“Charm City” and beyond: Q&A with Isaiah Williams
We caught up with photographer Isaiah Williams to chat about his exploration of Baltimore for his “Charm City” series, the photos he captures and an passion sparked by a simple Polaroid portrait.
The Darkroom: Tell us about yourself. What do you do? Where are you from? What’s your background?
Isaiah Williams: I am a member of the US Air Force, currently stationed here in Maryland. I joined up after I finished my Bachelor’s at Salisbury University and ended up getting stationed right back here. I grew up in Germantown, Maryland and attended Damascus High School. Since I grew up pretty close to here, Baltimore has always been a very important city to me. I would come for museums, the harbor, and sports games.
DR: How did you get started in photography?
Williams: I got started in photography when I was young, my mother was a musician and I remember I was about 5 years old when she introduced me to a photographer at her record label. We sat down and he used his Polaroid to take a portrait of us, and the instant I saw that picture develop right before my eyes I was hooked. I spent most of my childhood carrying around whatever disposable or cheap camera I could get my hands on and always kept a photo album. It lapsed a bit when I went to college, but after I could afford the gear I wanted to it started back up. I have been addicted to photography ever since; it is my passion.
DR: In one sentence, describe your photography.
Williams: My photography is all about telling stories, I want you to look at my images and feel like you are experiencing those moments with me.
DR: Do you have a goal with your work? Something you hope to accomplish with it, or is it simply a passion?
Williams: Photography is a huge passion of mine, and in the end I just want to take photographs that make people think. I want to travel and document all types of people and places, I got my college degree in Sociology so I try to bring that into my work any way that I can. For Baltimore specifically, I want people to see the different neighborhoods and places this great city has to offer. There is a lot more out there than most know, and I want to show them.
DR: What captivates you to shoot the scenes you do, particularly in your Charm City series?
Williams: Expanding on that last answer. The Charm City series was something that I wanted to do for a very long time. I feel like sometimes people who know don’t know Baltimore very well only focus on negative things they have heard about the city. I wanted to start a project that showed all the interesting places and people Baltimore has to offer, I started Winter of 2013 and have been slowly adding more images as the year progressed. Once I feel like I have spent enough time trying to get different areas of the city I want to put together a book or something to showcase “Charm City.”
DR: Do you go out looking for photos or do you stumble across scenes to capture?
Williams: When I first started it was kind of hard to get a feel for what I was really looking for. So I would set a day or two and go out looking for things to take photos of, but in time I realized that sometimes you have to just have your camera with you and scenes will unfold right before you. There are a few images that I have taken of people in particular that are posed, but for the most part most of the Charm City series is done candidly. I want to capture people and environments as they really are, so people get a feel for what it’s like to live in the city.
DR: For our gearheads: What’s your setup? Lens, camera, lights, Canon vs. Nikon? iPhone? What do you use most?
Williams: For the gearheads! When I started Charm City I was working on a Nikon D7100 and D600 with a 35mm 1.8 and a 50mm 1.8, I soon realized though that if you want candid photos you may need to be a little more discreet than pointing a huge DSLR in someone’s face. So I made the transition over to Sony’s line of Mirrorless cameras (NEX 6, A6000, A7) which are much smaller and lighter; I love everything they offer in terms of image quality, white balance, color reproduction and auto-focus speeds. Most of the Charm City series now is shot with a 14mm, 30mm, 50mm and an occasionally an 85mm. I don’t use flash unless it is absolutely necessary, I think it’s an amazing tool but I love working with natural light sources. I have an iPhone 6 Plus which has an amazing little camera on it, so if I am somewhere where I don’t have my camera I feel more than comfortable using it. Regardless of gear, anyone can go out and take amazing photos and I would encourage them to do so.