JACKSON, Wyo. — In August 2003, Taylor Glenn, then 25, showed up in Jackson without a plan but with a serious desire to experience the West. Like so many others, he fell in love with the mountains and the community. Nineteen years later, he’s still here.
Over the past two decades, Glenn has established himself as an illustrious Tetons photographer, with images that range from striking portraits of native species to a bird’s eye view of a river meandering through a barren desert. He credits his success in such a challenging industry to what he describes as the region’s great economic opportunities and this community’s support for entrepreneurs. With a focus on portraits, weddings, travel and tourism, adventure and outdoor lifestyle, Glenn defines the central theme of his photography as “people in the outdoors,” particularly combining epically beautiful vistas with human subjects.
“I always joke that everyone has 10 jobs when they live in Jackson,” Glenn said. “I have several jobs, but they’re all in photography. It’s hard to be a specialist in a small town, but I’m also interested in so many things.”
Originally from Greenville, North Carolina, Glenn fell in love with Wyoming when he took a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) mountaineering course in the Wind River Range during college. While studying economics at Eastern Carolina University, he got a taste of the dramatic granite peaks and azure alpine lakes of the mountain range that covers approximately 2,800 square miles.
“I had been to this area as a kid, but the NOLS course opened my world up to climbing. The Winds are the reason I’m here,” Glenn said. He chose Jackson as his home base because it had a lot going on in the ways of community and opportunity. He spent the first few years doing what he calls “the hustle,” working at the resort for a season pass, working at a temp agency, painting houses and doing other odd jobs.
Photography was a hobby, and being surrounded by so much beauty, Glenn wanted to shoot more, so he reached out to local photographers to assist them and pick up other gigs related to photography. Eventually he moved in with a roommate who was a commercial outdoor and adventure photographer, so they would collaborate on shoots and go on mountain adventures with Glenn as the model.
“At first it was fun and I enjoyed it, then it became more and more about work, which took away from those experiences we were having,” Glenn said. “It was a pivotal thing. I’ve always wanted to separate work from play.”
That experience shaped the early days of his photography business because he wanted to be as present as possible in his pursuits and keep his photography disconnected from that personal enjoyment of being outdoors. In 2008, he moved to San Francisco to pursue a Master of Fine Art (MFA) in photography and try out city life. After two years of school and with mounting debt, Glenn realized that the degree was only a piece of paper that didn’t mean much unless he wanted to stay in academia. Plus, he missed Jackson, so he moved back in 2010.
“At the end, Jackson is where I want to be, so I had to figure out how to make it sustainable,” he said. “It’s been amazing and fraught with everything that comes with the freelance game. Jackson is a unique place to have such an incredible economy in a small town with lots of opportunity for entrepreneurial things. The community has always supported that, which is part of what makes it work.”
He knew it would be wise and logical to establish a business around something that had a strong market and was reliable, so he chose weddings and people. That foundation provided the necessary income for him to pursue other types of photography, like creating lifestyle and adventure imagery. Connecting with his wedding clients also led to other opportunities, like working with Outpost on some of their marketing photography for high-end rentals.
Of course being a professional photographer in one of the most-photographed locations in the world comes with its own sources of anxiety, like never feeling like he’s doing enough, contributing to overcrowding in sensitive environments and facing the increasing amount of competition in the photography world. Then there’s the standard artist’s anxiety of inspiration coming and going in waves.
“A natural part of pursuing something creatively is that everything is amplified. The product is you, so when things are good, it’s awesome, and when they’re bad, it’s extra bad,” Glenn said.
He grapples with the idea that as a person working in media, he does contribute to overcrowding in the Tetons. “I’m just one person in a sea of information being spread around the world, but I can be responsible about how I engage with it and try to be a steward. We all have some role in it, and it’s no secret that this place is incredible. We have to be conscious and aware, and do it in a way that’s smart and responsible.”
Glenn uses his skills as a climber, surfer, hunter and skier to create his stunning photos. But to set his images of the Tetons apart from the billions that already exist, he tries to control whatever he can, whether it’s trying a new technique like infrared photography or changing the angle on a well-known landmark. That’s become even more important for Glenn post-pandemic, as his work has kept him close to home.
Prior to Covid-19, he traveled nonstop for work and fun, but when everything shut down, he refocused on what he had close to home.
“It changed how I feel about this place, and it made me realize what we have here and the resources around us. To me the most memorable stuff is right here in the backyard,” he said. Glenn thinks having Jackson and the surrounding area blow up in popularity in the last few years is a blessing and a curse. It brought economic opportunity with more money and more people, but the negative consequences have forced others out, people who Glenn says are needed in the community.
Glenn says he got in at the right time and doesn’t think he would be able to do the same thing now. “This place is not as accessible to that notion anymore of just showing up without a long-term plan,” he said. “I want to have a vibrant and diverse community, and there are a lot of forces at play right now that are undermining that.”
While he has seen Jackson change drastically in the last two decades, he thinks the core of who lives here remains the same: risk takers. Whether they take risks in the mountains or in business, “it takes a certain kind of person to leave their home, come to a place like this and really plug into a community.” Glenn says it fosters an energy and a network of people that have accomplished remarkable things in all aspects of life.
“I love this community, and I’m aware of the privilege and opportunities I’ve had [that others haven’t.] I’m trying to do good by it, be a good person, be grateful, be humble and love and protect this place.”