creative and inspiring photography from around the globe

William LeGoullon: Rediscovering the Desert

Twisted Tree

William LeGoullon is a talented Phoenix-based artist. A graduate of Arizona State University, William is a recipient of numerous high profile awards and grants, including The Phoenix Art Musuem’s Contemporary Forum Emerging Artist Grant and The City of Phoenix Office of Art and Culture’s Public Art Commission for the Seventh Avenue Streetscape Project. Aside from nearly a dozen solo exhibitions, William’s work has been exhibited across the U.S. and around the world and has been published in many print and on-line magazines.  He teaches and gives lectures on art and photography throughout Arizona.  William speaks to atlas this week about his gorgeous “Nearing Dissonance” photography project and his unique perspective on how photography enriches our lives. (Editor’s Note: We spent some time in the California desert recently and wanted to revisit one of our favorite features to remind us of the splendor and the beauty of the desert. William’s stunning work fills the bill. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

I first picked up a camera the summer before high school started. It was a Canon AE-1. The second I stepped into a darkroom a few weeks later, my life transformed. That was 1999. I have been shooting ever since.

What approach do you take with your photography?

I see photography as a method of communication. As a photographer, I do not just make photographs, I look at photographs probably in even greater amount. To think about my “approach” as a photographer and artist, I first have to consider how images inform my life. We live in a society so reliant on digital technologies where we, humankind, are going to be making a trillion photographs next year. People are becoming more and more attuned to communicating and experiencing life through photographs. Being a photographer provides a means in which I actively explore photography’s unique ability to help us understand the world around us and the ways photographs enrich our lives. For my work specifically, I often reference the continued dialogue shared between the landscape and the photographer.

House for sale

Your “Nearing Dissonance” series consists of some very spectacular desert images. The composition and style are amazing. Where were these images taken? How did this series come about? What motivated you to shoot these images?  What did you take away, if anything, after shooting this series?

Thank you for the kind words. The majority of the images I make are produced in the southwestern United States mainly between southeastern California and western New Mexico. The series has been an on-going body of work driven by my various interests related to our understanding of “landscape” as a transformative space and our place within it. As I mentioned before, there is a continual narrative that I am a part of shared between the land and photographers with a desire to understand it. The desert is an environment where the passing of time is remarkably visible. It is also a place of rebirth and therefore allows for rediscovery. Because of this, “Nearing Dissonance” is a series that I plan to continue developing for years to come.

Aside from shooting, you also teach courses and give lectures in photography in the Phoenix area. Why do you devote so much time to photography? Why are you so passionate about it?

Art in general is a passion of mine not just photography. It is part of what I live and breathe every day. Supporting the arts community you are a part of is important for any artist especially here in Phoenix where we have lots of room to grow. That said, I find a certain amount of enjoyment and inspiration from the students I teach. I am also continually seeking out curatorial opportunities. I feel curation is a wonderful alternative method for me to communicate more about some of my ideas and concepts that my own photographs either do not cover or only hint at.

I definitely think that there will always be opportunity for us to explore new ways of critically discussing, sharing, and promoting photography and art. There are plenty of people out there who want to support and engage with the arts even if they do not actually make art. These are people who make the art world grow stronger when they find ways to support artists.


How has the photography industry changed from the time you first started to the present? 

Well that depends on which “photography industry” you are talking about. In general, both the artistic and commercial industries have been changed drastically by the technological evolution of the medium over the past decade or so. Photography is unique from many other art forms because it is based so much on technology. In our digital age, our definition of what a photograph is and is not has become challenged. Going back to what I said earlier, we use photographs in our society today much differently than we ever have. This is exciting, but in some ways perhaps detrimental to the medium. Regardless, it is reality and I find it quite interesting.

Are there any photographers whose work you admire? If so, who?

I studied under Mark Klett for a reason. I continue to love his work both old and new. I also thoroughly enjoy the photographs by of some of the more popular guys like Misrach, Burtynsky, and Gursky. Nadav Kander and Alec Soth are a couple of the first photographers I introduce my students to and for good reason. And then there are closer friends who continue to make work that I simply drool over. Both Claire A. Warden and her soon to be husband, David Emitt Adams, are both making stunning imagery. Bryon Darby who just did a project through The Center For Land Use Interpretation and Andrew Phelps who recently released a book called “Cubic Feet / Sec.,” are also some of my personal favorites. Of course there are so many I am forgetting but to round out this list: Michael Lundgren, Christopher Colville, Edgar Cardenas, and Jesse Rieser. These are all of whom I have had the pleasure of working with via my curatorial projects.

29 Palms Home

How do you see your work evolving in the next few years? Are you working on any new projects?

Nearing Dissonance” will continue to change and grow. Besides that, I am currently focusing most of my attention towards a more distinct narrative. I’m calling the series “(Un)Intended Targets” and I will be exhibiting the series for the first time in its entirety come January 2016. For almost three years, I have been concentrating on the abusive and often unregulated relationship between recreational shooters, or “plinkers” as they are often called and the geographic locations they frequently visit. The firearm is an important thread within the fabric of American culture. Traditionally, they have orchestrated dominance over opposing human forces but I feel they also do so towards geographic ones as well. This pursuit of dominance continues today as a perplexing scenario yielding a disregard for land while simultaneously providing opportunity for amusement, fun, enjoyment, and even arguably, a reason to affiliate with nature, for better or for worse. These ideas are really exciting me right now.

What’s noticeably different about this series is its aesthetic and approach. For quite some time now, I have explored the ways tangible items can portray and embody a landscape both literally and metaphorically. I started doing this while I was still a student at Arizona State University. It has become a major part of my work ever since. The objects I am finding in field and photographing in the studio have been thoughtlessly left behind often on National Forest Land after being used for legal and illegal target practice. The puzzling characteristics these items acquire due to forces both human and natural help to reinterpret them as representations of both pleasure and violence. Once again referencing symmetries between nature and the human experience.

Canyon Road

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

I just completed writing a critical review for one of my students before sitting down for this interview. It is fresh on my mind so I will share it here as well: make photographs that mean something to you.

For more information about William, visit his website.  All images © William LeGoullon.

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