Magnani Meets: Troy Williams’ Village and Beyond

Written by Francesca Magnani

It starts with an encounter, a crossing of paths, and the clic of my camera. The idea behind this column is a real-life conversation that happened haphazardly, out of chance or serendipity. This is the inspiration for Magnani Meets.

In ancient mythology Tyche / Fortuna is the goddess of fate and I have always felt the street in New York City always presents me with the people, the images and the colors that resonate with what I am currently going through emotionally or psychologically. My photography captures that.

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We start this column with photographer Troy Williams. Based in Brooklyn Troy takes the L train and photographs the East Village. We met in one of his favorite places in Alphabet City and had a conversation over coffee at Ninth Street Espresso.

Portrait of Troy Williams / Photo by Francesca Magnani

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Francesca Magnani: What is your trajectory as a photographer?

Troy Williams: I would say that my trajectory as a photographer is two-fold.  One, I want to explore the medium to expose myself to its magic and its otherworldliness.  Its ability to turn the mundane into poetry is one aspect that fascinates me.  Or how putting attention on a person’s eyes and gestures somehow brings the spiritual world into focus.  Just the miracle that photography exists at all is enough for me to dive into it.  Secondly, with my focus of subjects/stories being on the inhabitants and vibrations of the East Village, my interpretation of my adoration for its history and its momentum forward keeps me trying to find new ways to express myself.  The neighborhood is changing while trying to preserve its bohemian/punk origins.  Somedays I see a sharp, intimate portrait as a good representation.  Other days it’s the energy of the streets that pulls my aesthetic in a particular direction.  I’m trying to tap into the energy of the moment and ride the wave.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: What attracted you to the medium?

Williams: Music attracted me to photography.  I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s when music videos, album covers, etc were the things that me and my friends devoured and recreated in our own creative ways.  When I roam the streets now looking for photos, I always have a soundtrack playing in my headphones.  It directs my actions just as much as what’s physically in front of me.  Music is the world that my photographs are born out of.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: What brought you to photograph the street?

Williams: I had a long break/creative rut with photography that ended once we started to emerge from the pandemic.  I wanted to be with people again.  I needed to interact.  And I wanted to pay homage to the place that I called home.  Also, the illness pushed me to do something that would occupy my mind with something positive and creative.  I needed this to deal with my new reality.  Once I started, I got hooked and began my new journey into street portraiture.  I felt part of something.  I felt seen.  I was becoming part of a community.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: What is the direction you give during a portrait session?

Williams: Not much.  I might ask them to turn this way or move their arm in that direction but it’s minimal.  I want to see how they react to the situation of a stranger being interested in who they are.  My job is to see them and pair them with the environment that is both respectful and celebratory of them.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: Which camera/lens do you shoot with?

Williams: I shoot with a Sony A7iii.  My two lenses are a Sigma 35mm 1.4 and a Sigma 28-70mm 2.8.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: Do you spend lots of time in post-production?

Williams: My postproduction skill level is amateur at best.  I try to apply my darkroom skills to photoshop postproduction to bring out what the digital file is offering.  I try to keep it simple though there are a few instances that I experiment in PS but that’s likely a passing fling.

Magnani: Is there an author from the past that inspires you?

Williams: I would say musicians inspire my photography more than authors. Miles Davis, Prince, Cure….The list is long.

Magnani: Who are your subjects?

Williams: Punks, skateboarders, fashionistas, queers, artists, photographers, musicians, the weird and fabulous.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: In the BW project that recently won an award your focus seems to be at the center of the frame, whereas in the latest images you have explored more varied compositions: what happened?

Williams: I was ready to move on.  I wanted a change and to seek a different aesthetic while still focusing on downtown inhabitants.  My creative sensibility was really informed by musicians like Prince who would put out an album a year and each time he would change his appearance and his musical style yet still feel singular.  That blueprint is what I follow.  Embrace change or suffer the consequences of habitual creative styles.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: What do you see in these people that you think reflects yourself?

Williams: I suppose what I see in the people I photograph is something that I admire and connect with.  A way of being that is out loud and of their creation.  This isn’t a trait that you only find in Alphabet City but it is a trait that excels and explodes in beautiful ways in my favorite neighborhood.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: Do you like the fact that your project became seen first online? Do you have a book out? Do you want one?

Williams: I am very much interested in a book. It is my favorite way to experience photographs. For me it is akin to listening to a vinyl record album at home. The intimacy of the format, the familiar space that it is viewed in (if one is looking at the book in their home) is a place to get lost in the art. The newness of the photographs is surrounded by the familiarity of light, the sounds and the scent of home. These add up to moments of familiar yet expanding epiphanies.

Photo by Troy Williams

Magnani: One last question about the fruition of your work: Do you have gallery representation? Would you want one?

Williams: I don’t have gallery representation because I don’t find gallery spaces to be the best way to look at photographs.  But the support that can come from representation is something worthwhile. So, if being represented would help with the possibility of publishing a book, I would be interested!

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Troy Williams (1975) is an American photographer based in New York City. Williams was born in Brookings, South Dakota. He studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where he received his BFA in photography. He is the recipient of a 2003/04 MCAD/Jerome Fellowship. His murky and mystical adolescence series “I Want to Know What Love Is, I Want You to Show Me” was included in the 2006 exhibition “Anticipation” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. In 2006 he relocated to New York City where his photographic practice has focused on a series of street portraits titled “Village” that aims to heighten the enduring energy, resilience, creativity, and relentless individuality that defines modern New York City.

Williams’s work has been shown in group exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Minnesota Center for Photography in Minneapolis as well as internationally in Belgium and Germany. His series “VILLAGE” was awarded 2nd place in the 2023 LensCulture Portrait Awards.His work is held in collection at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago.

UP Mag readers will be able to meet Troy in person in New York City at Caelum Gallery on April 25-28, when some of his Village images will be on view at the LensCulture group show at Caelum Gallery.

Francesca Magnani is a Brooklyn-based Italian photographer, writer, teacher, and translator. Born and raised in Padua, she arrived in NYC as a Fulbright graduate student in 1997. Since then she has been telling in words and images the stories that move her while she chronicles her own life.

Instagram: @magnanina

Website: francescamagnani.com