Byrd Williams IV- a life in photographs
Additional reporting was done by Dianne Egan.
When Byrd Williams IV was a child, his future had pretty much been laid out for him. Williams comes from a lineage of Texas photographers, who captured life one shutter-click at a time. His show titled Byrd Williams IV: Memory, Imagery and Mortality will run Jan. 5 to Feb. 3 at Fort Works Art in Fort Worth.
“My dad, granddad and great granddad were all photographers,” Williams said. “When I was little I started working in my dad’s studio, I didn’t have a choice. I became interested and went with him as he shot portraits, fine art and even crime scenes.”
Williams spent many years in Europe and settled for some time in Bad EMS, Germany, where as an artist in residence, he shot scenes on street corners.
“I started shooting German street corners, then English street corners and then Holland,” Williams said. “You can kind of tell their culture by looking at how they use civic space.”
What Williams liked most about Germany was that art was not just reserved for those in the upper echelons of society, art was for everybody.
“My exhibits would be filled with just plumbers and everybody came and they bought art,” Williams said. “They made a bigger deal of art.”
While Williams has done decorative art in the past, he likes to switch between shooting color and black and white. Most recently, he has been working on a book of family photographs called Proof which tells the story of the four generations of Williams family photographers.
Additionally, Williams has been working on documentary-style photography.
“Sometimes, the best work is vernacular- what’s going on in neighborhoods or someones house,” Williams said. “I’ll do documentary style shooting a lot, ethnographic stuff. I find that curiosity of other peoples lives, that nosiness, kind of fun. I find people’s dresser tops, their closets way more interesting. If you go over to their house, they’ll clean up the living room but that’s not interesting. If I can talk them into it, I’ll shoot their closets or bathrooms. People will either have Swiss-like neatness or be kind of sloppy. I like all that.”
Another project Williams is working on plays on that nosiness, allowing him to see one of the most personal items in a house- the toilet.
“During Roman times, toilets weren’t as private,” Williams said. “Now we have this private space and it seems like so much of a wall. That project will stand as a historic document for historians to study later. Whether they think it’s artistic or not doesn’t matter.”
Williams sees this work more as an anthropological study that future generations can look back on.
In addition to his multiple projects, Williams has taught photography for 26 years and is currently the Chair of the Photography and Graphic Design program at Collin College in the Dallas area. The first project he assigns to his students is family history through photographs.
“First, we do a catalogue of the characters by doing portraits,” Williams said. “Then we go to their living spaces and working spaces. Then we go to the relationships and we try to do it all as archival as possible. So when they leave the class, they don’t just have pictures, they leave with a family heirloom. They are recording the family as it is.”
Sometimes, while doing these projects, he learns private things about students. One semester, a student came to him and said he couldn’t do the project.
“I found out that he had been kicked out by his parents and was living in the park,” said Williams. “He photographed where he slept and the other areas he visited. I don’t know how he made it through the semester.”
Williams’ next book, Memory, Image and Mortality will feature his own family history.
“The collection goes back 150 years,” he said. “I found family letters that go back to the Civil War. They mention murders, tuberculosis, slave ownership and more. Mostly, I’m showing how time has changed people.”
Byrd Williams IV’s show begins with a reception open to the public on Jan. 5, 2018 from 6-9 p.m., at Fort Works Art, 2100 Montgomery St. in Fort Worth.