Published in High Plains Reader, Vol. 19 Iss. 26
By Manda Bertrand
April Wiser, a Fargo native, has lived in France for three years and has already picked up a slight French accent. She’s also picked up a talent and passion for photography and the Parisian lifestyle.
When she was seven, Wiser received her very first camera – a purple, plastic, point-and-shoot Vivitar, suitable for the less-than-careful child. However, the photographer says she didn’t develop any real interest in art until she was a sophomore or junior at Moorhead High School. She was simultaneously taking college biology classes, a course of study she followed for a long time.
Throughout high school, Wiser began experimenting with snapshots and self-portraiture.
“I was very curious about (photography) and then it just took over for me,” Wiser says.
When she was 21, Wiser returned to college at North Dakota State University to pursue interior design. During the course of her studies, she took a photography class at Minnesota State University Moorhead, a decision that changed the course of her future. Wiser fell in love with the medium, quit her interior design major and transferred to the Art Institute of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Then Wiser moved to Paris.
Wiser said that she had visited other large cities like New York, Los Angeles and London, but when she visited Paris around Christmas in 2008 with her mother and stepfather, she finally felt at home. She decided to finish her final year of photography studies and begin her career in the city she fell in love with, at the Paris international photography school, Spéos.
In high school, Wiser studies a little French. However, she hadn’t used it in the intervening years, and Spéos is an English-speaking campus. She didn’t begin actually learning French until she finished at the university.
“Coming here was like being born again. I didn’t know anybody or anything…but it was worth it,” Wiser says.
Wiser has faced her share of troubles as an American photographer. Firstly, as expected, she cites the language barrier. But she also finds difficulty in being a foreigner in other ways. Wiser says that renewing visas, hunting for apartments and being taken seriously as an American photographer in the French photography-as-art culture are exhausting and tough to deal with. But Wiser also attests to the importance of focusing on goals and dreams, especially through the tough times.
Wiser’s father Jim Wiser says that his daughter has always been stubborn. Despite her ups and downs, Mr. Wiser feels that he can’t tell his daughter to just come home and start over here, although he’d like to. He says that having never traveled out of the United States himself, he’s scared for his daughter to be in France alone. However, Mr. Wiser knows she will continue working hard until she reaches her goals.
“When she sets her mind to doing something, she just does it, no matter what anyone else tells her,” he says.
Wiser describes herself as a shy person, so in France, photography became its own language for her. MR. Wiser says that his daughter’s photography clearly shows her interests, passions and the direction she wants to take in her life: freelance fashion photography.
“[Photography] kind of became my voice,” Wiser says.
As inspiration, she draws on the past. Especially the psychedelia, art and culture of the 60s, music and lyrics, and the visions she sees in her head just before she falls asleep.
Parisian life requires a kind of self-motivation in pursuing a photography career, Wiser says. Each day, she is kept busy through varied work, whether it be editing, planning new ideas, working for clients, or doing fashion shoots — like the two she’ll be doing for New York and London brands in April. The cool thing, Wiser says, is that she learns something new, either about photography or herself, in every shoot she does. It’s the kind of work that challenges her and keeps her on her toes.
With any free time, she works on her own projects as well, such as an auto-portraiture series. This series is an exercise in creativity, personal exploration and self-expression for Wiser, something she enjoys doing through her photography.
Mr. Wiser first realized his daughter’s talent when she gave him a photo of herself and her sisters for a father’s day gift. Wiser has returned to her family in Fargo only once, two years ago, since leaving in 2009. Mr. Wiser has a visa in in the works right now, so that his daughter can show Paris to him sometime in the next year.