What compels the obsessive creative?
Months ago I stumbled into what is probably the biggest and yet little-known online photo archives. It’s comprised of some 70,000 photos, mostly from the second half of the 20th century, with scenes from all over the world and all sorts of people. And it was all shot by one man.
I came across the Nick DeWolf photo archive when I was searching for an image of General Patton’s schooner the When & If to use in this post here. The image I found in the archive was perfect. It was taken back when the boat was white, which is how I remember it from my youth, and it featured the When & If returning to harbor, which seemed a perfect way to illustrate the story of its restoration.
That was the beginning of my fascination with the DeWolf photo archive which naturally grew into an interest in the man himself. I found photos of Tuckerman Ravine trips in the 50s, sailing in Marblehead, and Boston street scenes. All shots that resonate with this native Bay Stater.
I’m always fascinated with people who are deeply passionate about something, whether it’s bicycle building, knife making, woodworking, whatever. The things creative people make, often with no financial reward. The time spent devoted to creating and learning. The backstories behind the birth of their passions. All of this is really fascinating to me, and often, really inspiring.
DeWolf was by all accounts an amazingly interesting man. He graduated MIT at 19 and started a tech company that became hugely successful, allowing him to spend much of his life traveling. A brilliant technologist, he was in a rocket club and developed a personal computer. He was obsessed with the counter culture movement of the 60s and also a devoted capitalist who attended Burning Man many times.
But above all, he was a photographer. It’s estimated that his photo archive is comprised of some 250,000 photos. That is just a staggering number. And that’s what led me to write this piece for Boston Magazine.
Not only do DeWolf’s photos show the images of a life well-lived, but also of a man utterly obsessed with the craft of photography.
For the story, I got to speak with his son-in-law Steve Lundeen who is also the archivist for his photos and his first daughter Nicole DeWolf. They described him as full of energy. Nicole says her father was always the center of attention, and of course, always had a camera.
DeWolf was a man driven by his passions and who, as clearly evidenced by his photos, had an unquenchable thirst for life.
Though DeWolf did have a few photo shows, I don’t think he received the sort of attention he deserved for his photos during his life. But that’s sort of the thing with amassing so much work. It would be a full time job in itself promoting it and DeWolf was clearly so busy with so many projects and taking so many photos. Still, with so many pictures still being added to the archive, my guess is we’ll be celebrating DeWolf’s work for many, many, many years.