Students of Storytelling

Fujifilm Students of Storytelling: William Mordell’s Window into Others’ Lives in Times of Transition

September 30, 2020

By Rangefinder

© William Mordell

“Return, 2” An attempt to return to normalcy, to joy, in the heart of Atlanta. Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera and a 16-55mm f2.8 R LM WR lens.

 University of Georgia’s William Mordell is passionate about sharing stories of hope and appreciation for life, both through his own eyes as he travels across the country, and that of the young people of Atlanta “seeking to make the most of a changed world.”

Mordell won the Fujifilm Students of Storytelling competition for his submission that told the story of his and his peers’ experiences during quarantine, just as they were about to graduate from college.

Fujifilm created the contest to identify the next generation of U.S. storytellers, and to provide them with Fujifilm X Series or GFX System gear to bring their vision to life.

“Resolve” Godswill poses during our interview for my project in his apartment.
Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera and a 16-55mm f2.8 R LM WR lens. All Photos © William Mordell

Rangefinder: What interests you as a storyteller? Which stories are you drawn to? 

William Mordell: I love stories about people, struggle, history, adventure and fading crafts. As both a creator and consumer of stories, I am drawn to anything that gives me a window into another life, another world through which I can learn or reflect upon my own. The last book I read was Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, an incredible look into the world and mind of a man who inspired me to begin cooking as a kid.  

Rf: What stories do you want to share through your work? 

WM: Through my work I want to share the same kinds of stories as the ones that interest me. To explore parts of my city, state, country and world that will lend a new perspective, appreciation and understanding of all of the many lives one may lead.  

“Daughter, Fiancée, Student, Human” Andrea poses outside of her family’s home during our interview for my project. Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera and a 16-55mm f2.8 R LM WR lens.

Rf: Describe the evolution of your style and approach. How has it changed over time?

WM: I began, like many photographers, shooting landscapes and nature, a subject readily available and easy to practice with. One day I just so happened to shoot a series of portraits of a friend, and I never looked back. Since then, my style has changed dramatically, often featuring bright, bold color and deep contrasts. I edit by my own eye, and I try to make posing my subjects a natural process rather than an overly directed one. 

Rf: What are the key things you have learned or done that have helped you advance your career since you began shooting? 

WM: I have learned that one of the best things you can do is to just be there and never be afraid to ask questions. Want to shoot with a model you like? DM them. The worst I’ve heard is no, but more often than not I’ve gotten an enthusiastic yes. I’ve shown up to shows asking if I can shoot them, and ended up on stage photographing the acts. Once I stopped being afraid of putting myself out there, I was amazed at how many opportunities and new connections presented themselves. 

Rf: What is the most helpful piece of advice you’ve received and followed?  

WM: Just go shoot. I have heard this so many times, be it from more experienced friends, professional photographers or hosts on YouTube. Learn something new, and then go try it. Then try it again. Shoot as much and often as possible, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you learn and improve. 

“Storyteller” A photo of my fellow Student of Storytelling, Gabby Wyke, for her interview for my project. Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera and a 16-55mm f2.8 R LM WR lens.

Rf: You have a distinct visual style. How does your lighting and color palette aid your storytelling?  

WM: I think my embrace of color and high contrast helps to bring the viewer into the images immediately, and keeps them interested in the subject matter from there. Specifically, in this current project, I have shot a number of my portraits utilizing deep shadows to obscure parts of their face or direct your eye towards the light, therein guiding the story where I need it to go. 

Rf: In what ways do you see your new work for Fujifilm informing future shoots? 

WM: My work for Fujifilm has forced me to completely rethink the way I shoot and build narrative. I have never done a project on this scale or timeline, and the planning, thought and learning that has gone into making each step of the process happen will only serve to turn me into a better, more well-rounded photographer and storyteller.  

Rf: How have your studies affected your approach to photography and storytelling? 

WM: I was a management major in college. I enjoyed my studies but my major was about the furthest thing from the creative aspects of photography and storytelling that I could have chosen. My studies allowed me a wider environment that encouraged creativity, with other aspiring photographers and models all over campus. This experience was incredible for honing my skills in photography and writing on the side while pursuing a degree that has helped me to manage my own time, money and clients. 

“Return, 1” An attempt return to normalcy, to joy, in the heart of Atlanta.
Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T4 camera and a 16-55mm f2.8 lens.

Rf: Can you tell us about your submission to Fujifilm’s Students of Storytelling program? How did you come up with the project?

WM: My submission told the story of my peers and my own experience during quarantine, just as we were about to graduate from college. It is such a strange and uncertain time in the world. I was just trying to get my feet planted when the ground is so unsteady has been difficult for so many people. I came up with this project during my last couple of months of school. When spring break ended, no one I knew really came back to my college town. My roommates went back to their parents’ houses, leaving me alone in a house and going into a part-time job where I largely worked by myself. Finally, with my lease ending and no new prospects in sight, I decided to drive across the country to join my dad on the family ranch in Oregon while I figured things out. From this experience, I was inspired to seek out stories of other young people going through significant transitional periods in the midst of quarantine. I wanted to lend a unique perspective to the various affects of the pandemic through the voices of real people going through them. 

“Empty, Self Portrait” Looking through the glass of a little town in rural Texas, the sunshine lighting an empty room. Photographed with a Fujifilm X-T2 camera and a 23mm f2 R WR lens.

Rf: What works have you produced with your new Fujifilm systems?  

WM: I documented a seven-day solo drive across the country on my X-T2, capturing moments in time as I saw new places in the thick of quarantine, as well as a month spent on the ranch. Upon my return to Georgia, I’ve been using my new X-T4 to document life in the city through street photography. I’ve also been taking portraits of those sharing their stories with me. The X-T4 and 16-55mm ff/2.8 lens combo absolutely upped my game. The backlit sensor, IBIS, truly insane dynamic range and sharp fixed aperture zoom have allowed me to capture beautiful images in any conditions. This diverse set of images over these past few months have been some of the most inspired, carefully crafted and fun ones I’ve ever made. 

Rf: Where do you see your work going from here?  

WM: I really couldn’t even begin to speculate as to where my work will take me next. But I know I’ll be working with a more refined, creative, driven outlook. This process has given me more motivation than ever to think big, so maybe I’ll finally try to take on some of the concepts and ideas that I didn’t feel capable of before.

Rf: Which brand, media outlet or agency is your ideal client? Why? 

WM: To be completely honest, I cannot think of a brand I would rather work with than Fujifilm. I was a Fujifilm user prior to Students of Storytelling. I fell in love with X-T1, which I bought on Craigslist for travel, and it quickly replaced my DSLR. Now that I’ve had the opportunity to meet the real people behind the brand, that admiration and respect has grown exponentially and I have learned so much along the way. Their cameras made photography fun for me again, and the drive imparted from the opportunities that they provided has me more inspired than ever. It’s been a dream. 

Visit the official Fujifilm Students of Storytelling site for more information about the complete program. Follow @willwanderphotography to stay up to date with William Mordell.