Bill William, who uses the pseudo-name Edison for his works of art, moved to Jacksonville in 1989, when most of Jacksonville’s infamous boulevards were still just forests. William, whose family lived very close to the ocean, grew up with the coast; one of the key factors that William said influences both his life and artistic works. After bouncing around from UNF to FCCJ, moving to New York City, coming back to UNF and starting the photography program, moving back to Manhattan, moving back to Jacksonville, starting the photo program again, and then abruptly moving to Pennsylvania, William said he finally started taking photographs.
Q: How you first got started with photography? What are some of your earliest works? When did you first find your style?
A: To be honest, there was no particular catalyst to begin in real photography. My uncle was a photographer with a darkroom in his basement, and when I was really young, I remember going down there, already being wary of the basements in New Jersey, and this room made me particularly nervous. I guess when you’re young, you hold comfort in the capabilities of the light switch, but a sinister red light doesn’t exactly inspire confidence to a 5-year-old in a cold, dark basement. I think those initial impressions made photography a mysterious entity that kept with me all these years. Twenty years later, I was back in one [a darkroom], working this time, and became madly in love with its still sinister feel. In fact, the very first roll of film I shot was taken in Tallahassee, inside of this abandoned insane asylum. The woods around it were also quite gloomy. I have an emphatic love and downright need for attaining balance, almost always preferring formalism over arbitrary compositions. My grandfather, William McGee, photographed his five kids onto slide film, arranging them in height, always interacting and complementing their surroundings, and I took great notice of that.
Q: Describe your method and how you create your artwork.
A: I only shoot with color-reversal film, and the magic behind chrome film is that it undergoes an absolute sea of change when you manipulate it chemically. The saturation is boosted to these surrealistic qualities, and as long as you account for the exposures, you can combine slide onto slide onto slide, and still get enough clarity to scan the image at high-resolution. I use scotch-tape for the images that don’t quite mathematically line up, but my ultimate goal when taking photographs, is to remember the image I’m shooting the complement for, and try to compose for a precise alignment. I always use a tripod. As far as thinking up the work and becoming inspired … easy. Just drop everything you’re doing, detach yourself from modern life, make illogical and hasty moves across the country, drink a lot, smoke a lot, be alone, stay alone, endure freezing cold winters, read a lot of Freud, go broke, then try and be responsible, make money for a few months, and use it to do it all again. Toxic pleasures, as I call them, and they taught me more than I could even fathom to learn in academia.
Q: How did people react when they first saw your work?
A: My very first solo exhibition was last November at Bold Bean in Riverside. I think what people saw first were the frames, actually. I hand-built them, using some exotic pieces of wood; wood that had these innate designs and patterns in them, and I got a lot of praise for how they complemented the individual imagery. Often when I’m out looking at other artists’ work, I don’t want to just come up and jump right into the composition. It’s as if I want to be positively distracted by surrounding elements. The frame of an image can hold a lot of evolving power for its “length of life,” and it seems to have become such a subtlety in the display of photographs. But there was a lot of interest in the images themselves, and the origins of their titles. I hold the titles to a very high degree of significance.
Q: Where do you see the current photography trend heading?
A: Honestly, I used to be scared of where we were heading. The instant gratification era is in full swing, and I thought us as photographers weren’t using and utilizing our minds enough. I thought this newfound machinery would make everything so simplistic, that the days of labor were over, and the racing evolvement of photography as an art medium would run itself right into this brick wall. But I think someone will just Photoshop a hole in the wall, or a ladder to climb over. There’s some brilliant work out there, film and digital, and I’m apprehensive yet so intrigued about what a futuristic generation of artists who are so far flung from the early labors of photography will create. Maybe I don’t want to know. I’m somewhat scared that no one will want to read a history book in 20 years, because the beauty of history will be lost in a youth that swims in digital lagoons.