23-year old Alaskan native William Murphy (also known as WGM_V) has managed to forge his own niche within the photography community through his creative and otherworldly photos as well as his own personal approach to capturing and sharing images. The first photographer to join the collective Neilaworld, William is looking forward to an array of collaborations in the near future.

Instead of a more traditional photographic approach where one tries to depict things simply as they seem, William goes in a completely different direction. His photography often features drastic color manipulation and grading which results in almost alien landscapes and scenery. We had an opportunity to sit down with William over video chat to discuss his past creative experiences and his plans for the future.

In your own words, who is William Murphy?

Oh man that is a good one. I guess I’m just a guy from Alaska that picked up a camera and got into photography. I really started getting into it from Instagram and then from there moved to Twitter which is where I was opened up to a whole new world of the underground – photography, graphic design, video work, and all that stuff. The things that I identify most with are being from Alaska and being a multifaceted artist (photos, video, and creative direction). That’s kind of a tough question because it’s like my whole identity boiled down to a few words. 

Where did the name WGM_V come from?

So those are actually my initials and I am the fifth William in my family so my full name is William G. Murphy V and I just used that. I went by WGM_Visuals for a while too so there’s also that little play on it. Stephen Vanasco used to go by VansStyles on Instagram and then he changed it to his full name because he was talking about leaving a legacy and I thought that it was cool to have a moniker, but it was also my initials so it was personal. I have thought about going by my full name, and eventually I probably will, but I like the way this looks and rolls off the tongue for right now. 

It’s interesting because a lot of times you will see an artist with a moniker and the person behind it is often a different person than the one with the moniker, but your moniker is a reflection of yourself so those are kind of intrinsically tied together.

That’s something that’s really important to me because my work has always been about expressing myself and, especially in the past couple years, has been about expressing a specific emotion. I might know what a piece means to me but I am always curious about how other people interpret it because I already know what it means to me and they don’t. 

How did you first get into taking pictures?

I took this 2D art class in my first semester of senior year and we watched a documentary on photography, which I forget the name of, and I was just really fascinated by that. I had a phone at the time that had a shitty camera and since my friend and I were planning on smoking after class we decided to just smoke and take pictures so we did. I remember one of the first pictures I really liked on the phone was of these mushrooms growing on a log and I just decided I needed to keep doing it.  I would take photos on hikes because I got a camera that same year and just kept rolling with it. 

Who are some of your earliest influences and who are some of your recent influences?

I wish I could remember the documentary I watched in high school but it was just such a flippant thing at the time I just didn’t bother to remember. I was also really into the Instagram photography scene like @artofvisuals and @USAPrimeShots . There were a few Alaskan pages like @theaIaskalife and @sharingalaska that I fucked with and actually got featured on. It was just the whole Instagram photography scene that I thought was cool. Recently the photographer Tristan Hollingsworth (@DreamGaia on Instagram) has been a big influence, he’s like a god with the camera. He has something about psychedelics in his bio and his photos just drip this psychedelic and divinely feminine energy. He does a lot of boudoir work, which I think often times is done in a not so tasteful way but he manages to nail the artistic vision in a unique way. This guy does it all in a super tasteful way and his landscapes are crazy. I also really fuck with @briscoepark and @jomillz. On twitter I fuck with @eamonsphotoss and @ccnnnrr and a bunch others. I feel like now more than ever I have a circle of people around me I can gain inspiration from which is different from when I would just follow big accounts. Artistically I am trying more to develop on what I have, but the inspiration to develop my work ethic has come from a lot of people like that.

Also, growing up in Alaska I have been inspired by all these views out here and from seeing them over and over again I wanted to shoot stuff that stood out and also things that they couldn’t replicate, even if they were in the same spot, same focal length, and everything.

That’s a really important threshold to cross, where you are so comfortable and confident in your style that you move focus to the actual work ethic entirely.

The style that I have now is something I had been striving for for a long time, since around 2018, but then I took a break while I was living in Florida and I think that break helped me a lot actually. I was living down there, broke, not taking pictures, and a lot of my time was just spent editing the ones that I already had and I developed a lot from that. It gave me a different view on it and the stylistic aspect just came when I picked the camera back up. I also had a ton of film that I had gotten developed in these big batches, mostly from my way up to Alaska from Florida, and I would shoot these photos, get them developed and then look at the negatives and reimagine them. I think the mind has a funny way of remembering things better than they were and I subconsciously played off of that in a way. So, I had all these rolls and I had an idea of what I wanted them to look like and when I would scan them and they wouldn’t appear  as I wanted I just would edit them to match my false memory. A lot of the dreamy and ethereal stuff comes from that place. I remember a quote that talked about how if you want to be successful you have to create your own world and hone in on that and that struck a chord with me. The idea of going all in on a style and just developing that further and further was what I focused on for a long time.

