Hes an irrefutable success in his chosen field, but at some point it just becomes laughable to call what Jimmy Williams does for a living work.
I was hired to go do a job I would pay to do, the North Carolina-based photographer said of his latest exhibit, Tuscany Landscapes, which is one of two collections of his work, along with Music Makers, now on display at the Open Shutter Gallery.
Williams didnt just land in central Italy by chance. His is a career more than 30 years in the making, and hes enjoying the fruits of a lot of labor. But its some quality fruit, make no mistake about it.
Tuscany represents only Williams latest visit to the region. He visited about seven years ago with his family, went back two more times, took a boatload of photos on each trip and made them available through his Raleigh studio and gallery. The pasta company Barilla took notice and commissioned Williams to return to Italy to photograph Tuscany, Parma, the Gold Coast and other regions for the companys latest ad campaign.
We pick beautiful places, and I plan for photography even if its a personal trip, Williams said.
Whenever I produce wonderful photographs, I make sure I get them out so people can see them.
Thanks to Open Shutter, hundreds of people already have seen Williams photos after another full house for Fridays opening reception last week. It would be hard for even the celebrated Tuscan landscape to match the beauty of Williams photos, many of which look more like paintings than photographs. Its a trade-secret effect that puts Williams unique stamp on every image.
Im proud that I have my own style, and its the extra time whether Im shooting for a client or not, I bring the same vision, he said.
Hopefully, people will call you because they want you to do what you do, and starting about 20 years ago, I decided to stop trying to show I can do everything. I want to do this and do it well.
As if to refute his own claim, Music Makers is as different from Tuscany Landscapes as, well, coastal Italy is from the hills of North Carolina. Nowhere in any of the Tuscan images is there a human face to be found, but the photos of southern bluesmen and women reveal a humanity that could be rivaled only by seeing the musicians perform live.
Williams toured Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia on his own dime this time to photograph members of the nonprofit Music Maker Relief Foundation. The organization works to support musicians throughout the South who never got rich from their music but left an indelible cultural footprint nonetheless. Macavine Haines, Whistlin Britches and Cool John Ferguson were contemporaries of B.B. King, Muddy Waters and other great names of the blues. But they were among the thousands who never achieved the fame or fortune of the luminaries.
I needed a project personally that I could bite into, a long-term project of scale that had to be interesting enough that I dont lose interest, Williams said.
The Music Maker project fit the bill. Williams loves the music, and hes come to love the people, too. The images are moving, funny and sad. Williams photographed the musicians in their homes and favorite venues, capturing simplistic beauty in their modest abodes and the joy and struggle in the faces that reflect decades of some hard living.
I dont just snap a picture; I say where can we go thats meaningful to this person? I like to tell the story through the photo, he said.
Each photo assignment also includes an audio interview with the subject that can be heard on Williams website. Hes receiving no compensation from the Music Maker project and is donating the images to the organization for its promotional efforts. Hes also donating part of the sale of every image to the artist who appears in the picture.
Its done everything Ive hoped it would. Ive enjoyed meeting them, and theyre great at what they do. Theyre so humble, and they have no reason to be, Williams said.
If I dont run out of money and I live long enough, this will be a significant piece of work he said.