At first glance William Perls’ imaginative and, at times, dark photography may not be for the faint of heart; there’s blood, there’s death, there’s smeared mascara. But, that’s not all that’s there.
A foray into the San Francisco photographer’s portfolio reveals the range and depth of his creativity and conceptual prowess, with images ranging from vixens to victims to beautifully respectful semi-nude shots. Perls, a featured artist on SF Station, took a moment to talk with us to share his projects, process and inspirations.
SF Station (SFS): I know you’re from Chicago. What brought you to San Francisco? Did you come here specifically for art or were you just interested in the Bay Area?
William Perls (WP): I moved here to go to the Academy of Art. That was my main draw. It seemed like they had the best program. After I graduated, I realized I never wanted to leave, really.
SFS: How did you get into photography?
WP: My dad put me on to cameras when I was really young. I was about seven years old when he started teaching me how to shoot. He shot a lot of nature. He worked in advertising, but his main hobby was photography. I became his equipment carrier for awhile and I would just carry around stuff. When I look back, I never thought it was going to be my calling. It was just something fun that I grew up doing.
When I went to school I started out as a graphic design major and found out quickly that I am not a graphic designer [laughs]. I liked it, but it was just not my thing. So, I came sort of full circle and came back to photography. That’s when I became serious about it—about four years ago.
SFS: I was drawn to your photos with weird perspectives, with fish-eye lenses usually used in skateboarding, and I noticed the dark but almost comedic nature of them. I find them surrealist in a way. Do you purposefully try to manifest this particular type of art you already see in your head or are you the type of artist that lets it flow to see what comes out?
WP: Well, I think I’m kind of a collage of both. Nurture and nature, for sure. It doesn’t just show up for me, you know [laughs]. I work hard and I am definitely influenced by what’s around me. For example, movies are a huge draw and I kind of have this attraction to darker humor.
SFS: I can see that.
WP: Totally. Really, it’s painting and movies that draw me, so the more obscure they are and the more abstract they are, the better for me. I’ve always grown up really respecting Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and modern painters like Mark Ryden. I like the way they depict life and living.
But, at the same time, I still do a lot of journalistic shooting. It’s not all conceptual work. So, when you see that kind of variety, a lot of it is just shots within life. My most prized work, the work that I work probably the hardest for is my conceptual, bizarre kind of stuff. That’s where I’m really testing my creativity.
SFS: Would you prefer that people interpret your work in the same way you see it, understanding your intentions, or do you like it when they take something totally different from it? How do you feel about people who don’t pick up on the humor or lighter side of some of your photos? Does it bother you that some people might actually find them somewhat disturbing.
WP: When people come up with different answers, I find that really gratifying. The whole idea is to try to place an idea into your audience’s head. Being able to do that becomes really powerful and exciting. When you can do that, it’s almost heartwarming to find out that people have different reactions to it: flashbacks, forgotten emotions, whatever. You create this thing that helps them make all these connections. That’s one of the most electrifying parts of making art. There’s a pulse to it that’s beyond my control and once I create something, it takes on its own life.
SFS: Have you ever tried any other forms of art?
WP: I’m a bit of a sculptor. I love playing with ceramics. I really like being physical. My last show was all paint medium, so I did silkscreens, acrylic, paint pens and all these different things. I also love making food. I’m a total foodie, so I like cooking.
SFS: Do you think you’ll ever combine your talents? Food photography? [laughs]
WP: Food photography? I am not interested in that at all. But I do like the idea of collaborating, that’s probably why I like the shoot I’m producing right now with Erik Otto. He’s an amazing installation artist and painter. I’m really attracted to sculpture, so I really admire the way he works. The next concept I’m playing with is getting installation artists to build my sets as opposed to just getting a set designer. I want to find someone that actually likes to create, like, active sculptures.