Rock and roll (of film)

Senior Nicholas Wheat stays focused on reaching next step


courtesy of Nicholas Wheat

A portrait from senior Nicholas Wheat’s year-long AP Photography project focused on capturing the human figure and motion. “I used the illustrations to emphasize parts of the subjects,” Wheat said.

Madelynn Niles, co-editor in chief

For senior Nicholas Wheat, it’s all about the climb.

Whether it be finding his photography style or finishing a route in the bouldering gym, Wheat’s lifestyle is dedicated to progress and growth.

I’m definitely still in an exploratory phase where I’m just trying everything that there is. People are always like, ‘Oh, what do you like to shoot?’ And I say ‘I don’t know, I just do everything.’

— senior Nicholas Wheat on his approach to photography

Wheat began climbing regularly five years ago, something he attributes to his family’s passion for the sport, his love of the community and his hatred of cardio.

“It’s very different movement than most other sports,” he said. “Climbing is an exercise, but it’s also cerebral. You have to be smart about your movement or else it won’t work out.”

And although on a competitive team, Wheat doesn’t feel the pressure of rivalry.

“It’s just a super welcoming community; everyone’s super supportive, especially of new climbers,” he said. “Everyone’s just super psyched that you’re there. It’s not a team sport, but it’s still very social.”

The main reason Wheat climbs, he added with a laugh, is the survival of his social life.

Whenever he has spare time or finishes his school work early, Wheat travels to Austin Bouldering Project to climb, often three to four times a week. This routine worked to his advantage when he applied and got a job working at ABP’s new gym in Westgate.

“I’m there all the time anyway, and I already know all the staff,” he said. “I used to be on one of the ABP teams for a little while, so I kind of got an idea of what the staff is like there, and it’s just a really good community. Everyone there is super friendly, and it seemed like a great first job.”

His connections with ABP also provided a unique opportunity: the chance to showcase his photography at the gym’s gallery in September.

THE SKY’S THE LIMIT: The Barcelona sky as photographed by Wheat in his gap year before freshman year. “They had some amazing architecture there,” Wheat said. (Nicholas Wheat)

“It was my first show, so it was super exciting,” Wheat said. “I got to have everyone I know from the gym and the climbing people see what I’m into, what I do, and that was amazing.”

The showcase had other benefits, too.

“Some of the people I know from outside of climbing, old friends, came by and even started climbing at the gym because it’s in the same space,” Wheat said. “It’s so cool to see those worlds collide.”

Wheat’s passion for photography started in sixth grade, when he took his first class, and his love for photos has prevailed ever since.

[Nicholas] was mature even as a freshman. He’s always been kind of to himself, a mature individual, just kind of focused, knows what he wants.

— commercial photography teacher Andrew Cooke

“I’m definitely still in an exploratory phase where I’m just trying everything that there is,” he said. “People are always like, ‘Oh, what do you like to shoot?’ And I say ‘I don’t know, I just do everything.’ It’s just what I’m attracted to, or what I think looks cool.”

Although he is still exploring his style, a central theme in Wheat’s work is the night.

“I love shooting at night, just because the light is different,” he said. “It’s kind of unknown; you don’t really see that part of our world very often. It feels very mysterious.”

Wheat also took three trips to Mexico to work on his photography while practicing his Spanish, photographing strangers on the streets—an experience he felt was equally awkward and rewarding.
This approach to the art is exactly what photography teacher Andrew Cooke feels separates Wheat from his other students.

“He just has such a passion for photography, and he makes it obvious—like he works on it all the time,” Cooke said. “He came in on day one, already thinking about it, talking about it more than any of his classmates, and he always works on it outside of class.”

Because Wheat has been a student of Cooke’s all four years of school, taking Photography I, II, AP and this year serving as a teacher aide, Cooke has witnessed his growing up. And besides getting taller, Cooke feels that not much has changed from his independent, passionate ninth-grade self.

ARTIST OF THE PORTRAIT: Another of Wheat’s portraits from his AP Photography project, shot on 35 mm film. “Once again,” Wheat said, “I used the illustrations to emphasize certain forms.” Photo courtesy of Wheat.

“He was mature even as a freshman,” he said. “He’s always been kind of to himself, a mature individual, just kind of focused, knows what he wants.”

One of Cooke’s favorite “Nicholas moments” was from his sophomore year during competition season.

“There’s one student in class who loves to do contests and does a lot. Nicholas is not one of those students,” Cooke said. “He’s like, ‘Yeah, you know, I don’t really care. I’ll do ‘em, but I’m just doing whatever I can to get me to the next step.’ And he still did well in the contests; he still does well even when he’s not really thinking about it. He’s focused on what he wants, and other stuff is not important.”

And for Wheat, the same goes for climbing.

“I’m on a competitive climbing team, but I haven’t competed much, though, honestly— that’s not really why I do it,” he said. “I just climb to climb.”
“For me, it’s just about seeing that progression.”

UPWARDLY MOBILE: Wheat climbs at Austin Bouldering Project on Springdale, where he works and often practices his climbing.
Photo courtesy of Wheat.