Wes Wilson has spent years seeing the invisible.
At 19, the Williamson photographer sees something when others see nothing. For him, the boring looks interesting and the mundane seems important.
He has an impassioned eye. The streets, ridges and sky have become his domain.
Though Wilson has spent the last few years viewing life from the other side of his camera lens, he couldn't help but notice economic issues plaguing his community and those in it.
"I'm really seeing how much trouble the coal industry is having right now as I am sure you are too," he began a recent Facebook page post.
Barely out of high school, Wilson recently extended an offer to struggling families of teens: He'd do free senior portraits for those whose parents were unable to pay as a result of job losses or layoffs.
Wilson said he wanted to be able to help families have precious memories of the unique time in their children's lives.
"Several other photographers have done this and I thought this idea was fantastic," the post continues. "If you are a high school senior from southern W.Va. or eastern Ky. whose parent(s) cannot afford to pay for your senior photos because of job losses, layoffs or other issues, please private message me and I would love to do your photos for free."
Wilson said he was inspired to provide such a service when he heard James River Coal in eastern Kentucky was laying off more than 500 employees.
"Many people that live around here are tied to the coal industry," Wilson said. "I have several friends that are coal miners or belong to coal-mining families. You walk around and you see people that may look fine but are, in fact, struggling. I like helping people out and I want to help some seniors acquire the portraits they deserve.
"The current administration in Washington can take the jobs of these families in our area, but one thing they can't take is the love, support and friendship these families have towards each other."
His outreach effort garnered him much praise from his community, and Wilson said a few seniors have reached out to him so far. Since the post was published, it has been viewed more than 30,000 times. Some coal companies in the region also shared his post on Facebook.
It was a family trip to Boston in 2001 that sparked Wilson's interest in photography.
"I was only in the second grade at the time but my father had a Sony Mavica that stored images on floppy disks," Wilson said. "We went to Cape Cod and I was able to shoot some photos of the family. It just clicked for me."
Although Wilson began shooting still images in the second grade, he didn't start getting serious about photography until middle school.
"We had a school newspaper and I was excited about going out and taking pictures," Wilson said. "My family, friends and coaches knew I had a camera and encouraged me to go to football games and other events to take pictures. I began to take more and more photos and I haven't stopped."
Wilson attended Williamson High School until it closed down in 2011. The Williamson, Burch and Matewan schools consolidated into Mingo Central High School. He attended MCHS his senior year and was a student in the first graduating class.
"I went from a school of about 150 to a school of more than 800. It was definitely a big adjustment," Wilson said.
Wilson traveled around and photographed high school football games. He contributed to several yearbooks, area news publications and his high school newspaper.
"I went to games, stood on the sidelines and took photos," Wilson said. "People from other schools and from some of the local newspapers would call me and inquire about some of my pictures. I'm a nice guy so I helped them out."
In high school, Wilson discovered his passion for sports photography. He learned the ins and outs of his camera, everything from shutter speed, focus and exposure.
His love for sports led him to serve as sports editor for his high school newspaper. He also began to freelance for the Mingo Messenger and the Williamson Daily News.
Wilson has become quite reputable in his community. His freelance gigs, his presence at many Mingo County sporting events and his landscape, aerial and senior portraits have put his small business on the map.
Wes Wilson Photography was founded in 2008. During high school, Wilson mainly focused on sports photography. After graduation, he has branched out and has done more family, senior and aerial portraits.
Wilson has no studio but he kind of likes that.
"By having no studio, I have to work harder," Wilson said. "I have to push my level of creativity and artistic ability. I have to determine what kind of look my clients want to pull off and I think of places in the community that would serve as good backdrops. It's nice knowing the area and all the cool places around here."
Wilson said his favorite photo shoots involve him being suspended in the air.
"My second passion is aviation," Wilson said. "If I were not doing pictures, I would probably be working for Delta. I decided to incorporate aviation into my photography and began doing aerial shots."
Wilson has recorded 14 hours of flight time and enjoyed studying Orville and Wilbur Wright in school.
One of Wilson's friends, Mike Holbrook, lives in Logan and owns a Huey helicopter. Wilson tells Holbrook when he wants to go up and take some photos.
