Meet the (ND) Maker: Sienna Wilson ’22 Uses Photography to Transform Concepts of Loss

Author: Shannon Rooney

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Sienna Wilson ’22 says she and photography were always “meant to be.” The Kentucky native has had a camera in her hand since she was two years-old and took pictures whenever she could growing up. When she was little, she was fascinated by the images on the screen of the family’s digital camera and this fascination has only grown. Taking pictures as a matter of course became natural as her family traveled a lot, and she began capturing the interesting places they went. 

Photography is also special to Wilson because someone important to her loved taking pictures. 

“Everyone has always told me how I’m the reincarnation of my grandmother because we are so alike in every way even though I never got to meet her. Photography is just one of her passions that carried on to me,” says Wilson. 

Wilson is pursuing a studio art major with a photography concentration. But while art is essential to her, Wilson is multi-talented. She is also a proud member of Notre Dame’s nationally titled Division I Fencing Team.

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Wilson has been fencing since she was 10 years-old. Another passion she developed as a child, fencing speaks to her perfectionist nature, among other facets of her personality.     

“I love the individuality and uniqueness of the sport,” says Wilson. “It takes a combination of athleticism, intricate movements, and mental strength. I tend to be a perfectionist and fencing is all about precision. It’s an individual sport where it’s no one’s fault but your own if you don’t perform well and, since coming to Notre Dame, I’ve gained that team aspect to share a common goal with.”    

Shared goals are a theme in Wilson’s Notre Dame experience. The studio art program includes a tight-knit group of students with various concentrations and Wilson enjoys the community feel of the program.

“Having a major like [studio art] has allowed me to work more closely with the professors and form deeper relationships with them [because of the smallness of the group],” she says. 

Wilson especially appreciates her professor and mentor Martina Lopez, head of the photography program, whose guidance has been crucial to Wilson's development as an artist and a person. "She's been such an influential guide to me in expanding my creativity and skill behind the lens," says Wilson. 

Wilson can’t pick a favorite class, however, because she enjoys the same freedom to learn and create in all of them. Within her photography concentration, Wilson has had the opportunity to take nine classes through which she has honed her craft. 

“I’ve been able to learn darkroom techniques, historical study, studio lighting, portfolio creation, image sequencing, installation, digital manipulation, book making…” and the list goes on, she says. 

Wilson’s photos illustrate her desire to see and translate beauty in the world. She is inspired by her feelings, nature, her experiences, and, generally, her surroundings. All of life is fuel for her art. 

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Over the past year, she realized just how much she is inspired by the beauty in the world around her. Wilson’s mom, Christi, was diagnosed with a progressive genetic disease and Wilson says, in spite of her circumstances, her mother “remains a light in everyone’s life….She can always find beauty in the world, even when it seems as if there is none, and that’s what I attempt to do in my own images.” 

Wilson works to transform loss into something beautiful through her photographs and says she pulls inspiration from the natural world because it helps her bring that vision to life. 

Wilson is currently working toward completing her senior thesis project. It is provisionally titled “Immaterial in the Physical,” and in her artist’s statement, Wilson asks, “Loss is a part of the human experience, but what if not all is lost?” 

Through her collection of images, she “seeks to recontextualize loss by creating a visual representation of an immaterial presence in our physical world.” Her photographs accomplish this both in structure and mood, often combining a natural landscape with a vaguely represented human form. The result is ethereal images that ask the viewer to look beyond the solid elements of each photograph. Wilson recently passed her thesis defense and the project earned her the Department of Art, Art History, and Design Grief Award for thesis projects. She also received the Judith A. Wrappe Memorial Award. (Check out a list of department grants and awards here.)

Wilson has aspirations to continue her creative pursuits after graduation next May. Commercial photography is a possibility, as are curator or gallery work and athletic marketing of some kind. Until then, she is making the most of her photography concentration, embracing opportunities to create work that is meaningful to herself and others.  

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Originally published by Shannon Rooney at admissions.nd.edu on December 02, 2021.