Amy Williams’ career path has taken her to some of humanity’s brightest spots and darkest corners.
For eight years, she coordinated the Bristol branch of CASA for Kids, providing trained Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused and neglected children in the Bristol, Tenn., juvenile court system. She left CASA in August 2010 to begin law school at the University of Tennessee, with the goal of returning to the area to serve as a guardian ad litem attorney for children in need.
Through it all, photography has served as an escape of sorts for Williams as well as a way of observing and capturing the world around her.
“It’s sort of akin to meditation,” said Williams, who attends classes in Knoxville during the week and returns home to her husband and cats in Elizabethton on the weekends. “When I go out to take pictures, things just seem quieter. I’m looking at everything, from the tiniest detail to the larger aspects of my surroundings, and it is calming. It really helps put things in perspective, too, just to look around and see that if you look close enough and clear your mind, everything is interesting.”
A sampling of Williams’ photography is on display at the Kingsport Renaissance Center’s second-floor main gallery, where it will remain through Sept. 21. An opening reception will be held from 2 to 4 p.m., today in the gallery.
The exhibit features images from Williams’ ongoing project to document life — big and small, natural and manmade — around the Appalachian region.
“All the photos at the Renaissance Center were taken in East Tennessee, most in the Tri-Cities area,” she said. “I think people don’t always realize the diversity of our area, and I am hoping to show a very small sample of what is out there, what we live among every day but don’t necessarily have time to see and think about.”
Williams has developed a passion for photographing what others might consider environmental eyesores: old industrial machinery and rusting cars, construction equipment and trains.
“They make me think about the people who built them and worked with them, what their lives were like and what aspirations they had, and whether they were happy, and it makes me contemplate the passage of time,” Williams said.
Since entering her first photography contest in 2007, Williams has won first place in the Railgrass Photography Contest’s amateur black and white nature division; had one of her landscape photos chosen for display on the “The Most Beautiful Wilderness” section of the Huffington Post’s website; and displayed her work earlier this year during a month-long show at the Bristol Public Library. In November, her photography will be featured during a month-long installation at the Relix Variety Playhouse in Knoxville’s Old City district.
During her first semester of law school, Williams was chosen to serve as the school’s student photographer, a job that has included photographing Tennessee Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court justices. Her work can be seen on the law school website (law.utk.edu) and has been published in the Tennessee Law Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 magazines. Williams’ photographs are also on display on her Facebook page, Freewill Photography.
“I started doing photography as a hobby and as an exploration of the world around me,” Williams said. “I majored in anthropology in undergrad and graduate school, so I’ve always been interested in culture and the big wide world, and photography is sort of a way to observe.
“I started putting some photos out there a few years ago just to see what people thought of them, and I have been really surprised and grateful for the positive response.”
Although photography remains just a hobby for now, Williams said she would eventually like to incorporate it into her law career.
“It would be great to use photography to make people more aware in a visceral way of the problems and possibilities we face and to mobilize them to act in ways that will make life better for everyone — and also to help people stop, breathe and revel in their environment,” she said. “But my main goal is to just keep observing, and not take my existence in this fascinating world for granted.”