Elias Williams

Elias Williams, United States

“Reset means dismantling the cultural, social, and economic standards that withhold photographers of color from reaching their potential.”

Elias Williams is a documentary and portrait photographer born, raised and working in New

York City, United States. His work focuses on honoring underrepresented communities that resonate with his cultural background in the United States. Through portraiture and long-term storytelling, he studies the cultural and historical significance of everyday people within these communities.

“In some ways, Elias is photographing his own legacy and his own life in the most cherished way, as if each thing, place, person was the most valuable thing in the world,” said Maggie Steber, photographer and Joop Swart Masterclass nominator.

His 2020 Joop Swart Masterclass project sheds light on the shortcomings of forward mobility for Black Americans in Addisleigh Park, a small enclave in his hometown St. Albans, New York. St. Albans is a semi-suburban predominantly middle-class Black-American community, one of the few places where Black Americans could pursue homeownership in New York City. The community was also once home to many Black Jazz musicians and athletes. Building on his previous work in St. Albans, Elias Williams will document the transition of a once predominantly White community that formed into a Black mecca.

2020 Joop Swart Masterclass

For the first time, due to the current global health crisis, the Joop Swart Masterclass is taking place online over a period of four months, and 24 participants and eight masters have been selected to make the program more inclusive.

I’m most looking forward to the comradery and the exchange of perspectives amongst this diverse group of storytellers,” said Williams.

The educational experience of the Joop Swart Masterclass is based on an assignment to produce a photo essay around a given theme. This year the theme is ‘Reset’.

“For me, ‘Reset’ means dismantling the cultural, social, and economic standards that withhold photographers of color from reaching their potential. This predominantly white photography industry must also take a hard look at itself and ask why it upholds overwhelming views towards people of color as deprived or ‘the other.’ Why can’t stories focusing on Black, Brown, and Indigenous people be celebrated without trauma persistently at the forefront? Why does this industry make it so exhausting for photographers of color to develop their voices and careers when they choose to take their work in this direction?” he added.

From July to October 2020, the participants will work on their projects and receive mentorship and guidance from the mentors. The final projects will be presented on 29 October 2020. Learn more about the 2020 Joop Swart Masterclass