Proof: Photographs from Four Generations of a Texas Family
When Byrd Williams owned a hardware shop in Gainesville in the 1890s, he wanted to sell postcards that didn’t depict overseas locales. So he bought a postcard camera and began taking pictures all across Texas.
That was the beginning of thousands of photographs that make up the Byrd Williams Family Collection– a selection of which will be shown in Proof: Photographs from Four Generations of a Texas Family, running from April 14 (Friday) to May 13 (Monday) at UNT on the Square. The opening reception is from 3 to 5 p.m. April 23 (Sunday).
The book and exhibition title is a play on the photo term “proof” and the fact that photography shows proof of life. And the Williams family shot lots of it – more than 10,000 prints and 300,000 negatives are now part of the University of North Texas Libraries’ Special Collections. A portion of them have been compiled into a book that was released last year by UNT Press.
The task fell to Byrd Williams IV, who lives in his studio in Dallas and teaches photography at Collin College, to curate the book and exhibition.
“It was maddening because there were so many of them,” he said.
So he chose the specialties of each photographer – the postcard scenes by his great-grandfather, Byrd Williams; the landscapes by his grandfather, Byrd Williams Jr.; the street and studio shots by his father, Byrd Williams III; and his own pictures of Europe, televangelists and gun violence.
Growing up in the 1950s, families still often worked in the same business together, so Byrd Williams IV had his own camera by the first grade and was working in the darkroom by the seventh grade.
He said he loves photography for its documentation of everyday life, such as bathrooms, churches and bars – “the sort of things that doesn’t get recorded.”
“What’s driven me to photography is the window to posterity,” he said. “It’s the closest we come to time travel.”
When people look at photos, he said, “They don’t have to know English or German. It’s a direct language to our time – who we loved, who we hated.”