"I buckle in and we head up," Wilson said. "When I see things I want to shoot, I ask the pilot to hover in that area so I can get that perfect shot. I wish everyone could see things from that perspective. Watching the fog roll off the mountains is awe-inspiring."
During an aerial shoot, Wilson takes nearly 3,000 photos. He said he rarely gets the chance to fly so he takes advantage of each opportunity. He processes the photos and will send them out to various entities -- Mingo County Schools, Mingo County Redevelopment Authority and local residents who may be interested in an aerial shot of their property.
Another memorable photo shoot was when he traveled to Aspen, Colo. for the 2012 Winter X Games.
"I received media credentials a few days before the event. I was getting ready to fly out when I got the email. I almost didn't pack my camera equipment but was glad I did," Wilson said. "It was a different experience walking into the media tent and hearing a variety of languages. It was a big international event and I was thrilled to be part of it."
Wilson said he was able to take photos of Shaun White and Tucker Hibbert. He captured snowboarders jumping nearly 60 feet in the air.
"It was cold but being able to take photos there was a highlight of my life thus far," Wilson said.
Wilson and his father, Steven Wilson, are skiers and snowboarders themselves. They've traveled to Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County and Breckenridge, Colo.
Wilson's father, who is an optometrist in Williamson, and mother have assisted him in purchasing some of his equipment. They have also been supportive.
"I have been blessed with having a supportive family," Wilson said. "I'm not being rushed to leave and they are always there if I need them."
After graduation, Wilson chose to stay in Williamson. His peers, on the other hand, left the area to pursue other opportunities.
"Many of my peers couldn't wait to get the heck out of dodge," Wilson said. "I could go up to the school right now and ask every senior what their plans are and I bet that nearly 95 percent of them are planning to leave. Being from a small town, opportunities are not that great with photography but I'm staying busy and business is good."
Wilson said he has no reason to leave right now. He said his involvement with high school sports, various freelance jobs, his business and other community commitments are keeping him busy. He is also in the middle of projects that he wants to finish, as well as wanting to begin several other projects he has in mind.
Wilson has lived in Williamson his whole life. In April 2013, tragedy struck the small town when Sheriff Eugene Crum was shot to death while eating his lunch. Wilson was in town that day and recalls running out to photograph the scene.
"I was out at lunch with a buddy of mine," Wilson said. "Mom called and told me not to go downtown, that there had been a shooting. I immediately ran home, gathered my camera and made my way to the scene within 20 minutes."
Since Wilson was one of the first photographers that arrived, he was able to acquire some pictures of the scene that no other news outlets had. He sold some of those images to local outlets. He said newspapers from around the country used his photos, including a newspaper in Los Angeles.
Wilson had the privilege to take pictures at Crum's funeral.
"The shots were priceless. There was one shot I did that showed a line of officers saluting Crum's casket. That was one of my favorites," Wilson said. "I took pictures as a historical thing. I never sold any of the funeral pictures to any media outlet. I released them on my Facebook page for my family and friends but I didn't sell them to the media because I wanted to respect the Crum family's privacy.
"It was a tough event to cover. I knew Eugene and he was a nice guy. The community surely misses him. It was very emotional and it was hard for me to be professional especially since I knew the family affected."
Wilson has another passion -- basketball. He travels to the Charleston Civic Center each year and watches the state high school basketball tournaments. If he is not shooting photos, he is up in the stands with his chicken basket.
"Another favorite experience was when I got the chance to cover the back-to-back championships for Tug Valley," Wilson said.
"I had friends attend there and it was great to go see them play. I did not play basketball in high school but I did play in a midget league when I was younger. I tell people that I was so good that I retired after one season."
Wilson is planning to attend film school at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla. He is seeking to enroll in a 20-month program. Although he doesn't know when he will begin school, it is on his radar and he hopes to start in the coming years.
Wilson said he is planning to stay in Williamson for a while. Looking into the future, Wilson sees himself in a larger city, possibly doing sports photography for ESPN.
Contact writer John Gibb at john.g...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1796.