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From the classroom to Instagram, Forsyth County teacher spreads the gospel of photography
Mark Wilson

See the full issue of the June 400 Life magazine here.


On a recent Monday, Mark Wilson woke up at 3 a.m., grabbed his camera and walked alone to the beach. Wilson, a high school Spanish teacher in Forsyth County, and his family were enjoying a brief getaway in Hilton Head, S.C., but Wilson couldn’t pass up a chance to capture the perfect shot of the Milky Way.

Don’t call Wilson “dedicated,” though. He prefers the term “adventurous.”

“I would describe myself as a semi-pro hobby enthusiast,” Wilson says.

Wilson’s over 14,000 followers on Instagram describe his nature photography as “brilliant,” “incredible,” “stunning.” They are reacting to images of green herons taking flight, grizzly bears roaming the West, majestic sunsets reflecting on Forsyth County waters.

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Mark Wilson
- Mark Wilson

Teaching is Wilson’s primary vocation, and has been for 27 years, including the last 10 in Forsyth County at West Forsyth High School. But over the past 12 years, Wilson has found something of a second life’s calling in photography. 

The art form has come to both fascinate Wilson and resonate with him deeply. Wilson appreciates the camera’s ability to freeze a moment, but as a Christian, he also finds photography an effective tool to showcase the natural beauty of a world created by his higher power. The end result is that Wilson might actually best be described as a “camera evangelist” in every sense.

The tool itself is a passion for him. Every year, as smartphones are equipped with better and better cameras, Wilson feels his Nikon becomes more and more sacred. Though he recognizes the convenience of the camera phone, and the technological advancement, for Wilson, it can never substitute for the quality of the “real thing.” 

“I think it’s a valuable pursuit to capture high-quality images that are beyond phone images,” Wilson says.

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Mark Wilson
-Mark Wilson

Wilson first discovered this for himself 12 years ago when his wife’s boss gifted her with a camera as a company bonus. Wilson was instantly curious. He brought the camera to his son’s youth football game and fired off thousands of shots. For the next few years, Wilson became the unofficial team photographer. He taught himself by tinkering with settings and angles. 

Then, Wilson borrowed a macro lens from his wife’s boss, which allowed him to take life-sized photos of objects close-up. Wilson went in his backyard and experimented. “I’m out in a field behind my house taking pictures of bugs and stuff, and it’s fascinating,” Wilson says. “It’s a world I’ve never seen: unbelievable spiders and bugs. I’m not an entomologist, but I became one there for a summer.”

Wilson’s wife’s boss had many more lenses, and each one fueled Wilson’s curiosity. “When you’re exposed to the fancy lenses, it’s addictive,” Wilson says.

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Mark Wilson
- Mark Wilson

Along the way, Wilson found a community of photographers on Instagram that provided him with both inspiration and guidance. One in particular was useful: Mahesh Thapa, who goes by Starving Photographer. Thapa did a funny thing. With every photo, he revealed the camera settings he used to capture the image. Wilson gained more intel by messaging Thapa with camera questions.

Wilson began to collect his own equipment, though it came with a caveat. His wife said, “if you make money on photography, you can spend money on photography,” Wilson says. So he started a side business taking family portraits. But Wilson is careful to keep that to a minimum so photography doesn’t feel like a job. “I try hard to keep it as a fun adventurous hobby,” he says.

There’s been plenty of adventure for Wilson lately. During the last couple of summers, Wilson and his family have taken ambitious road trips around the country, and he always brings his camera gear. 

One year they went to Arizona and Utah, where Wilson took photos of lunar-like landscapes at Arches National Park. Another year they drove up the East Coast, eventually to Maine, where the crashing waves on Boulder Beach were ripe for playing with exposure. Most recently, they traveled through Glacier National Park and Yellowstone, where Wilson spent days looking for grizzly bears. “We went on to see like 14 bears,” Wilson says.

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Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson

When these photos get posted on Wilson’s Instagram account, he puts a passage from the Bible for the caption. He tries to find something that relates to the image or what he was thinking about at the time. “It’s been an outlet for me to glorify God’s beauty and creation,” Wilson said.

Fortuitously, the past few months of sheltering in place during the novel coronavirus pandemic have given Wilson more time to explore. He and his family just moved into a house in a neighborhood with a 12-acre lake. Wilson bought a kayak and formed a daily ritual of teaching for a few hours then heading out on the lake. He tries to go out twice a day, a 600mm lens his only companion. 

“It’s almost a little adventure,” Wilson says. “What am I going to see this time? Every time of the day is different. There’s been amazing stuff out there on that lake.”

One day, Wilson can see himself retired from teaching and making photography an even more ambitious pursuit. But, when he considers that future, he becomes cautious.

“I don’t want to lose the joy of the photography,” Wilson says. “That’s something I keep reminding myself of. I just want to use it as a blessing.”

You can find Mark Wilson on Facebook and Instagram and online here.

Mark Wilson
- Mark Wilson