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Volume 24, Number 7 — July 2017

Benjamin Walls' photos are in museums

Benjamin Walls (Photo by Nathan Mays)
Benjamin Walls (Photo by Nathan Mays)

April 26, 2017

Fine art photographer Benjamin Walls' journey had humble beginnings.

After college graduation, he left home with a film camera and a backpack-determined to create fine art photographs from nothing more than his vision and a tote full of large format film. During the following 18 months, he traveled more than 30,000 miles on a shoestring budget, spent less than five nights in a hotel room and rationed his food to save money for film.

Upon his return, he debuted his new work in a number of galleries in the Carolinas, including one in the bustling French Quarter Art District of Charleston, South Carolina. One evening, a visiting photographer told one of the gallery staff that Walls' work was merely "average." Feeling the need to justify his work, he submitted his best pieces to juried exhibits in some of the world's top museums. Less than two years later, three of his images had won international recognitions; two were honored at the Smithsonian, and one at the Natural History Museum of London – Walls was 27 years old.
In 2007 he took a risk — pausing his photography and putting all of his money, energy and effort into the purchase and restoration of a vacant historic building in downtown Bristol, Virginia. He worked more than 70 hours per week for three years to revitalize the space and create the gallery he envisioned. When the doors finally opened to his first signature gallery in 2010, the outlook was bleak. He had taken on a mountain of debt to finish the gallery to his standards; the recession had taken its toll on his collector base; he couldn't afford to travel to create new work; and fewer than a dozen people showed up for his first gallery reception.

Without an influx of sales, he would be forced to close the gallery doors in less than 60 days. Walls worked diligently, and the word began to spread about his work. The sales he desperately needed began to come in and slowly he began the long climb out of debt.

2011 and 2012 were riddled with the growing pains of a young business, but Walls persisted and was able to return to the field, which yielded his first significant work since 2007. Meanwhile his three-year effort to renovate the historic building that houses the Benjamin Walls Gallery became the first privately owned building in Bristol to win the "Adaptive Reuse" award presented by the Heritage Alliance in association with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In 2013, his passion for wildlife conservation inspired him to launch an ambitious Kickstarter Campaign to raise money to photograph the critically endangered wild Bengal Tiger. The campaign raised $83,000 in 30 days. The images that were the result of that trip went on to spur the attention of hundreds of new collectors. For the first time since starting his business in 2003, he found himself on solid financial footing.

In 2014, he set out on a cross-country voyage in his vintage VW camper van that resulted in a broad range of work from the desert Southwest and Rocky Mountains including "Clash," "Infinite Instant," "Ethereal," "Edge of Infinity," "Allure," and "Algorithm." The Smithsonian selected two of his new images, "Frontier" and "Stand," for display at the "Wilderness 50" exhibit in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, four of his Appalachian images were selected for a juried exhibit at the Russell Senate Building in Washington D.C. Four others were selected as finalists by the Natural History Museum of London. Meanwhile, the demand for his work had exceeded his studio's capacity, so production was moved to a new offsite facility.

Walls began 2016 by traveling back to Africa. His solo exhibit, "Through Appalachian Eyes," opened at the Tennessee State Museum in July. And in November, his new book "Beyond," with a foreword by Dolly Parton, was published.
All in all, he has logged more than 1 million miles in pursuit of his images, and his signature gallery in downtown Bristol is going on seven straight years of double digit growth. He has launched a new company, WALLSabout™ Travel Company.

The Benjamin Walls Gallery team includes seven employees and a new production studio. Walls is exploring new gallery locations and hopes to open his second signature gallery in 2018. When asked why his work has found solid footing in a sea of budding photographers, he says, "Each moment I'm in the field, I'm focused on capturing images that inspire. I don't run a schedule that makes me happy. I don't take photos that inform people. I relentlessly pursue moments of art in nature and refuse to settle for anything less."

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