Taken from the welcome page of awilljr.com, a quote by Alonzo Williams Jr. reads “Pressing and releasing shutters, revealing beauty in the human story, placing bids into history, uncovering the unknown, turning visions into visuals…this is my purpose…” Now, you may be curious as to who this man is, and why he is important; the answer is easy. He is a photographer with a gift strong enough to spark positivity in society. With vision beyond comprehension, he is always willing to do what it takes to convey what he sees in his head through pictures. On a deeper level, he seeks to capture a story within a person, and confine a paradigm that’s timeless through his photos. Not only are his pictures worth a thousand words, he freezes his subjects in time and immortalizes them and their beauty. He understands the beauty is bigger than the age and shape of the flesh in front of him. When seizing internal beauty, he pulls the essence from a person with the camera, and has their soul speak to the viewer. And for that reason alone, Alonzo is one of the most brilliant photographers I’ve ever known. So, if you’re curious to know more, keep reading, because the story only gets better.
The blueprints to an architect are the pencils and charcoals to the artist. Likewise, the camera to Alonzo Williams is the fire and hammer to a blacksmith. It’s very common to see individuals coining themselves as photographers. Equally, we note a lackluster, laconic quality that creates a banal sea of wannabes. Much to my delight, I had the privilege of interviewing a photographer that uses his vision and dedication to go rogue from the crowd. Now, one could argue that photography doesn’t require much expertise. You just point and shoot, right? Photoshop here, Photoshop there, and voila! The photographers that follow this formula create products that reflect such. I’ve observed quality from Alonzo’s photography that has reached out and pulled me in. The poses and subjects tell a timeless story that’s been captured by the flutter of the shutter and the blinding lash of the flash. That’s real photography. People seek a certain degree of immortality through pictures; and there’s a dependency and trust that’s invested into a photographer to make good on that desire. Alonzo transmits merit on a level that’s unparalleled.
On a late, orange-tinted summer evening in August, I pulled up to a suite of artist studios in downtown Houston, Texas. Alonzo greeted me warmly and led me to his studio that was a charming short trek away. Authentic art littered the walls of the hallways and sought to speak to the creativity in each person that passed by. The rich smell of wood and acrylic paint was dancing lightly in the air. As I entered his quaint photography sanctuary, I was immediately stricken by the neatly arranged collage of portraits on his wall. Those pictures are a story all on their own, but I first wanted to know more about him as a person and an artist. Naturally, I asked, and was pleased with my findings.
Not everyone is born with the natural inclination to partake in their fated calling, while many of us must search and go through life experiences to put us on our destined path. The same is true for Alonzo! He hobby-hopped around until his early twenties, experimenting with rapping, real estate, and sports. There were even aspirations to be a basketball player. But organically, all paths converged at photography. With his uncle serving as a primary inspiration and his matchless mentor, he recounted his uncle’s impressive and vast collection of cameras, as well as binders upon binders of completed portfolios. Most importantly, he learned from his uncle to always print his work. The digital age is unpredictable, and there’s nothing more devastating to a photographer than losing his or her anthology.
In addition to mentoring Alonzo, his uncle also gave Alonzo his first camera. He laughed hysterically as he described the archaic HP digital camera as looking like a “baby toaster”. He respects his humble beginnings because he’s able to appreciate the present so much more, especially now shooting with a Chinon CM-5 and a Canon 70d. The crispness and superiority of the pictures speak for themselves and are quite impressive apparatuses. Serving him well, Alonzo finds nothing wrong with dreaming bigger, as he fantasizes about his fantasy camera of German origin, the Leica M9.
Getting a natural high from photography, the craft he’s mastered catapults him into an ascension that rivals any drug. I was curious about his end game with photography and what he hopes to accomplish. He simply expressed, “My only hope is to leave an unparalleled legacy; and open doors for the photographers out there struggling to find their individuality.” It’s easy to follow the status quo; the standard is a safe spot, and it’s comfortable. Unfortunately, many artists are stuck in that vacuum. He wants to break down the walls and venture into realms that other photographers fear. Rest assured that Alonzo has done just that.
So what makes his work so noteworthy? Two words: 100 Strangers. 100 Strangers is a premise adapted from a photography challenge he discovered on Flickr five years ago. To embark on such a task seemed impossible to him during that time being a natural introvert and with a hefty fear of rejection. Both of which served as roadblocks to his latent desire. But after a series of life obstacles that he overcame, those hindrances were obliterated.
In January of 2015, he took to the streets of New York City with his trusty camera where his first photograph of 100 Strangers was born. He was given the opportunity to photograph a couple he encountered, there was no turning back! 100 Strangers initially involved him traveling to different places and simply taking photos of people that were complete strangers. But strictly taking pictures and walking away proved to be unfulfilling. He craved a deeper connection to his subjects or at least a deeper knowledge about them. That’s how it evolved into pictures and brief interviews.
I had to know more about the methodology he takes with these perfect strangers. He explained that he always approaches from their direct line of view and if possible, he establishes eye contact. With his Canon 70d in hand, he introduces himself, and states his cause with confidence and eloquence. Usually, that’s enough to win the trust of the subjects. After that rapport is established, he described the willingness of the strangers to open up to him. He chatted eagerly about how he drinks in the life stories of each and every person with pure inquisition.
Rarely going for the easy kill, Alonzo is drawn to types that are unconventional, partially guarded, or classically intimidating. Hence, the tattooed, rugged, and free-spirited people he’s collected. He’s learned that those who are judged most harshly by society are the ones that have the most enthralling stories to tell. These strangers have experiences that would move anyone that takes the time to listen. The 100 Strangers journey has taught Alonzo so much about the human condition and the unforeseen circumstances people duel with every day. And that makes them such beautiful strangers. His goal is to perpetuate that message to the world. He photographs the strangers in hopes of crystalizing their physical appearance, and unearthing and magnifying their inner beauty that’s sadly often imperceptible to the human eye.
This is his timeless jewel, the apple of his eye, the child that can only grow with his love, time, and dedication. That’s what passion is made of. 100 Strangers is not only a favored photography project to Alonzo, but it’s his legacy. A legacy that we are witnessing evolve into his archetype led by a photo and a stranger at a time. Currently, he has photographed seventy-seven strangers and we clearly see that Alonzo and 100 Strangers are now one in the same. You can’t speak on one without speaking on the other.
Greatness has no measure. It is a feeling that we get, and an energy that can’t be seen. Science tells us that energy can’t be destroyed, only transferred and transformed. It’s infinite. 100 Strangers is all of the above to Alonzo and it’s his wish to propagate that significance to his audience. Hopefully he’s sewing a latent seed of greatness that will blossom into beauty with the public that will continue to give way to even more splendor, and slay empty judgements and presuppositions about people we see each day of our lives. Maybe one day you’ll be so open to someone that you would have never given a chance, be extremely proud of yourself, and think, “It all started with the foresight of Alonzo Williams and 100 Strangers.”