William Glaser is a photographer studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His work celebrates regional-specific lifestyles, objects, and landscapes in a documentary style that leads to intimate and open-ended imagery. His images have been shown in galleries in New York, Massachusetts, Georgia, and Tennessee.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
My interest in photography and the arts came about quite suddenly. Before my sophomore year of college, I had never taken an art class or was interested in making art. Even though my mother is a photographer and my father is an actor, they never pushed me to paint, act, or take up a camera. The one time I brought up taking a photography class in high school my mother dismissed it as a waste of time and said if I really wanted to take photographs, I would just do it, regardless if a class was being offered. In retrospect, I think this was the best way to approach my casual interest but at the same time I had no idea what art was and what it meant to be an artist. Painting, drawing, photography, etc., all seemed like a hobby, not a job or a way of life.
It wasn’t until the end of my freshmen year of college that I came home asking to borrow a camera after burning through several academic departments. After my freshman year, I transferred out of a small school in Colorado to an in-state university and spent that summer photographing everyday in Connecticut. I discovered that my mother and father had a decent photo book collection and devoured everything they had (Helmet Newton, Richard Avedon, Cartier-Bresson, etc.). I had no idea what was possible with a camera before that. It all felt new and earth-shattering to my eyes.
I originally focused on documentary work and photojournalism since that was all I knew. I was fascinated with Magnum photographers going off into these intense areas of the world and photographing conflict, events I read in history books, and people of all different races and religions. Eventually, I wanted to do nothing more than photograph so I transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. It sounds incredibly naive, but I thought photography was visual truth. I was brought up believing that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and a photograph is meant to inform the viewer, not confuse, distort, or be fabricated.
Some projects I’ve done reflect this idea of an unwavering commitment to a belief or a program. For my project "Deep", I photographed an after school writing program for inner-city school kids that use writing to change their communities and develop their voice. The project was one-sided and like any traditional documentary, has an agenda that it needs to stick to in order to be successful. It focuses on the growth of the program and the kids' commitment to enacting change through writing. Over the past two years, I’ve experimented with various forms and styles of photography, which led me to a "folk narrative." Growing up in the North has led me to adopt several preconceived notions about the South and its culture, so I decided to visualize my dreams and imagination through photography. I want it to have elements of Mark Twain and Faulkner with the truth elaborated and fabricated, yet it still remains. It’s just become abstracted.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
In terms of what I’m photographing now, I’d have to say Gus Powell, Alec Soth, and Greg Halpern are my most influential. I can be an incredibly cynical and introverted person, but they’ve shown me that beauty and stories exist. We’ve just been taught to not stare and move along. Like any other photography student in undergrad, you could say I’m in the process of killing my masters. My favorite teachers have always allowed me to struggle. My first photo teacher (Frank Noelker) and art teacher (Ray Dicapua) at the University of Connecticut let me wrestle with all the usual conceptual pitfalls a beginner in photography falls into, whether it be the spell of Eggleston or the belief that you need to be in some far off region of the world to make interesting pictures. The support of the photo program at Savannah College of Art and Design has been phenomenal as well and I owe a great deal to all of the teachers and staff.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
Books! I find myself often going back to literature like Orwell, Burgess, and most recently, David Foster Wallace for inspiration. I’ve had to stray away from social media, but I buy more than enough photo books to make up for it.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
Never. It’s actually somewhat of a problem. For a long time, I had to photograph everyday in order to feel like I’d achieved something. I couldn’t “turn it off” so to say, and I was constantly frustrated. Using a large format camera has forced me slow down, plan out photographs, and not lose my mind.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
I’ll actually be having my first solo show this March for a body of work entitled Deep: Stories from Savannah that focuses on students from inner-city schools that use writing to develop their voice and change their communities. It was one of the first documentary projects I started in Savannah and I still work with them today. It’s about a year's worth of work so it’s exciting to finally see it out for people to recognize and see what’s happening in their community. It’ll be opening on March 3rd at the Savannah Cultural Arts Gallery.