BearWatch: Photographer William Powell finds beauty in unusual places with ‘Abandoned America’

Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. 

We all have an eye for what we find beautiful. But beauty is subjective — not everything will be beautiful to everyone. However, it takes a truly skilled artist to be able to take what many of us would find dirty, rugged, tattered or even ugly, and interpret it in a way that allows its beauty to shine through. 

This is what photographer William Powell does with his project “Abandoned America”. I recently had a chat with William about his background in photography and what made him interested in this subject. 

Kyle Jackson: Can you give us a little background about you? Where are you from and where did you study, etc.?

William Powell: I’m originally from New York, but I now reside in Tampa, Florida. I studied photography & art history in both high school and college.

KJ: When did you first realize your talent or interest in photography?

WP: I became interested in photography in 2006 when I was 15. I got into photography because of my Aunt Jolanda. I remember she had this awesome digital camera and I saw her taking photos of bees. When I saw the photo, it was different from how I imagined it would’ve looked and it made me realize that nobody else will see those bees the same way that she did. I, too, wanted to show the world what I saw. 

Shortly after, I got a camera and it all grew from there. I never realized I had talent because all I wanted to do was snap photos and show everyone the world exactly how I saw it. I started to realize that I had a talent for this a few years ago when a lot of people would tell me, ‘You have such a great eye’, or things like, ‘I would’ve never seen the beauty in abandoned things if you never photographed it the way you do.’ It made me realize that I do have a unique perspective of the world and I’m grateful that I’m able to show it.

KJ: I see much of your work focuses on abandoned America. What made you interested in this subject?

WP: I like to find beauty in things people don’t usually find beauty in. On top of that, I love history — So, old buildings with a past became my niche. They don’t build buildings and homes like they used to, so by documenting them it’s kind of like I’m preserving them through my art. 

One day, they will no longer be standing and all that will be left are these photographs. Another aspect I love about it is that this hobby allows me to travel to many different states around the country to photograph these amazing places. It’s very therapeutic, it’s my version of ‘me time’.

KJ: What are some other themes do you focus on or would you like to focus on in your work?

WP: Besides photographing abandoned buildings, I do like to photograph landscapes and cityscapes. I suppose that’s because you get both with abandonment — nature taking over the buildings. It’s poetic in a way.

KJ: Have your experiences or upbringing as a queer person influenced your work at all?

WP: Very much so. I grew up just 65 miles north of New York City in a place called The Hudson Valley. It’s very artsy but also a lot of farms and, for the most part, it’s pro LGBTQ+. Therefore, growing up in that area really allowed me to be whoever or whatever I wanted to be. 

I do think growing up in the mountains really shaped my eye for beauty and how I see things. There are also a bunch of artists in my family, which allowed me to experience different art mediums while growing up and find appreciation in it all.

KJ: What are you working on currently?

WP: I’ve been working on an online store that should be up and running mid-2021. Besides that, I’m mainly focusing on my craft. 

I am trying to master nighttime photography, I’m always trying to improve myself. I’ve also been planning a lot of upcoming photography related trips to visit cool and exciting places.

Follow William Powell on Instagram: @will.overboard to see more of his work.

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Kyle Jackson

Kyle Jackson (He/Him) is Senior Staff Writer at Gray Jones Media, and additionally works as a writer, editor and theatre artist/actor. A native of New Orleans, Louisiana, he studied at Dillard University, received a BA in Theatre from Morgan State University, an MS in Arts Administration from Drexel University, and completed the British American Drama Academy’s Midsummer in Oxford Programme in 2017. Having lived in Baltimore, the Washington, DC area, Philadelphia and New York City, he now resides and works in London, United Kingdom.