What or who initially inspired you to pursue a career in photography?
CW: I was initially inspired by the smell of the darkroom—my first photo class was in college, and you had to apply to get in, and when I went for my interview into the basement of the Arts building I was completely hooked by the mystery and alchemy of it all. I wanted in!
How did the self portrait become a crucial part of your work?
I was a lousy technician, but I loved portraits, so I starting using myself in order to hone my skills. I don’t know that my skills every really improved all that dramatically but I found in self-portraiture a powerful means to an end, which was to see my likeness within the canon of photographic history.
What are you working on currently?
I only make photographs rarely now, usually when invited to participate in an exhibition. I am currently writing a follow-up to “The Black Female Body: A Photographic History” and I edit a photography book series for the California Institute of Integral Studies. Oscar Palacio’s book, “American Places” is our first title, which will be out this winter.
Any advice for aspiring photographers/artists?
Don’t do it unless you love it. In the arts, there often isn’t a lot of remuneration, and there’s a lot of rejection. I think the only way to survive that as a career is to be able to go back to the thing itself and still find the excitement and pleasure you felt when you first realized that this is what you wanted to do. And I feel strongly that the best approach is to make your own way, and not be beholden to any existing structures of “success.”
“Carla Williams is an artist and writer currently based in Rochester, NY. Her work as a photographer and historian addresses subjects such as identity, family relationships and memory, race and acts of naming, and ideals of beauty. Williams was born and raised in Los Angeles. She completed a BA at Princeton University, and MA and MFA degrees in photography at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She has co-authored a number of historical studies, including “Black Female Body: A Photographic History, with Deborah Willis (2002).” 1
1. Museum of Contemporary Photography. 2012. http://www.mocp.org/
Carla Williams is currently a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology.