1 in 15,000: Will Bryan

WillBryan

Will Bryan was in the seventh grade when his parents finally bought him the camera he had been begging for. Now he could follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps as a photographer. Like many kids at that age, Bryan’s interest in his new hobby quickly waned, leaving his camera to collect dust in his room. But when his senior class of 13 students traveled to India, something changed.

Before going to India Bryan had always traveled with his dad. He photographed sparingly on those trips, but gave up altogether because he was worried about disappointing his dad with the quality of his own photographs. Susie Bryan, Bryan’s older sister, said, “there was a phase he went through where he resisted getting into photography, because our dad is also a photographer and I think Willy wanted to find what he liked himself. But I’m glad he’s also interested in photography and arrived at it on his own.” Bryan said that experiencing the rich culture in India helped form his passion for travel, adventure photography and storytelling.

When Bryan learned that getting accepted to Northeastern meant he had to spend his first four months abroad, Bryan said, “have to? Fuck yeah! I’d love to.” So in 2013, Bryan spent his first semester studying abroad through N.U.in in Ireland. Bryan who was born in Germany but grew up in Santa Cruz, Calif., said attending Northeastern is all about, “how easy it is to not be in Boston.”

Bryan said he decided to study journalism and media screen studies with a minor in photography knowing that as a career journalism could give him continuous new research, learning and traveling opportunities.

Now at just 20 years old Bryan has traveled to 24 countries. His website is packed with captivating photos and quirky stories from places like Patagonia, Ecuador, Cuba, Ireland, Panama and the Galapagos Islands. Bryan said he draws inspiration from a storyteller and photographer named Foster Huntington, who left his job in New York fashion in 2011 to live out of a Volkswagen van and travel. When Bryan first started his blog, his writing was mostly focused on sticking to the facts, but after reading Huntington’s posts he began focusing on telling a story, “the funnier, the better,” he said. He tries to pinpoint a specific moment or interesting interaction to tell a story through.

Bryan’s best friend, Sachin Mehta, admires Bryan’s dedication to his storytelling and photography. “He pursues what he is interested in completely, and gives everything he does 110 percent of his effort. He takes his convictions seriously and is not afraid to push himself out of his comfort zone,” Mehta said.

Bryan recalled a pivotal moment in India when two young boys came onto a train to sweep it, both were sick with polio and were missing limbs. When they finished cleaning, the boys begged for money and food, he said. “And sitting there next to one of my friends, one of my classmates, watching her just breakdown and cry because, what do you do? You have been so sheltered from this, living in the U.S. for 17 or 18 years at that point,” Bryan said.

Bryan continued, “to see a National Geographic photographer post a photo of a poor impoverished African child, that’s one thing. But you’re looking at it through your smartphone. You’re so disconnected. But then to be in that train and having them with their big old beady eyes, hold their hands out asking for food because they haven’t eaten in three days kinda thing.. it’s terrible. It’s terrible,” Bryan said.

The experience in India helped him further understand the kind of travel he wants to do. Anyone can visit tourist attractions but it takes a certain attitude and character to push outside of your comfort zone and place yourself in situations you’re not used to. And it’s that kind of uncomfortable travel Bryan says he enjoys the most.

Mehta recalled traveling to Montreal with Bryan, “Traveling with Will in general is always fun; because he has been to so many places around the world, he knows how to get the best of a city, without visiting only tourist attractions. He naturally took the lead on a lot of the things we did, and made sure we had a good time in Montreal.”

Another good friend of Bryan’s, Brendan Jeffers, noticed a natural attribute of Bryan’s personality. “Will is very good at talking. He keeps a conversation very well and that’s something that I also value in a person, is just being able to talk. So when we met freshman year it was very easy conversation. I think that’s why we clicked so well initially,” Jeffers said. Jeffers recalled a time when Bryan was writing a story about the gardens in the Fens, and had no problem approaching a stranger working in the gardens who declined to answers Bryan’s questions by telling him to “F off,” Jeffers said. But experiences like that one have not stopped Bryan from having the confidence and motivation to get out and talk to people, Jeffers said.

However when it comes to photography, Bryan prefers a more candid approach. During his photography Dialogue of Civilization in Cuba, Bryan remembered traveling with 22-24 other students who were all seeing the same things and capturing the same moments to represent their time in Cuba. “You start to feel like you’re a tourist at a zoo. That experience in Cuba, that aspect of it is so off putting, and you feel like you’re taking advantage of them,” Bryan explained.

In Ecuador, Bryan struggled with a similar feeling. “When you’re this White kid with a huge camera in the middle of a market four hours away from an airport in Ecuador and those people have only ever seen White people before five times, and all five of those people had big cameras in their hands it starts to feel disingenuous,” he said. He wonders about the importance of his own photography and the audience it reaches. “Is it worth it if 50 people see that photo and it impacts them? I don’t know,” Bryan said.

Despite Bryan’s doubts about his impact and influence on people viewing his work back home, he shows no signs of stopping. With plans to travel to Germany twice to visit family, and a third time for his second Dialogue of Civilization, Ireland, Kentucky and back home to California all within the year there is no doubt that he will have new stories to tell.

@williameverettbryan on Instagram