A Passion to Understand: Photographer and Filmmaker Whit Wales Seeks to Show the Best of Who People Are09/01/2021 05:00PM ● By Jennifer Goss Duby
Whit Wales wants to understand, and he wants to share. It’s stated right up front on the website for his commercial film company, Endeavor Films: “To understand and show the best of who you are and what you do.” It’s the mission of his business, and it’s his own passion. And it’s what brought him to Vermont.
In 2015, Whit Wales was the executive director of a video production company in Boston. The company was charged with the task of documenting a fundraising campaign by TD Bank called Bring Change. The initiative asked people to bring their spare change in as donations to help raise funds for charities and community members in the Burlington area. The funds were then matched by a donation from TD Bank. The recipient of that August 2015 drive was a nonprofit which provided private sailing excursions to people living with cancer.
The initiative was a success in more ways than one. The drive Whit documented through still and motion imagery raised $9,000. But the experience also introduced him to his life partner Suzanne Johnson. Suzanne enlisted Whit to create a film showcasing the life-affirming sailing experiences that she and her crew of volunteers continue to create for cancer patients on the waters of Lake Champlain at what is now Sail Beyond Cancer Vermont.
Additionally, Vermont cast her Green Mountain spell on Whit. Travel takes up a great deal of Whit’s time but, since his transformational experience with Sail Beyond Cancer and meeting Suzanne, every moment possible has been spent in Vermont.
Something to Call My Own
In 2019, the time came to make a change. I realized that I wanted something that I could call my own,” says Whit. With a small business loan from the same bank that brought him to Vermont, Whit launched Endeavor Films. “It’s been an incredibly liberating experience,” says Whit. He and his team gravitate toward mission-driven clients who strive to make the world a better place.
Whit began his career as an actor and stage director. “I learned early on that you cannot play the result at the expense of the moment. The bad actor playing an old person will try to ‘look like’ an old person irrespective of their circumstance. They are committed to the same ‘old walk’ whether their house is on fire or a grandchild has arrived with flowers. If my goal is to seek a truth, I must recognize that truth as a result—rather than an abstraction that obscures what is happening in the moment of an interview.”
A great deal goes into preparing for a film shoot, including research, writing, and even meditation. “Then I do my best to forget everything and trust that the quality of my intention and preparation will guide the quality of engagement and listening that allows another person to bring forth their truest self,” says Whit.
Anyone who has ever been filmed or photographed knows how difficult it can be to project one’s natural self. How do gifted filmmakers evoke a genuine response from a subject? Whenever possible, Whit will conduct a pre-interview. “I say, ‘Let’s stir up some ideas about what you might want to say.’ But then I ask folks to forget we ever had the conversation. Viewers don’t want to see someone striving to remember what they said so well a week ago. They want to see you confidently exploring ideas anew right before the camera. To me, that’s exciting.”
Connecting with the Viewer
The ability of Whit’s photographs to connect with a viewer speaks for itself. In his work for Sail Beyond Cancer, his images record moments of peace carved out of the storm-tossed lives of people challenged by a cancer diagnosis. The spectrum of emotion that a person living with cancer navigates can be seen in these images, from intimacy and peace to loneliness and sorrow, to solitude, hope and joy, grief, and the camaraderie of being with fellow humans sharing the same difficult journey.
A work of art is a dialog between creator and viewer, with the creation of meaning ultimately resting with the viewer. Whit hopes that with his landscapes, it is, "Something in nature, a framing of something that allows you to breathe. That may sound cheesy, but what I would hope is that the composition of a landscape stops you for a moment and allows you to just breathe."
With his work, Whit endeavors to bring about understanding—of the connections between people and of people in the context of their situations. “The work out on the water continues to be very fulfilling. Here are people who are with people they love, cherishing a moment together in the context of a situation that is certainly challenging— physically, mentally, spiritually. To be able to provide them with memories of that event,” says Whit, “that’s it.” For more of Whit’s work, visit his website.