Dreamy, cinematic, fantastical, Sean Williams' photographs are imaginatively stylized scenes into worlds we seem to have just stumbled upon—worlds we recognize from fairy tales and mythology. At once contemporary and yet of a different time, his imagery quotes tableau painting and staged photography of the late 19th-century—in vivid color. Williams is interested in the contemplative, slower moments when the uncanny flirts with reality. And he lights his people and places with an eye toward chiaroscuro—imagery rich in shadows that remind us of Caravaggio and Goya. His characters look up from their worlds as though suddenly aware of our gaze. And we see in. A relative newcomer to photography, Williams wrote fiction and taught Composition and Rhetoric. For years, he focused on narrative in language, narrative as rhetorical constructs. In time, he found himself increasingly disinterested in writing. He explains, "I had studied so much, spent great energy comparing, learning, that nothing felt mine anymore, but a reflection of someone else's. In photography that may still be, but I don't know it. Not knowing the canon, a naïveté as it were, gave me a freedom to play again. As a writer I was creating with all these other writers in the room, judging. As a photographer, it's just me again." Perhaps, but Williams doesn't work alone. His photographs are orchestrated productions often incorporating sets and models in scale to create his imaginative worlds. Although much of his process is digital, he maintains a rigorous application of traditional photography. He prefers the collaborative efforts of a team assembled and working toward a shared vision. In this way he honors his studies in rhetoric allowing the ideas of the group to inform—persuade—the final image.
Entry description: Joffrey Ballet hired me to concept a marked departure from their past photography and to celebrate a season of narrative and storytelling. The Green Table shot on location in the historical Chicago club. Othello composited from two well-know floor in Chicago's Cultural Center. And Nine Sinatra Songs inspired by Rat Pack imagery and shot on location in a commercial kitchen. The images also serve as posters for the company.