William Tolan attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, from 1981-1985, majoring in Chinese Studies. He received his BFA in Photography in 1988 from New York University and his MFA in 1994 from Arizona State University. He has taught at Phillips Academy, ASU, Syracuse University, as well as other institutions. He was co-director of the Andover-Bread Loaf Writing Workshop's Lawrence Program, teaching at-risk children, from 1991-92. More recently, Tolan was a photo editor and staff photographer at Fox News Online from 1997-2001, as well as the Assistant Director of The Light Factory in Charlotte, NC, from 2001-2002.
Tolan’s creative and curatorial work has focused on the issue of the family. He co-curated the exhibition "Family Matters" at Northlight Gallery, which included the work of Sally Mann, Vince Leo, Melissa Shook and Philip Lorca di Corcia. His own work has been included in the Museum of Modern Art’s "Pleasures and Terrors of Domestic Comfort," the Silver Eye Center for Photography's "Our Families," among other exhibitions. Tolan recently received fellowships from both the Houston Center for Photography and the Texas Photographic Society. His work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, and other private and public collections.