Interview with 2023 Photo Contest Judge, Wally Koval

Four people standing in the snow smiling for a picture holding a rectangular banner that reads "AWA Antarctica" on it. The group are all wearing bright read snow jackets, long pants, and snow boots. They all have backpacks on their backs and have large cameras slung around their necks. There are red hiking poles sticking out of the snow on the left side and behind the group are snow covered mountains in Antarctica.

The Search for Symmetrical With Founder of Accidentally Wes Anderson Wally Koval

Photos by @MarjorieBeckerPhotography 

It is likely fair to assume that if you have been following along with Whalebone for a little while then the name Accidentally Wes Anderson is something you’ve heard a time or two. After all, AWA has a feature in every issue. Over time, AWA— in person that’s husband-and-wife Wally and Amanda Koval—has become quite the curator of photos and photographers, putting together two books and a robust online community geared towards images and adventures that anyone would be more than pleased to spend some time with. That’s when it hit us—so we asked founder Wally Koval if he might be interested in judging this year’s photo contest and then we all shook hands and went for a milkshake with their dog Dexter. The following happens to be what we talked about. 

Very symmetrically framed photo shot from inside a dark room looking out of a squared window that has rounded corners. Outside of the window is a man in a bright red rain jacket wearing a read beanie looking towards the left with a pari fo binoculars up to his eyes. The man is standing on a walkway of a boat and behind him is the bright blue ocean.

How was Accidentally Wes Anderson started?

Wally Koval: AWA actually started as a personal travel bucket list for me and Amanda back in 2017. I started seeing places that looked as though they had been plucked from a Wes Anderson film, but they were real places with real stories, and I thought it would be great to visit some of them one day. 

What do you look for when considering the storytelling behind a photo?

WK: We’re forever exploring the stories “behind the facade,” the intersection of the distinctive design and the unexpected narratives it shares. When we originally started, much of what we shared about each location were basic historical or architectural facts and figures, but as we dug deeper, the stories started to run the gamut exploring curious cultural rituals, communities coming together to save and preserve structures, told and untold deep-dive historical accounts of geographic areas, and our personal favorites, the atypical tales of unique individuals that happened to have an impact on the world in one way or another. Each story was prompted by a photo that was submitted by our community. 

A man and a woman standing nest to each other facing a picturesque background of tiny houses all with red roofs surrounded by green trees. The woman is wearing a yellow sundress and a black backpack and the man on her right is wearing a blue and white striped shirt and a black backpack. The are both standing in front of a waist-high stone wall.

What’s the longest you’ve stared at lines to make sure they’re symmetrical on a photo?

WK: Fun fact: If you stare at them long enough they actually become crooked. 

Tell us about your work with actually Wes Anderson.

WK: Wes Anderson has always been the most gracious human in all our interactions. When Amanda and I came up with the idea for a book, I handwrote maybe 46 versions of a letter that we sent to him. As this was 2018, and not 1918, we also sent the letter via email, but felt the snail mail version was important to show we were real humans, not just strangers on the internet. We were fully prepared to receive a cease and desist letter, but instead, he granted us permission to run with the idea, and ultimately after reading our final draft, agreed to write the foreword for the book. Those few paragraphs he penned remain my favorite piece of content to date. 

How many continents have you been to?

WK: After planting our flag in Antarctica in 2022, I have spent time on six continents, but only five while capturing content for AWA … so Africa and Oceania, you’re next! 

Wally and Amanda Koval standing with their backs to the camera facing a very ornate building that has a set of large wooden doors, many arched windows, and is covered in ornate sculptural designs.
Wally and Amanda Koval in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Favorite adventure?

WK: How about the top three not in any order? Our most recent, Adventure to Antarctica, tops the charts, but Scotland has to be a top contender, and of course, Buenos Aires because it was our very first Adventure and we had no idea what we are doing—but then again, we still have no idea what we are doing. Thankfully the AWA community cuts us a lot of slack. 

The book—how did it feel to release that after so much online success?

WK: Hands down the scariest and most rewarding thing we ever did. There’s no playbook for transitioning online success to IRL success, and there is no promise that just because people liked us online that they would actually enjoy or consider buying our book. 

We actually found out the book hit the New York Times Best Sellers list while we were sitting in Whalebone on Bleecker. There were lots of happy tears, and Matt said, “I’ll give you guys a little space.” Five hundred thousand copies in seven languages later, Amanda and I still pinch ourselves daily that it is a real thing in the world. 

Accidentally Wes Anderson book laying on a flat concrete surface. The cover has an image of a Swiss-style hotel with red trim and green shutters. The hotel sits on the bend of a road and has a backdrop of the Swiss Alps behind it. The title of the book, "Accidentally Wes Anderson" is a bight colored yellow and sits on top of the bright blue sky in the picture.

If you had to guess, how many photographers do you think you’ve highlighted over the years?

WK: Over 2,000 on Instagram alone, and our website has another few thousand, so definitely a bunch. We say it all the time, but without the AWA community this project does not exist— and even if it did, it wouldn’t be half as fun. 

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