Donnie Williams: For Future Reference
Donnie Williams is a photographer living and working in Fort Worth, TX. Much of his work documents people, street scenes and incredibly unique situations only Weegee could have devised. Through a variety of analog cameras and processes, he pursues the natural habit of his surroundings persistently. He is a visual historian of the place here and now. Often times depicting people, places and residential artists that have energized a contemporary scene in Fort Worth. He captures raw situations alongside beautiful portraits that tell of a city’s large demographic and community. All of which will go into his digital and physical history book through Instagram and self published zines.
RR: What's up Donnie. I've known you for quite some time and consider you to be one of the most prolific photographers in Fort Worth, TX. How did you get started in photography?
DW: Thanks brother, that really means so much! I definitely work really hard on my art so it’s always nice to have people enjoy it also. I got into photography when I moved here to Fort Worth actually. I bought a digital camera on Christmas that year in 2011. Around that time I also bought a couple film cameras and went back and fort with them until I decided to go strictly film in 2014. I used to produce hip hop beats before moving here but when I got here I just really wanted to get out and explore the city I had just relocated to. I felt like I was just staying cooped up inside or only visiting vinyl shops digging in the crates. So I just put my feet to the streets.
RR: What drives you to consistently go out there and take photographs of the city, and world for that matter? What's a typical day in the life for you?
DW: I love getting out in the city and just walking around, observing and people watching. Street photography really is a challenge to me. To be aware, anticipating situations and shooting film makes me just live in the moment. To me, I see it as somewhat being ahead of the times. Preserving beautiful moments in the times we are living in. We are living in our “golden era” and I’m surrounded by such a great community of artist here in Fort Worth. A typical day for me is... no matter what, have your camera with you!! It’s always something going on. I usually like to go out and roam alone. It’s kind of meditation for me, but I don’t mind getting out with friends and walking around exploring. Lately I’ve been listening to music while I’ve been out so once I put that fire playlist on I get in tune with the streets.
RR: What have you seen change over time in your style/focus or things you photograph? What about in the area you document?
DW: Being out making so many images, editing, developing and printing is a lot of being hands on with the art. I enjoy all of it. I feel that’s the best way to find your style. A while back I started to see how these images I was making in the bigger picture were telling a story and able to speak sometimes more than my words could. I love history and studying old photography books. I’m trying to write OUR history for the future generations, but with the blindfold off. Like what’s really going on in these times. I see it in the older images from the 60s and 70s. As far as the area I live in and shoot, it’s the south!! I love it here. I’m country to the core. I mean I love the east coast and the west but it’s just something about being down south. That southern hospitality! At the same time u do get it all... cowboys, culture… and racism. I feel it’s not even history repeating itself, it’s always been here but maybe just suppressed and now they feel it’s okay to be that with our current POTUS. It definitely has changed the way I make images though I can’t lie. Fort Worth is changing so quick these days. I’m just trying to keep up to preserve these buildings and things that will eventually be gone as time passes.
RR: Fort Worth does seem to be changing a mile a minute. I consider your work to be capturing that change both in the visual aesthetics and in culture. You’re often out capturing the people at live events, art exhibitions, protests and just the daily traffic that is out and about. Do you think FTW will soon be a major destination for art like other cities in Texas?
DW: I see the change happening so fast as I’m sure everyone else here does. It’s kind of crazy at times but it’s no time to look back. I’m trying to capture the NOW before it’s long gone. Fort Worth is definitely on its way to being one of if not the major art destinations in Texas. The museums and the support in the arts community is so amazing!
RR: I know you recently self published a photo zine. Could you talk about that process for you?
DW: The zine I released recently is about 3 years of work. I titled it For Future Reference. After my first solo exhibition at Fort Works Art Gallery I wanted to jump right into another project. I really enjoyed showing work in a gallery but it definitely was a learning process for me. After that, I wanted to just stay focused and stay busy working. I traveled to Arizona and Colorado that year not too long after the show. So the work is just that. A study of an artist after an exhibition. I wanted the work to be unseen with nothing that I had shared online. The only way u will see that work is in the physical copies.
RR: I’ve heard you have close 13K posts on your Instagram, which definitely says a lot about the volume you shoot, ON FILM!
DW: Street photography really is about failure. Each time I go out I understand I’m going to fail. A bunch. Not every image is gonna be this world changing image. For me personally its not about making that. It’s more about making meaningful work that will make sense to me later on in life. The Golden times we live in! It’s hard to make an image that more beautiful than what you see with your eyes. So many times the photos ALMOST make it but something small that doesn’t really connect the scene throws it all off compositionally.
RR: Is there something that Instagram can’t do that a photo book or zine can?
DW: I feel Instagram is on its last leg as far as showing and sharing work. I noticed the decline in interaction some time ago and it made me want to start making more books and prints. To me Instagram is more about using it to show people what you are working on and the IG stories. Not to mention the quality of imagery on it. To me, it’s nothing like picking up and flipping through the pages of a book. You can actually sit down, be in the mood and examine the images with books. I enjoy all the small details in photos.
RR: Well put. I have a hard time posting these days too but make plenty use of the story feature. Books and zines are definitely the ultimate medium for photography. What are some of your favorite cameras you use to shoot?
DW: Lately I’ve been shooting more medium format and large format (4x5 film) which definitely slows me down. I enjoy going out knowing I only have maybe 5 or 6 shots with the large format. I become really selective on making images. I also enjoy simple inexpensive point & shoot cameras. A lot of people get caught up in the gear. I’m not one of them.
RR: Do you have any exhibitions or more publications coming out? Where can readers get their hands on For Future Reference?
DW: I got a couple group shows later on this year in October and November. Trying to release another body of work before the year is up so I’m just staying busy on the streets. Messaging me on Instagram @willid420 is probably the easiest way to get u a copy of the zine.
RR: Thanks Donnie!
DW: Appreciate the opportunity to sit down and chat with you! Peace.