Written by The Business Journal Staff
Wilson, a 2011 Fresno State photography grad, has had an eye for capturing special moments on film since her mom gifted her a 35mm camera at age 9. While attending Fresno State, Wilson took her art to the next level as friends and family members began paying her for headshots and family photos. Wilson is now known throughout the Central Valley for her wedding and event photography as well.
WeddingWire recently recognized Wilson with a Couples Choice Award, presented to photographers with all 5-star ratings on its site, and she has also been honored by Parents Magazine Central California as Best Family Photographer and has been a Fresno Bee Peoples Choice Award nominee multiple times.
Though her work has received several accolades, Wilson said she was beyond surprised when Archibald Project founders chose her application out of the hundreds submitted.
“It said on the application not to expect a reply because so many are applying,” Wilson said. “Within 24 hours they e-mailed me and said they loved my application, and my heart for photography and for kids, and asked to interview me and my heart sank. The next week I was interviewing on a Skype call on my couch, and then less than a week later, they invited me to go. There are nine of us going throughout the United States and I’m the only one from California.”
During the 10-day trip to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Wilson will get to know families that are part of the Selamta Family Project, a sustainable orphan organization. Ethiopia is home to four million orphans that age out of traditional orphanages at age 8, Wilson said. Selamta creates families for some of these orphans while simultaneously helping marginalized women who have been displaced from their homes. These women are offered a place to stay in exchange for agreeing to be a mom to 10 orphans. Each home consists of a mom, an aunt, and 10 children, and the homes established are permanent — children don’t “age out.”
Wilson, who is mom to 2-year-old son Corbin, said she has always had a heart for children and before being blessed with her son, she and her husband seriously considered adoption. She has also donated photography sessions to adoptive and foster families through her work with Fresno nonprofit City Without Orphans.
“It’s such a sad epidemic going on worldwide,” Wilson said. “In Fresno alone, we have 2,000 children ready to be adopted today. We just don’t realize how far spread the orphan crisis really is, and there are not enough people shedding light on it. So if I can use my gift of photography to start the conversation and get people to notice that these aren’t just numbers — these kiddos are actually people — then I think that will make just a little bit of difference bringing awareness to it.”
After spending a couple days getting to know Salamta families without the camera in hand, Wilson will base her photos on a storyboard — the story she decides she wants to bring back to Fresno to share.
A visionary, Wilson said she has lofty aspirations and she projects them onto others as well, always seeing their potential. In regards to orphans, Wilson said she feels they has as much to offer to the world as other children, and their futures are bright. Though she doesn’t know yet what she’ll see in Ethiopia, she hopes that idea — that these children can do anything — resonates in her photos.
“I think as westerners, we have this idea that orphans are the children we see on those sad television commercials; they are dirty and living in the trenches,” Wilson said. “Oftentimes that is the case, but there are a lot of organizations trying help these kids and put them on a platform to succeed and do well, and I think that is where my heart is with this — to show these are people who have a future.”
Her other goal is to spark discussion and motivate people into action when she returns home.
“If my images can plant a seed in someone, and they are able to later down the road even just donate to these people, than that is so cool that my work could do that, let alone inspire someone to adopt or foster themselves,” Wilson said.
Wilson is unsure how she will introduce the photos to the local community, but is tossing around ideas of hosting an Art Hop or similar event to unveil the images.
“I look forward to sharing this with the community,” Wilson said. “I have to shake myself to remind myself that this is reality. Not only do I have a successful business here in town, but I’m able to go far — to Africa — and bring it back to Fresno.
As for the trip itself, Wilson knows it will be tough, but it is important for photographers and others to tell the stories of these orphans.
“People keep asking me if I’m excited, and that’s a hard question to answer because I know my heart is going to be wrecked,” Wilson said. “It will be wrecked in the best way possible, but it will be wrecked and it will be hard. I’m trying to prepare my heart and mind for that. But just because it’s hard, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”
Wilson leaves for Ethiopia Feb. 23 and will return March 6.