Fifteen years ago, Las-Vegas based photographer Willy Branlund had a revelation while reading the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible. When he read the words, “In The Beginning, God Created …,” he immediately understood God to be an artist, who had painted the world into being. For Willy, this discovery resonated with the elevated feel he taps into while creating his works of art. He began to connect with other artists whose work echoed this existential sentiment for his project, In The Beginning.
I feel closest to god when I have a camera or a paintbrush in my hand. I feel this presence, as though everything aligns, right before I hit the button.
The project began in 2007 when Willy began shooting people he knew from artist communities in both Los Angleles and Hawaii. As he began to share his thoughts on the spirituality of the creative process, he realized he was not the only artist to feel that their creativity connected them to a higher spirit.
We were a tight community of artists and were always hanging out together, always painting or drawing or doing photoshoots.
Traveling between his family home in Hawaii, to Los Angeles and New York, Willy then began to look outside his circle of friends and seek out relatively unknown artists to feature for the project. Willy identifies as a natural storyteller and is drawn to an indescrible connection he has with each individual, regardless of the medium they are inspired by.
I honestly go by instinct of who the person is, rather then the “what they do.” Its difficult to put into words, but it’s as if the project itself chooses the artists and I follow.
There was one woman, Abigail Ramonacheck, who is half-Hawaiian like me, and everything she creates is taken from the history of Hawaii.
While most of the shoots occurred in the artist’s studio spaces, some met Willy in locations that held meaning for them or their craft. Brian Bent drove up to his shoot in an Oakland Racer he built himself. The resulting image is a portrait that speaks to the individuals’ artistic style and eclectic personality.
Willy contacted one artist, Chad Robertson, after reading an interview in Supreme Magazine and observing his unique style of painting. The image of Chad above was from their original portrait session in 2016, while the second image, shown below, was taken only a few weeks ago.
I’d love to shoot him every five years to highlight his perseverance as an artist over time.
For Willy, an artist is primarily defined by a unique endurance experienced through years of pursuing their craft. He feels that true artistry cannot happen overnight and instead comes through years of making mistakes and learning about oneself as a creator. Much like his own relationship with photography, he resonates with artists whose passions push them to persevere despite the realities of their careers.
An artist is someone who has fought to align with this creative process that is individually their own.
Because he identifies as a storyteller, Willy appreciates learning about how these artists support themselves through financially trying careers. In his time speaking with the subjects, he realized it takes an incredible amount of discipline to pursue a craft while working a 40-hour job. Yet, if you can be creative in a way that benefits you as much as it inspires you, you will never deny yourself the opportunity to utilize your unique talents.
We have the gift of creativity, which is the most powerful thing any human can carry, and if we’re not using that to our fullest potential — to provide financial security — then we’re hurting ourselves instead.
As a child, Willy often remarked that he would help others achieve fame instead of becoming famous himself. He feels that sentiment is still valid today, which is why he is drawn to these unknown makers. If his artistry can bring them some of the recognition that he feels is deserved, then he will have done his part as an artist to aid this greater community of creators.
I would have quit a long time ago if I were faced with some of the adversities they’ve encountered, but they’re still going strong, and that inspires me to continue in my pursuits.
While the subjects and their various mediums differ, he feels it is their persistence and patience with themselves that ties these artists together. Each has continued pursuing their passions, with the understanding that they may never reach renown beyond their individual communities. For them and Willy, their artistry acts as a ritual where each can elevate their spirit to feel a greater harmony with all living things.
I think there’s this underlying theme of never giving up that exists within each artist I met, and that’s the glue that holds this all together.
Photographer: Willy Branlund
Talent: Ryan Sakal, Brian Bent, Chad Robertson, Wooden Wave Artists, Lance Mountain, Mel Tjoeng, Brady Young, Lisa Franklin, Lance Mountain