What do you try and say or express through your photos? How do you insert yourself in them?

I think a lot of it has to do with the isolation I felt in Florida and LA, and even here at home to an extent. I have friends here in Alaska, shout-out to Daylon and Darius, but I am still very much isolated. Basically all I do is go to work, edit, and shoot so I am pretty isolated and it definitely shows in the work. I have always been a fan of really wide scenes with one little person in the shot. It may be subconscious but there is definitely that feeling of isolation.

Where are some places you would like to go to take some pictures outside of your normal style?

Iceland is definitely number one priority right now. Me and some friends have been trying to put together a photography workshop out there which would be a dream come true. I am really excited to be able to show people how I shoot and the thought process behind that as well as show any beginners how to shoot. I also am excited about the photos I would be able to take out there. When I started shooting landscapes all I would see was the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Iceland so all of those Icelandic views I am just fascinated with. I don’t really like the idea of taking pictures that other people have already taken before so I am really excited to put my own spin on those locations. 

What could you tell me about this Iceland trip?

So it is going to be me and my friends Eamon and John and we have a few friends that might come along. Right now the minimum number of people we need is five in order to have a viable trip, but hopefully we can push to around ten or fifteen people and have it be a bigger group. I think it is gonna be a blast, we have different budgets and everything and everything but the ticket is included with the bundle. We have it all planned out right now, we are gonna be landing in Reykjavik and we will either head East or West, spend a few days in one spot and then head across to the other. We will be getting AirBnB’s and cooking and whatnot. We also want to split time between night photography and daytime photography. The northern lights could possibly be out when we go so that would be a great opportunity. It should be around $2,500 for ten days, which sounds like a lot but it’s actually cheaper than doing it solo. Our plan is to have it be from September 1st to the 11th.

How do you decide what photos get to see the light of day and what get tucked away?

So I had about twenty to thirty rolls of film that I had developed and then threw in a bin that didn’t see the light of day for months. There were actually some rolls I had shot in there where I hadn’t realized they had already been shot over so I loaded them up and shot them again, leading to the double exposure set I now have set as my pinned tweet. I had shot them on various occasions like an event and some landscape shots while commuting but when I had those rolls developed I was heartbroken. On those rolls were some of the photos I was most excited to see from my trip to LA from Alaska and I eventually just figured out how to crop and edit them which was good because they ended up getting a bigger response than I expected. I have a set out with around 12k likes and I sat on those photos for a month and a half.  I wasn’t even  planning on posting them until I was streaming myself edit on Discord and  some people were like “Dude why haven’t you posted these?”, so I threw them up the next day and they popped off. 

That reminds me of those classic stories where a band wants to leave a song off an album but keeps it and it ends up being the biggest hit out of all of them.

Yea I know what you mean. I have a drawer in my office right now of around a thousand or fifteen hundred shots in it and I will just dig through that, scan whatever I find and try and make something out of it. A lot of stuff I might just pass by three or four times and on the fifth time I look at it and think “Huh, maybe I can do something with that.”. I’m learning to take my time with things more and I am liking the results. 

How do you deal with feeling stuck or getting frustrated with an image or your surroundings?

The surroundings thing is still definitely difficult for me, but I find that the internet has helped a lot. I have slowly developed a network of people I can reach out to and escape a bit if I am feeling trapped in Alaska or whatever. When it comes to the work itself, I am just in the habit of moving on if I don’t like something I am working on. I would rather focus on the quality as opposed to the quantity of what I post. 

Outside of photography do you have any creative ventures you would want to pursue?

I’m fascinated with video. Video is super interesting to me and it is something I would love to learn how to do more of. I am just obsessed with the idea of trying to figure out how to make video look like my photos, but right now I have some kind of block skill wise to get that working. I love design, I have done commissions and also personal work which I enjoy. More professionally I have done a bit of creative direction and would like to do more of that. I like to figure out how music and a rollout should look, or even just how to hype up a release. I am really into marketing and what draws people towards art and a product.

Can you tell me about some of the creative directions you have already done?

One occasion was with this artist who was from Alaska and had hit me up to do some cover art for a side project he was working on and he was in town so we met up and he showed me the music and wanted to give me full creative control. I had my own interpretation, but I went and asked him to give me three to five adjectives to describe what he wanted to do and we went with a very direct approach to what he wanted. It ended up being very intentionally childish and immature with this dorky character making music and ended up getting very in depth about the lore of the character. It ended up getting picked up by an Australian music site and then some YouTube channels and all that, but as far as the creative direction goes i think the most important thing is asking the right questions and getting a sense of how the product should feel and how it should sound. When people see visuals they should feel the same thing from the music and I think that is super important. 

