The Rake's Takes: Pep Williams
Pep Williams is an artist who has always been immersed in what is culturally relevant. Perhaps some of it, as he acknowledges, is a matter of ‘right place, right time’, but his eye as a photographer, and as a creator able to see between the lines of subcultures and important moments, is a trait that one does not happen on by chance.
Williams himself started as a professional skateboarder for the famous Dogtown group (who popularised the sport in his native Los Angeles). Gaining some notoriety, he would surround himself with photographers that fed into his curiosity for the artform. He had yet to take his first published image when he declared to a designer searching for a photographer that “I’m also a photographer!” and so the path was laid to a career that would see him focus on fine art portraiture—especially of the less-visible sides to society that he had access to. Decades later, Williams’ work is sought after by those who want to keep his provocative images in their homes and offices. His ‘The Perfect Storm’ would go on to fetch $1.4 million, and the emotive and personal series ‘Behind Bars’ is currently on permanent display in Los Angeles.
Perhaps a collection that we think The Rake’s readers would most admire is his raw portrayal of Cuba. Because of Williams’ experiences, it is a mix of gravelly black-and-white that display the vibrancy and stark poverty of his subjects. The hands of an aged tobacco roller; men fishing lazily by the sea, and tough street-kids (no doubt similar to his friends from his Dogtown days) hanging out in back alleys. The other half of this diptych features bold and colourful moments of glamour that sizzle. Cuban women in fine dresses smoke cigars, while a gentleman rolls around the streets in sixties cars. It expresses the contrast of a country in a way only someone with affection and empathy for street life is able to do.
Williams has never forgotten his roots. His work with hip-hop artists, skaters and inmates is juxtaposed with high luxury shoots for the glossy-covered magazines. It is in this space where the artist resides, and why his portraits of a young man contemplating existence in the Los Angeles suburbs have as much empowerment as any model or celebrity that have also been the subject of his unique eye.