TRAVERSE CITY — The expression is a picture says 1,000 words, and John Robert Williams knows it does so in every language.
That’s how Williams starts the photography presentations he gives around the country. He shows slides with a phrase translated into many languages, then asks audience members if they understand the meaning. They usually don’t.
He then shows a picture of the phrase, a crying baby, and everyone understands.
“My story is whatever I put in that frame,” Williams said. “I have to make that succinct and believable and understandable and instantaneous.”
Williams opened his Traverse City photography business, John Robert Williams Photography, in 1979 and saw the transition from film to digital photography. Embracing new technology helped Williams’ business flourish to its current stock of computers, printers, lenses and lights.
He specializes in personal portraits, business portraits and product photographs for businesses selling new wares, and takes photos in his studio or on-site. He often photographs campaigning politicians and said he has a “.900 batting average” for getting those candidates elected.
He sees his job as a service, not sales. The camera is a recording machine, and he is an artist.
“It’s not about taking pictures of people. Nobody’s ever going to pay a penny to anybody to take a picture,” Williams said. “Not only do I write with light, I make the photo. You don’t take a painting, you make a painting. You don’t take a drawing, you make a drawing. I make photographs, I don’t take pictures.”
Williams’ creativity stretches beyond photography. He makes custom lights for his studio, sped his process so he can get finished photos to customers quickly, connected a computer screen to his camera so customers can see poses immediately and designed the “perfect portrait” process.
The perfect portrait starts with a half-hour massage from a massage therapist who rents space in Williams’ studio. Customers get their hair and makeup done by a professional stylist, then dress in their favorite outfits.