Proof: The Byrd Williams Family Photography Archive

A white banner with the exhibit title, Proof: The Byrd Williams Family Photography Archive, at the top in light blue letters. The bottom left and right corner of the banner has a photo of a different man a white shirt and black tie, both holding an old camera. The one on the left faces the one on the right, and vice versa.

An archive is a story which hasn’t been written. Within each box and folder are photos, letters, scrapbooks and artifacts. Individually they are curiosities, but combined, they are interconnected evidence of the past. The Byrd Williams Family Photography Collection was created by four photographers, all named Byrd Moore Williams, over four successive generations beginning in 1890 and continuing through the present day. The collection is proof of four lives, lived in vivid detail. The story is yet to be told.

The archive, acquired by UNT Libraries in 2014, contains over 300,000 unique images, ranging from snapshots to studio portraits to street photography. Subject matter is diverse too; in this collection the landscapes of Yosemite sit alongside televangelists, professional hockey players and Fort Worth city landmarks new and old. The history of the Williams Family is told within the collection through letters, postcards, diaries and artifacts such as cameras and significant personal effects.

Byrd Moore Williams

Byrd Moore Williams owned a hardware store in Gainesville, Texas that sold photography equipment. His early prints were developed in a darkroom in the family’s home. His work includes stunningly detailed images of his hardware store, photos of family members and places in and around Gainesville.

Byrd Moore Williams, Jr.

Byrd Williams II studied at the University of Texas (1905-1907), worked as an engineer, and expanded on the family tradition by incorporating imagery in forms other than portraiture, which included landscapes and city scenery. His work includes documentation of civil engineering projects including the San Antonio River Walk. Byrd II’s surveying equipment and notebooks are included in the collection as well as fragile nitrate based negatives featuring early scenes of Yosemite National Park.

Byrd Williams III

Byrd Williams III explored photography on his own terms as a fine art as well as a commercial enterprise. He owned a photo service in Fort Worth and in the 1930s created an expansive series of women at work. Through his images, he documented street scenes and the people of Fort Worth, which was developing rapidly in the mid-20th century. With the work of Byrd Williams III, we see photography develop into a unique way of making a personal statement.

Byrd Williams IV

Byrd Williams IV is a prolific exhibiting photographer, who has shown in the United States and abroad. His work is situated in our modern world, however it has a significant historical weight. Although three previous generations of photographers are in his DNA, his vision is uniquely his own: humane, curious and full of life. Byrd IV is the last remaining photographer in his family lineage. After graduating from both TCU and SMU, Byrd IV’s photo career began in 1970 with an exhibition at MJS Gallery in Fort Worth.

Byrd Photo Studio

Byrd Williams III worked for Kodak and several other photography companies in addition to being involved in lens manufacturing prior to starting his business in Fort Worth. Through these jobs he gained the skill necessary to launch Byrd Photo which also included a portrait studio and photo lab. Studio work included work for a wide variety of clients including the city crime lab, architects, and magazines. Customers could have a photograph painted over in oils, giving it the appearance of a painting -or oil paintings, based on these photographs.

Proof: Photographs from Four Generations of a Texas Family

Customers who came to Byrd Photo to have their portrait made would invariably be presented with a proof; a photo print they could see before they placed their order for additional photographs. The Williams Collection is filled with photo proofs like these, but it’s filled with proofs of another kind as well–proof of four lives spent in an unceasing attempt to capture our world, through the lens of a camera, as well as through the artifacts of their own lives. Over 190 images from the collection, as well as letters and other family mementos, are curated by Byrd Williams IV in the book Proof, available in fall 2016 through UNT Press.

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