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Why Pep Williams is the photographer we all aspire to become

Meet Pep Williams, the successful photographer promoting worldwide social change through his work. Capturing timeless architecture, sustainable fashion, our unjust incarceration system, and more, Williams goes after what he wants and pushes boundaries–both within himself and society.

Last week, Williams shared his career story in an interview with Kulture Hub. From the way he speaks about photography, you can tell he truly enjoys his line of work. Below, you can read about his unlikely introduction to photography, his upcoming projects, and his motivations behind them. Williams’ approach to his art form and life itself is truly inspiring.

The beginning of Pep Williams photography

Kulture Hub: To start, could you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into photography?

Pep Williams: I was born in Los Angeles. As a kid, I became a pro skater. That was my first [time] getting a taste of the world, meaning traveling because we toured a lot. And then because I was kind of always tall, I did a lot of fittings for my sponsors. So I would do fashion shows. I did tons of fashion shows. 

Then one day, one of the designers I was doing a fashion show for, there was a photographer that double-booked, so he chose to go with the other designer. So the designer I was with doing the show for was freaking out saying, “We need a photographer. What am I going to do?” this and that.

Well, I found how much it paid, so I said, “Well, I’m a photographer” and they’re all, “What?” and I said “Yeah, I’m a photographer,” and it paid $6000. And they said, “Well we need to see your portfolio,” and I said, “We don’t have time for that. We have to get this done right now.” 

They gave me the check, and then I went… I pressed the button, and I was hooked. 

KH: What has been the best part about your career so far? 

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“Life’s Walk.” Taken in London. (Cred: Pep Williams)

PW: I think the best part about it is, because I’ve been doing it for so long, the friends I have around the world are like family. We see each other maybe a couple times a year. Sometimes more based on the tours.

Like, I’ve seen my friends’ kids basically have kids. I’ve been touring for practically thirty years. More than that. Actually, over thirty years. So, that’s probably the best part of photography for me.

Favorite projects

“Offset.” Custom crystal accessories by Laurel DeWitt. (Cred: Pep Williams)

KH: Do you have any favorite projects that you’ve worked on? 

PW: I shoot for a lot of record labels and artists, and things like that, but my favorite projects are usually the ones I create and I come up with. Like a series, like the prison, going into the prison and shooting there. I have a new one coming up. I’m supposed to be going to Sierra Leone in about a week and I’ll be out there shooting the natives. It’ll be amazing.

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“Inmates getting ready to pray” from the “Behind Bars” series at The Autry Museum in Los Angeles (Cred: Pep Williams)

Anything that I’m really into, I shoot. That’s why now I basically shoot for my friends. It just so happens that my friends own tons of brands or whatever, but its very rare that I’ll shoot for a brand new company.

It’s that whole… trying to get into the rhythm and everything. It’s why I shoot a lot for Adidas. They’re like family over there in Germany and up in Portland because we’re all friends. It’s super cool and it’s a whole lot easier; it’s less stress.

Sustainable fashion

KH: I’ve read you’ve been working with Adidas for years now. Do you have any other specific projects surrounding sustainable fashion?

PW: A friend of mine came in from Japan, and he does extremely high-end leathers. Like horse leather that’s insanely expensive. Just crazy stuff. And he’s a good friend, we’ve done stuff before in the past… it turned out really really good. It’s a brand called Nine Lives. They’re out of Japan.

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“Austin Wilson for Nine Lives Brand” (Cred: Pep Williams)

The detail is insane. If he’ll make a jacket with a certain look, he can only make six a year because they’re all handmade. It’s just really cool to see the detail.

Most people they’ll use for the pockets a machine to cut the pattern. These guys will use a razor blade by hand to cut it. It is like an art that is basically lost. Everything now is mass-produced. 

The enthralling nature of photography

KH: What do you think makes photography a particularly effective medium for conveying a message as compared to other art forms?

PW: I think because like in a painting, of course, you can get feeling. But with an image, it’s actually that and you can truly relate to it because it’s a person. If it’s like me, I like shooting things and I tend not to put names.

Sometimes in my work, in certain series, I don’t show faces because I like people to think this could be you, it could be your mother, your father, your uncle. So, with my work, I like people to think.

And I talk at schools and colleges all over and I want my work to educate like 100 years from now, 200 years from now. That’s my goal with this whole thing I’m doing.

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“Woman on Steps” from the “I Am Here” series. (Cred: Pep Williams)

I have a series coming out called “I Am Here.” it’s basically about the homeless. And not just the homeless here in America, but around the world. And because I go to all these different places, I get to shoot it.

People don’t think about homeless people in Oslo or homeless people in Denmark or out in Indonesia. So I’m bringing all that to show it’s truly a global problem… I just try to let my work open up eyes and do things like that.

Pep Williams’ inspirations and advice

KH: Are there any photographers whose work you particularly respect or look up to?

PW: If I had to choose one, it’d have to be Cameron. 100 percent Julia Margaret Cameron. She’s a photographer from the 1800s…  I like the image to kind of give you feeling. And with her work, to me she’s a photographer.

Everybody else, they just go buy cameras and they take pictures. Back in the 1800s you just had a box and a hole in it. You had to know exactly what you were going to get, and not even see until a few days later because you have to develop it…to have that vision, to see it before you shoot it, that’s how I shoot. 

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“Yunaisy and Karina in Cuba” (Cred: Pep Williams)

KH: Is there any advice you would give to a young creative trying to make it in their industry?

PW: Basically, don’t stop. And the reason we tend to stop is because the people that we think are on our team—be it friends or family—aren’t supportive of what we’re doing.

And there have been so many people who just could’ve been something great or wonderful in their art, but they just didn’t have that encouragement, or that person pushing it… some people don’t need it but the mass majority do. So just don’t stop whatever you’re doing. 

Art is inspiration

Kulture Hub thanks Williams for sharing his story and insights with us. You can view more of his work on his website.

Whether or not you’re interested in photography, art, or even Williams himself, there is something valuable we can all take from his work. He is inspiring us to push through difficult times, dedicate our creativity toward helping others, and to never stop.