The most important word in the English language: this week on The Green Room

Jan 28, 2016

John Robert Williams is a photographer with an eye for potential. 

When he moved out of his downtown Traverse City studio last year, and into an old elementary school gymnasium, he began dreaming of all the different ways he could use the space. Where most people would probably see a big, mostly empty room, Williams sees a studio full of potential.

“I lie awake at night thinking of cool new things and shots I can do,” says Williams.


"If we can have the amenities here that don't exist anywhere other than Hollywood, that's the goal." - John Robert Williams

In addition to portraits, Williams uses his spacious new accommodations for shooting commercial advertising, printing and even some art reproduction.

His vision doesn’t stop there. He says he wants it to be a responsive, collaborative art space, available for actors, musicians, filmmakers and others to sublet. He even has plans to eventually install a giant green screen on the entire south wall of the space.

“If we can have the amenities here that don’t exist anywhere other than Hollywood, that’s the goal,” Williams says. “Build it and they will come.”

Williams took his first photography class at Northwestern Michigan College about 40 years ago - and failed. It wasn’t until he began thinking of photography as an art form that he got it. Before that, he couldn’t see past the technical aspects of the craft. Now when he looks through the viewfinder, he imagines a blank canvas, ready to be painted on. And the studio plays an important role in making sure the photographer can “paint” what he wants.

“The word ‘studio’ is the most important word in the English language in my world,” Williams says. “It’s like this is an operating room— it’s your place to get it right.”

John Robert Williams adjusts one of his many lights in his new studio.
Credit Daniel Wanschura

Williams says to have such a large space with no windows, allows him to experiment with all sorts of different lighting techniques that he could never get before. That versatility is what makes this new space so unique.

Williams thinks Traverse City can be a place for all sorts of media productions, and this new space will help solidify that concept.

“That’s the goal, because if I’ve got something that nobody else has, which is a 95 foot … green screen … this can be a destination.”

You can view more of John Robert Williams Photography here.