What are some of your personal goals, either short or long term or even ones that you have accomplished?

The Neilaworld thing was definitely a big one. I really was happy to find a group with a strong work ethic that is really out here just making moves because that shit is just so inspiring. I see people in my circle winning  and that makes me want to just go so much harder. The workshops are another big goal as well as doing more creative direction. I’d like to go on tour, I’d like to do music videos, and I’d like to do clothes too. I really admire a lot of what Internet Money is doing. The idea of having the knowhow and connections to find  an artist  and hook them up  with the resources they need to take shit to the next level is something I am really going for. Two people that really inspire me are Rick Rubin and Pat Corcoran who is Chance the Rapper’s manager. I love connecting dots, like if I know someone who would work well with someone else then I want to connect those people and if someone comes up to me wanting me to do something and I think someone else is better than I would prefer to pass the opportunity on to someone better suited.

How did the Neilaworld connection come about?

So they had opened up submissions in late 2018 and I submitted to it and then kept quiet because I haven’t heard back, but then one day Callari was in my area in Florida and I shot him a DM like “Hey man next time you’re in the studio I’d love to come take pictures.”. He responded positively so I went over, took some pictures, and ended up having the best damn burger of my life too (La Perrada Del Gordo). After that FBK hit me up saying he liked my stuff but it was kind of dead for a bit because shortly after I was out in the middle of nowhere for work for a month and a half. I got back from the job, went and got my car from Florida, and headed back up to AK. Shortly after I got a job to make ends meet and all that and I would have these super late nights where I would just edit photos all night and get real weird with the edits. FBK took notice of this developing style and when they opened submissions back up I sent a video in and they had said they fucked with it. Later on over DM FBK floated the idea of going to ATL and shooting with them and also the idea of me joining but I never heard confirmation about whether I was in. I saw they followed me soon after that and I freaked out a bit and ended up waiting an hour or so before I sent a message asking if I was in and should announce anything and FBK said yea so that was that.

When you look at your legacy do you see yourself as a gallery artist or more of a media artist?

When I look at what Kodone has done with his platform since last year I am just so inspired and seeing that he was able to do so many pop-ups and have lines down the block and work in multiple lanes was crazy. If I had the money right now I would want to live in ATL or LA, work with tons of artists, and when I get burnt out go on a road trip across the country and take landscapes and shit. At one point I was really into the idea of photojournalism and actually talked to an Army recruiter about getting a job as a photographer but when I pulled up they couldn’t guarantee me any photo specific work so I said fuck that. I realized that was a good move when it dawned on me that they would probably have just been shooting propaganda for the military. I ultimately just want to be in a position to document and share important historical events like  the coronavirus. This photographer @SaintDioni took this photo of a woman in a mask on the subway and it’s a photo that you probably could’ve snapped anywhere, but when I think about any kind of media during this crisis I think of that photo. It’s just about burning an image into peoples minds and that’s the legacy I want to create. When someone looks at your art, and this is especially true on social media, you have a very small window of time to grab their attention and blow their minds and if you don’t do that nobody is going to give a shit. On Twitter I feel like I have a half a second to grab someone’s attention and if I don’t do that then I’ve failed.

When you look back on your old photos, what stands out to you the most in contrast to your recent work?

 I feel like for a long time I was heavily inspired by Instagram and the biggest improvement I have seen is just making things that are harder to replicate. Just making something that is clearly my own and has my own spin on it. People have asked me to post some more of my old work and honestly I don’t really like them anymore because they don’t have the same feeling as my recent stuff. My more recent stuff just feels more like me. When you start off making art, a lot of times you get better by replicating other people’s stuff. I feel like I constantly push myself to make something unique. There is a spot near me that is super popular with photographers and I always frame shots out and think “Nope, I’ve seen this photo three times already. I’ve seen that one four times.” you know. I guess I just try to take those scenes and push to make something original. 

Anything or anyone you wanna shout before we go?

I definitely want to shout out Neilaworld and FBK. FBK is definitely a man with a plan and I can’t wait to see that plan unfold. Shout out to all the photographer homies who I’ve been working with a lot recently, Jen, Eamon, John, Connor. Shout out to Walter Harper too. I’m definitely forgetting hella people, but if we’ve ever talked on Twitter in-depth just know that I fuck with you.

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