“Don’t hold back from what you love! This is the most important thing. Money matters, but only a little. Work as hard as you need to support yourself and your passion. You will find more joy in doing what you love than you will find anywhere else. Your happiness is vital. Please never stop creating. We are living in a technological age that’s opening endless doors for us creatives. All you have to do is work for what you want and persevere.”
– Katie Williams
Katie Williams- Melissa Kate Photography
Katie Williams is a 22 year old photographer who is currently completing her senior year of Business Marketing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and despite the city being known for its music, Katie had a talent for photography. In the second part of her high school education, she transferred to a school called Hillwood, to study in their Art, Design, and Communication Academy. Katie has done photography for events like Music City Big Break and is the Lead Photographer for RAW: Nashville. She is an optimist and a romantic, noting clumsiness as her defining feature. She currently works as a server at a local Chattanooga bar and loves wolves, Netflix and meeting new people. Read on to find out more about Katie and her photography.
Tell us about your photography and how you got started.
I don’t remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t interested in taking photos. I spent my childhood pouring over boxes and boxes of old photos my parents had. I loved looking at them and seeing moments that happened before I ever existed. In middle school, I played around with disposable cameras. I took photos of my dog wearing my clothes and embarrassing photos of my friends on film. They were terrible pictures, really. But I loved it. When I was 15, I unwrapped the best Christmas present I’ve ever received- my first DSLR. I fell in love with the camera immediately and began pursuing photography seriously from that moment on.
Was this always what you wanted to do, or did it emerge over time?
I’ve always known that I’ve wanted to take pictures. However, I haven’t always known how to be successful doing so. It wasn’t until I redefined success- from monetarily emphasized to self-fulfillment that I was truly able to pursue it.
You’re also a student. How do you manage to balance photography and your studies?
For the first three years of college- I didn’t. I sacrificed my passion for stability and school. I made countless excuses for why I wasn’t doing more photography. “My equipment is too old.” “I don’t have the right software.” “I don’t have enough time.” “I don’t really know what I’m doing anyways.” I told myself these things and stifled my need to take photos. Sometimes I would break the camera out, but it wasn’t as often as it needed to be. This past October, I noticed that a fellow photographer friend of mine was living out his dream. I broke down and admitted how insanely jealous I was and that I felt like a failure. I would never see the success the way he was. He sat me down and told me the things I didn’t want to hear. He told me to stop making excuses and to just do it. So, with his help, I did.
Who has helped you in the process of following your dream?
Honestly, who hasn’t helped me is a better question. I am so incredibly blessed to have the most amazing and encouraging people in my life. My parents have always encouraged me to pursue what I’m passionate about. They provided my starting equipment and allowed me to transfer away from the #1 public high school in the state in order to study art and design. My mother has a wall of my photography in her office (which is embarrassingly outdated at this point in my career). During high school, my best friend Kendall Dugger was my constant model and muse. She was always willing to be behind the camera and allow me to take pictures of her. Not only that, but she was always by my side at concerts to look at the next “amazing shot” I would get while local bands performed. During my college career, I acquired a friend group that felt more like family. Each and every one of them has allowed me to take their photo on more than one occasion. They always push me to do my best and I am so thankful for it.
What inspires you?
Beauty inspires me. I think people are beautiful. I think this world is beautiful. I love finding new ways to demonstrate this beauty. It’s difficult work to make an image speak, but I always want my viewers to see the beauty that I do. Passion is another big motivator for me. I love shooting live shows and concerts for that reason alone. I adore capturing people’s passions on camera. When someone loves what they do, you can see the joy and commitment in their posture and the look in their eyes. Nothing inspires me more than seeing that and feeling the drive to have that moment live on forever.
What challenges have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
My number one challenge is the loss of direction and purpose. I lost my two best friends within a year and a half of one another. Andrew Svgdik and Cory Bertrand were my worlds. Andrew was my closest friend from college, and Cory was the only man I knew that would put me before himself. I loved both of them so dearly. When Andrew died, I struggled to get on my feet. When I finally did, I lost Cory. With the weight of so much death on my heart, I couldn’t see straight any more. I couldn’t figure out who I was or what I was supposed to do. It was only with the help and hope of others that I was able to stumble my way to today. Challenges and trials are, by definition, no easy thing to go through. But it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do anything alone- there will always be people to help you find yourself in the midst of all the chaos.
Have you encountered burnout and how have you handled it?
Every artist encounters burnout at one point or another. For me, it’s looking at the photos I’ve taken and hating every single image. Whenever I start to feel this way, I look at the other artists that inspire me. If that doesn’t work, I’ll put my camera down for a short spell. I try to not keep it down for too long, though. My goal is to just keep shooting. Even if the subject matter is pointless or if I hate everything I’m doing, I keep pressing the shutter.
What message are you trying to share with your work?
Honestly, I’m still working on that for myself. Everything to me is about emotion and beauty. I want people to look at my work and see what I see through my eyes and lens. I see an exciting and wonderful world. Even my darkest photographs- to me- are beautiful. There is beauty and wonder in every part of life, the good and the bad.
How do you deal with criticism?
I welcome criticism! As long as it’s helpful and from a reputable source, I’m game. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but it is always, always needed. I once took a photo of a girl in a tulle tutu. I photo shopped her levitating among pink and black balloons within an abandoned building. I was extremely proud of the image, so I posted it to Facebook. My main mentor in high school sent me a private message about the image. He included “glows” and “grows”. The glows were short and sweet. The grows dwarfed the glows by far. For every criticism he gave me, he included how to fix them. To me, this message meant the world. This man taught me much of what I know and four years later, he still made it apparent that I have talent and he wants to see me improve. However, if someone outside of the field tells me something negative, I brush it off. My art is for myself, my models, and my clients. As long as we are all happy, other people’s opinions don’t matter.
What is it that you love about living a creative life?
I love the people I get to interact with. It’s funny, having a camera makes you everyone’s best friend. Over the past year, I’ve met countless fellow creatives and clients. I adore working with and learning from these people. My family has always been full of story tellers. Nothing makes me happier than being able to use my camera to hear other peoples’ stories.
What advice would you give to aspiring creative people?
Don’t hold back from what you love! This is the most important thing. Money matters, but only a little. Work as hard as you need to support yourself and your passion. You will find more joy in doing what you love than you will find anywhere else. Your happiness is vital. Please never stop creating. We are living in a technological age that’s opening endless doors for us creatives. All you have to do is work for what you want and persevere.
What are you most excited for in the future?
Truthfully, I’m excited to see what The Lord has in store for me. I’m moving back to Nashville here in the next couple of months. I cannot wait to regain my city and home. Nashville is full of creatives and I’m excited to meet and collaborate with them. I want to use my marketing degree and photography gifts in tandem. I’m excited for the unknown and the experiences it will bring.