered was built by the Wilson Bros when making the first Sea Dogs book. My father was also had an interest in photography and as I grew up I’d use his Minolta gear to photograph friends and the sports competitions I was attending.
At college, I studied photography and film production and ended up applying for art school in 1994. At the same time I interviewed for a job at local advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, Mazengarb. I was offered the job as assistant TV producer on the very same day I was accepted into art school for photography. I was 19, and without any real idea as what I would do with an fine art degree, so I took the job and its $14k starting wage. I spent my first pay packet on clothes, as everything I owned was threadbare.
I worked at the agency for 5 years, became a senior producer at age 22, before quitting to travelling for a year overseas with friends. I travelled around Europe and brought back 20 rolls of black and white film. My friends called me ‘Mr Fuji’ as I was always taking photos. When I returned, I worked in TV production for several years, producing TV commercials, broadcast documentaries and feature films. I continued to dabble in photography, doing the odd course and taking reference images. I even enrolled in Elizabeth College as a student (I was 26, I think) so I could use their darkroom. I wasn’t interested in the theory, as I’d studied that at Rosny years before. I just wanted to be able to print my images. I had my first ever exhibition at the Republic Bar. It was great fun and I think I sold one image to a family member.
All during this period I continued sailing with my father on Wednesday twilights and taking the boat away down the channel with friends in the summer. Around 2008, my now wife Claire and I started going out. Claire said I had to do something more with my photography, so I did a few weddings, but it wasn’t really my thing. My film background inspired me to try to I tell a story with my images, of people and places.
So 20 years after turning away from photography to pursue a career in film, I struck out to become a professional in the craft I’d always loved. I tried a few different ideas, photographing small business owners and beer brewers. Then, after sitting in the cockpit of dad’s yacht Vite and listening to him talk about how he grew up on the water as a kid, I came up with Old Sea Dogs. Seven years and over 10,000 images later, I’ve documented the entire Tasmanian coastline including Port Davey, Flinders Island and King Island, created two books and a brand.
The AWBF played a major role in this success initially, as they gave my fledgling idea a big boost when they made it possible for me to exhibit the work at the 2013 festival. That exhibition was the catalyst for creating the first book as it was the only way I could present the words and images together in a meaningful manner. I self-published 100 of my own and sold 80 of them. That scored me a publishing deal and the rest is history.
As to why boats and mariners? Well, the older a person gets, the more of their life is shown on their faces, which for me is beautiful. And likewise, the lines of a vessel, be it a dinghy, yacht, or fishing boat are also beautiful, especially when the Tasmanian seascape is in the background. For a long time I was a black and white purist, thinking colour was a distraction from the subject. Sea Dogs 2 contains colour photography, because along the way I realised that colour isn’t a distraction when it is the subject of the image.
And I guess that’s what I love about photography: there is always something to learn and if you have a concept driving your work, it can take you to amazing places where you will meet interesting people with wonderful adventures to share.”