• Rick Williams

Reflection and Expressive Self-Determination

What does photography mean to me?

In my very first blog post, I mentioned the impetus that drove me into digital photography in 2016. A desire to photograph my daughter’s gymnastic competitions with better than iPhone6 quality led me to invest in my first DLSR. The engineer in me forced me to explore all of its capabilities, which then fed the fever to do more with it and try all sorts of new things. However, in reality, the roots of my interest in photography go much deeper than that.

When I was a child, my paternal grandparents lived about a half-mile away from my house. The easy walk coupled with their proximity made for frequent visits. In addition, everyone’s birthday party, as well as Thanksgiving meals, seemed to be held at Nana and Pop Williams’ house. It was during these frequent family gatherings that my sisters, cousins, and I would hear stories about our parents’ childhood and their interests. We learned that my father and his two brothers had created a darkroom in the attic, and that my father was keenly interested in photography. Naturally, when the troop of cousins was not making random prank phone calls from an upstairs bedroom phone - a 1970’s childhood tradition - we would visit the third floor and explore. I am not certain that my uncles had that same keen interest and judging by the stack of old Playboy magazines that we found stuffed behind a false wallboard, I can imagine that maybe developing photos was not the primary purpose of that dark room anyway. In any case, the attic darkroom apparently served a vital purpose.

In the beginning of my eighth-grade school year in 1978, I was approached by my guidance counselor who informed me that I was one of a small group of students who had been selected for the Phillipsburg (NJ) Middle School Independent Study program. I was to choose any topic of interest and spend one full period per week working with a teacher who would serve as mentor, guiding me through the exploration of my chosen subject. Now, we had an awesome graphic arts facility, complete with an exceptionally equipped photographic dark room, in the 3-year-old PMS building. We also had a very cool and laid-back graphic arts instructor. So, I chose photography, and Mr. Pokrivchak scheduled my one period of Independent Study to precede a study hall period, effectively doubling my IS time, as he arranged for a permanent pass from study hall. How cool was that?!?!

Seemingly following in the footsteps of my father, I absorbed all I could learn about photography. I learned how to develop black and white film negatives, make prints, in addition to receiving instruction on 35mm film specs and operation of the school’s high-quality camera equipment. I was assigned to photograph school events and assemblies and became a member of the yearbook production committee. I learned a lot, and I was very happy to have had the opportunity.

Fast forward to high school where sports and a teenage social life pushed photography aside. Then to college where pursuit of an engineering degree and the active life of living in a fraternity house made me glad there were relatively few cameras and no internet around. Photography had totally faded from view, and I had climbed onto the hamster wheel of American life, earning my college degree, landing a solid engineering job, getting married, buying a home, having kids, and trying to advance and secure our standard of living. Following the “recipe”, buying into the “dream”………the blood-sucking, soul-crushing “dream” of a career in dysfunctional corporate America and a social media infused modern society filled with lemmings propagating a herd mentality.

Now I find myself happily drawn back into photography, and, like that 8th grader of the 70’s, immersed in the thrill of learning, experimenting, and building on small successes along the way………growing into something that gives me a great deal of joy and frees my spirit. I love the thought of giving to others in the form of knowledge, and through my images, a glimpse of the amazing and beautiful world around us as seen through my eyes and mind and felt deep in my soul. It allows me the freedom of expressive self-determination…….my choices, my timeline, my interpretation, my creation, my view of the world.

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