Is there an exact science to photography? Perhaps not. But a scientific background has underpinned much of the photographic work by Gigi Williams ASIS FRPS.
"When I was a medical photographer everyone was expected not to have a style,” says Williams, who is based in Australia. “A series of photographs of a patient taken over time must be exactly the same, even if they are taken by different photographers.”
Williams’ interest in photography was sparked as a child by her grandfather’s prized possession: a whole plate Thornton Pickard camera. “My Uncle Ray was [also] a very keen photographer and really encouraged me,” she says. “His wife Elsie, who died when I was young, was a prominent photographer in Victoria, so I guess it’s in the genes.”
University brought an opportunity for Williams to combine her dual interests in science and photography as she focused on making images that could support research, teaching and documenting a patient’s progress.
“I had three decades at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne working alongside the most talented people,” says Williams, who was latterly director of a large creative department producing photography, graphic design, video and web design.
“As a woman, I felt the need to use my photography to express myself creatively as a counterbalance to a busy life as a practising professional and mother of two boys, so six years ago I left to pursue my personal work.”
This change of focus took Williams from imaging science into the wilds. She has spent much of her time since then focusing on landscapes and the fragile nature of the environment. Yet breaking free of her previous orthodox and impersonal photographic practice has been easier said than done.
“It’s been difficult for me because style has been drummed out of me,” she says. “Now as a practising landscape and nature photographer I struggle with developing a distinct style. I think the most challenging [bit] for me is to let go of all my ideas of getting a picture sharp and so on, and to ‘think like an artist’. A bit like dancing without worrying about your feet.”
Williams adds: “The other challenge for me is the lighting. As a medical photographer I had complete control of the lighting but out in the landscape you have no control. You might think you do, but Mother Nature is full of surprises one can never quite predict. The opportunities, however, are wonderful. Being out in the landscape and witnessing the breathtaking beauty of nature is simply a dream come true.”
Even with medical photography behind her, Williams still relies on the skills she picked up from her 30 years in the hospital.
“Lots of photographers who have a creative eye struggle with the technical aspects of photography, whereas my background has given me an in-depth understanding of both analogue and digital systems,” she says. “I am fully familiar with a range of specialised imaging techniques – high-speed, macro, ultraviolet, infrared and more – all of which I bring to bear on my current choice of genre.”
Williams often works with her husband, Robin, also an FRPS, on photography projects. While their styles differ – “he’s usually the big picture person while I tend to focus on the detail, but even that is changing [as] I like a looser ‘style’ now” – they share an interest in certain kinds of subject matter. And in common with many artists around the world, the pandemic has sparked a new wave of creativity for them.
“After two years of living in the most locked down city in the world,” Williams explains, “we have started to explore mindfulness in our photography as a means of restoring equilibrium and optimism.”
All images by Gigi Williams ASIS FRPS