Max Wolf: Portraits Fallen Through the Looking Glass

It’s probably been quite a while since any of us last read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (if you’ve ever read it at all). You’d never actually need to. The story is such an enduring piece of pop culture; it is now a trope. It’s been played out, referenced, and parodied over and over again in emerging media for decades. Not bad for a book originally released in 1865.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland itself is also a game of satires and innuendos. Take, for instance, the Victorian English jokes and ruminations. Logically, the story doesn’t make much sense; the dialogue is, at times, literal nonsense. Most don’t quite understand Alice’s fantasy-reality world and its inhabitants. What makes them memorable though is the many obstacles they endure that linger in our collective consciousness.

Enter Max Wolf. 

“One may take a subject…and deliberately twist the standard and the viewpoint into something different, individualist and intriguing.”

On a timeline, he is at the opposite end: a young portrait photographer shooting out of DeLand while finishing a degree at Stetson University. He doesn’t study photography primarily, either — Wolf is a classical vocalist working towards a Bachelor’s in music performance. He is a student of photography like any photographer is, continually learning and pushing himself to grow. 

So on an art spectrum, Wolf already punches way above his weight. His work is an elaborate magic trick we weren’t sure was unfolding, just as Alice’s world becomes once we step into it with her. In both cases, we are taken along for a curious ride. Though we may not know it, we are watching the artist chase a long line of inspiration.

For Wolf, the most recent of influences have been Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso. Their works are a part of a joint exhibition in Paris, open until late August. The purpose of the show is to connect both the artists’ styles across time and medium to arrive at similar themes of abstract form and space. Wolf successfully carries that essence on in his way.

His photos feel modern and wholly contained; they fit together in arcs. Although, the moment that you look at each one, it engulfs your attention in its particulars. A single image on a single-minded journey — aided by the incredible balance of light in every frame. The photos have so much room to breathe and exist, unhurriedly, to and within themselves. 

It allows the gallery to retain a feeling of minimalism, even when packed with different elements, colors, and subjects. From people to trim urban landscapes to inanimate objects and the humans that masquerade as them, Wolf makes it all look so gentle.

Though he takes a healthy share of dramatic fashion and studio portraits, many times the conceptual edge of his photography beats out portraiture. He breaks his work down into shapes, contextless details, and missing pieces. Tensions then start to tell a story of what can no longer be seen as much as what is still visible.

“I find within myself a strong desire to portray non-traditional angles at which models and visual artists may view portraiture,” Wolf explains. “The beauty in such work is not adjudicated by the standard [of conventional attractiveness we usually seek], but rather in the unique narrative of the aggressive, contrived contours of the alterations within the portrait. At once, the portrait is no longer about the perceived societal visual quality of the subject. It is about an exceptionally dynamic silhouette that is unable to be replicated in the natural world.” 

Quite often, the photographs become visual art of sorts. Traditional photographic elements combine with erasure/duplication/morphs and the easy cut-outs, flips, and borders that digital photography allows us. He incorporates the design he wants right into the very experience of viewing the photo. Wolf keeps a firm grip on our perception of this fleeting moment outside reality.

“In essence,” Wolf concludes, “it feeds a fantasy.”

At times, things might seem a little like nonsense. We see, and we strain to understand, but it’s the nature of art that we don’t truly know. That’s why we keep looking.


INSTAGRAM @ma.xwolf