Out of the comfort zone

Pep Williams03/13/2018

Pep Williams’ acclaimed photographic work has been described as the “freshest kind of raw. From shooting in gritty inner-cities to California prisons, here Williams describes his work methods and what motivates him to capture uncompromising people in challenging environments.

Can you describe the moment when your future career in photography suddenly came into focus?
When I first realized I wanted to be a photographer was actually my very first shoot. I modeled for years doing runway. One day, I was modeling for a designer and overheard that he needed a photographer, because the one he hired was booked on a different shoot, so he was really desperate to find one. I found out it paid USD 6,000, so I said I was a photographer. I had never even owned a camera before, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard. They were shocked and asked to see my portfolio. Thinking fast, I said that we didn’t have time for that because we were on a deadline. They agreed and wrote me the check. The rest is history. I was hooked.

Does ‘street’ photography, for example, create any unique challenges in comparison to other photographic fields, like sports, fashion, or corporate photography? 
Street photography is in a class of its own. What I love about it is that moment that you capture will never be duplicated. In fashion and corporate shoots, everything is more scripted, planned, and created. You never know what you will capture shooting on the street.

“Shoot what you know.” Is this an expression which resonates with you personally and in terms of the projects and commissions you embark upon?
I believe shooting what you know gets you more comfortable in learning about your equipment more than anything. In other words, “Practice Makes Perfect”. Shooting around your environment tends to put you at ease on all aspects of shooting, from the subject matter to the camera you are using. So, when you step out of your comfort zone, everything else will be extremely easy and comfortable to shoot, be it a celebrity, or a tree.

Looking at your portfolio, words and expressions like ‘fearless’, ‘unflinching’, ‘gritty’ and ‘uncompromising’ spring to mind. Would you concur with these terms as being a true reflection of both your style and craft… as well as a reflection of the central protagonists themselves?

I love shooting things or people most other people either avoid or think is impossible to shoot. It’s what drives me. I can shoot models and celebrities all day, but it’s very boring for me after a while. But, putting yourself in an environment where there is always a sign of danger, or that it seems impossible – like shooting on a prison yard with inmates serving life sentences – is what I like. To clarify, I am talking not so much about the danger part, and more about the part where it is likely that no other photographer will ever shoot in that environment. I just love shooting things that are extremely hard to get permission to shoot. From a prison to a gang to a royal palace. Love it all.

Tattoos feature heavily in your work. Are you drawn to the tattoos first and then the individual behind the ink? Or is it always about capturing the essence, or the ‘truth’ of the individual first, with the tattoos themselves being interesting, but only representing an extra (and relatively superficial) layer to the person? Or is it absolutely wrong to try to compartmentalize or somehow ‘deconstruct’ in this way?

When I walked away from fashion designers and decided I was going to shoot what I wanted, I had to bring something to the table that wasn’t easy to photograph. The images of certain individuals who I shoot aren’t just tattoo guys. They are drug lords, gang leaders, for example. Anyone can shoot a tattoo. But the person the tattoos are on speaks volumes. I knew galleries around the world would gravitate to it, knowing who was in the images. My first gallery exhibition, presenting my tattoo images, were in Japan in 2005. I had 45 pieces shown and they all sold that night. That’s when I truly decided to only shoot what I wanted.

The images of certain individuals who I shoot aren’t just tattoo guys. They are drug lords, gang leaders, for example. Pep Williams
What were your very first impressions of Loupedeck?

When I first saw the Loupedeck console, I had to know more about it. It looked super cool! After I received Loupedeck in the mail, I quickly realized it was more than looks. It truly performs.

How has Loupedeck changed the methodology and processes related to your post-shoot workflow?

Loupedeck actually makes me want to get more in detail with my images. Most of the time I don’t even edit my shots. They just come right off of the memory card. With Loupedeck, because it makes it so easy, I now spend time editing more.

You recently did a major a major photoshoot “Out of Bounds”, in a California State prison. What was the ambition or rationale behind taking on the assignment?

It goes back to shooting something people don’t even think about or think is impossible to shoot. It took me four years, but I found a way. I was able to shoot with full access in a California state prison. And what’s cooler is that I was recently invited back to shoot at another prison. I actually just shot there in mid-February and I’m using Loupedeck to edit.

Does having a Loupedeck console mean you find yourself taking more raw images during the photoshoot (with the knowledge that you can arrange, analyze and process them much more quickly and efficiently) Or, less raw images?

I’ve always shot raw. So, having the Loupedeck console just added to the natural flow.

How many raw images did you accumulate during the prison shoot, for example?

One thing I’m known for is shooting very fast. I don’t shoot tons of images. That’s called video! I have shot magazine covers after taking just four images. I see what I’m shooting in my head before I shoot, so when I see it the shoot is over. So, I’m pretty fast. The only time I will shoot more, is when it’s a designer and they have numerous outfits. So, usually 15-20 shots per outfit maybe. My way of shooting comes from shooting with old-school film roll. You had to be very specific because film was expensive. At the prison, we were there for two days, for around 10 hours each day. I shot around 600 images, so that’s about 30 images each hour. That’s about right for me.

With particular reference to photographs of life on the street. Are the images ultimately designed to entertain? Or to educate? Or to document? Or to enlighten? Or are they a constantly evolving mixture of the above? Or none of the above?

I would say none of the above. I just shoot for myself. If people like it, cool, but I just shoot what I like.

Finally, now that you have become very familiar with Loupedeck, are there certain functions on the console which are now absolutely indispensable in terms of your overall efficiency of workflow and productivity in general?

For me, what I love about it, is that it goes where I go. It’s super lightweight and fits in my bag perfectly. It’s easy to use and it’s fast. Thank you for making a killer product.

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