Photographer Will von Bolton was born Will Bolton in Belton. His “stage name,” as he calls it, is a remembrance from his earlier marriage to model Veda von Bergen, as friends referred to the couple as “the Von Boltons.” He sold all his possessions four months ago and is without a home.
“Not homeless,” he says, “just home-free.”
Von Bolton has been spending time at his parents’ ranch two hours south of Dallas, close to where he grew up with a barn as a backyard. His father owned a music studio and was a cowboy photographer who hosted calf ropings.
“My dad is in the cowboy hall of fame,” von Bolton says, noting that he didn’t inherit a love of farm work. “I have the softest hands ever.”
In 2009, von Bolton established himself as a touring music photographer and has shot artists such as Bowling for Soup, Jonathan Tyler and Gary Clark Jr. The former graphic designer says he met the majority of his photography subjects when he was the drummer for Greatness in Tragedy, a band that was signed and toured nationally.
This weekend, he’ll unveil a collection of philosophical food for thought in the form of a book called Loophole to Happiness.
For the last three years, von Bolton has traveled extensively with pop band R5, a gig that called for shooting about 23,000 meet-and-greets with fans worldwide in the span of 10 months. The band comprises Disney star Ross Lynch and his siblings. Von Bolton shoots them onstage, backstage and at family Thanksgivings.
Von Bolton recalls a fan frenzy in Buenos Aires that resulted in his hair getting pulled.
“You don’t understand what loud is until you hear a bunch of basically all-female fans screaming as high pitched as they can,” he says.
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Another time, R5 fans in Lima, Peru, recognized him from social media (he has nearly 50,000 followers on Instagram) and showed him around the city. Von Bolton also speaks fondly of the time he was snowed in at Fame studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with Dallas group the Roomsounds while they recorded.
“I called it rock-and-roll fantasy camp,” he says of the experience at the legendary studio. “For a week, these old [members of famed backing band] Swampers showed up. It felt like a church.”
Von Bolton once brought the Roomsounds to his family’s ranch, where they wrote a song about his grandmother Betty Jean. He says the song was made into a demo the afternoon she died.
“They have shown me what a gift is,” he says of the band. “That song’s been medicine for my family.”
Of all artists he’s toured with, von Bolton says R5 offered the most consistent fine dining, along with endless tour bus pizza.
“You live like a pop star. I gained 50 pounds in that tour,” he says.
Lynch did away with his teenybopper Austin and Ally image when he was cast as the lead in the film My Friend Dahmer, which premiered last month and depicts Jeffrey Dahmer’s life before he became a serial killer. Von Bolton filmed the audition tape for Lynch. He says it was chilling to watch the actor convulse on the ground for the scene, and he laughs when he remembers interrupting the taping to correct the actor’s pronunciation of the word “spliff.”
Von Bolton’s travels have taken him to 38 countries.
“I’ve been using music as a tool to study human behavior,” he says. “When you have a camera, you attract the most interesting people in the world.”
Loophole to Happiness is a minimalistic anthology of thoughts, mantras, advice or maxims, depending on one’s perspective.
“I wanted to write a philosophy with as few words as possible to give it to my kids, if I ever have any,” von Bolton says. His favorite passages: "Expect nothing except everything,” and "Rehearse moderation.” He says he’s not guided by any particular school of philosophy or religion.
“It can be a supplement or stand on its own,” he says of the book. “It’s compatible with religion. I literally want it to be for everyone.”
He was inspired by a concept he heard about the writing of the Bible.
“It’s kind of dangerous the words I’m about to use,“ von Bolton cautions, “but after five years of writing for this book, I imagined I was God for six days, as a thought experiment. I thought, ‘I’m gonna write the next Bible,’ and had a sort of revelation.”
He once held a “funny, semi-cult meeting” with about eight friends and told them to wear robes. One of his follow-up projects is a screenplay centered on the writing of his book, and he wanted the scene to be included. He says he’s been molding his experiences to serve his life story, in favor of a richer script.
“It’s a 3-D diary,“ he says. “I encourage you to live your life like you’re writing a movie about it.”
Von Bolton says he already has a star and an established Hollywood screenplay writer attached to the project.
“This is what I call my life’s opus, which is to proclaim and brand the next era of our species," von Bolton says of Loophole to Happiness. "It’s all reason-based, and [psychiatrist] Daren Martin called it 'the E=MC² of happiness' because the book is written like an equation.”
Other upcoming projects include a paper he’s writing on the evolution of the metaphor.
“I want to rebrand the metaphor as the hyperloop of communication because the metaphor is the highest level of thought,” he says.
He calls the concept of free will “an illusion.”
“One of the lines in the book is, ‘We are a series of binary decisions,’ because every decision you make is based on previous decisions you made before you were conscious,” von Bolton says. “I want to rebrand every degree of thinking.”
The book release will take place Friday at WAAS Gallery as part of a multimedia showing of von Bolton’s work, which includes video projections and a five-piece painting exhibit titled Moksha. Von Bolton took up painting six months ago when artist Leslie Marshall requested a mural, a skill he learned by documenting artist Matthew Brinston. One of the projects featured, “Eye Contact Simulation,” is interactive.
“It’s part of the next book, eye-contact exercises with yourself,“ he says. “A lot of times when you look in the mirror, your eyes go to your insecurities, and they become a caricature and actually become bigger.”
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The book will be featured on pedestals, “like it’s art,” he says, with listening booths playing an audio version to be released on vinyl.
“It’s all been a creative push,” von Bolton says of the past few months. “This is one of the most fertile periods of my life. I went deep into my own brain. I’ve been branding other people for the last 15 years of my life, so this is the first time I’m focusing on doing it for myself."
As for his next destination: “I have keys to places in Dallas, Austin, Houston," he says, "and I’ve been offered a place to stay in Haiti.”
WAAS Gallery, 2790 Logan St., waasgallery.com/dallas.