North Texas Daily

Four generations of family photography come to UNT

Four generations of family photography come to UNT

Four generations of family photography come to UNT
March 20
02:11 2014

Nicholas Friedman // Staff Writer

Wandering though a Fort Worth neighborhood in the mid-1950s, a young boy discovered the faces and personalities of his neighbors and friends through photography. The art eventually became a personal and commercial interest, and was the profession performed by three generations of his family before him.

At just 6 years old with camera in tow, Byrd Williams IV, now 62, began his career of North Texas images. Williams captured scenes of children playing with toy guns and adults having parties in backyards, all with the intent to document the people of the time.

This documentary photography series would become just a small portion of the Williams Collection, an archive of more than 120 years of visual North Texas history donated by Williams IV to UNT in October 2013.

Williams said the collection contains more than 10,000 prints and 300,000 unusual objects dating as far back as the mid-1800s, with a portion contributed from each Byrd Williams as they took photos over the course of their lives.

Pieces of history 

Williams said each of the photographers collected shots and scenes from their differing time periods, and the collection includes everything from portraits and landscapes to the very cameras that each of the men used.

“[Byrd Williams I] moved to Gainesville and kept an album of photographs,” Williams said. “He then started a postcard business and sold them out of his hardware store, Williams Hardware and Dry Goods.”

Williams said his grandfather Byrd Williams II studied engineering and would take photos of projects and blueprints. Williams II also had a portrait business he worked with while studying at the University of Texas in Austin. In 1915 his grandfather was working on a project in El Paso when Pancho Villa and his army were famously being pushed toward the border, Williams said.

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“My grandfather put his family in the closet to make sure they were safe,” Williams said. “He then went outside and began photographing the soldiers fighting in the streets.”

Byrd Williams III was the first in his family to combine commercial photography with personal interest by running a portrait studio in Fort Worth.

Williams said he helped run the family photography business from 1970 to 1990 before closing it and moving on to other opportunities such as his current job of teaching photography at Collin College. Williams said that he hopes to continue to add his work to the collection for as long as he can.

“The collection shows a transition from utility to pretense,” Williams said. “And even though I have a couple of sons, they aren’t pursuing photography so it ends with me.”

Obtaining the collection

The collection arrived on Oct. 31 of last year after UNT won the negotiations sweepstakes with Williams, who spoke to other parties, UNT Head of Special Collections Morgan Gieringer said. Williams was offered a book deal and an undisclosed amount of money for a portion of the collection.

“Part of the collection was donated by Williams while the other half was purchased through the Porter-Evans Texana Collection Fund,” Gieringer said. “This is a fund that supports the acquisition of Texana for the library. This consists of anything from rare books and maps to manuscript material. But this is the first time photos have been purchased as a part of the fund.”

Gieringer said that UNT was partly interested in the collection as part of a larger photo initiative the university wants to begin.

“People are starting to realize that images hold another kind of visual information that isn’t textual,” Gieringer said. “We may reach a time when imagery overtakes text and having a collection like this helps to establish our reputation as a repository for these materials.”

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Gieringer said that the collection would be available for viewing by appointment to the public in about six weeks, after a staff archivist has processed the entire collection.

“Byrd wanted to share these images with the widest possible audience,” Gieringer said. “Other museums and archives will be able to loan out parts of the collection and it will be available for the public to view.”

UNT art professor Dornith Doherty said she believes the university will benefit from the fact that the collection spans three generations of Texas history.

“A visual history of the culture of this region is important for its immediacy and accuracy,” Doherty said. “Details that may not seem important at the time to a person writing an article are preserved and may shed light from a different perspective or additional information.”

Preserving a legacy

In addition to the book deal offered by UNT, which will be written by University of Texas-Austin senior curator Roy Flukinger, Williams said that he believes that donating the collection will give him a chance to cement the work in history, giving students and researchers a chance to observe his family’s legacy unbiased.

“I realized that I’m not going to go on forever,” Williams said. “Even if it takes me 10 to 20 years to finish [the book], I know that the collection will be available for study in the future.”

Williams will be lecturing on his collection and his family’s work at the UNT Friends of the Library annual dinner at 7 p.m. March 27 in Willis Library’s Forum.

Center photo: All four generations of the Byrd Williams men chronologically from left to right. Byrd Williams IV recently donated his and his family’s extensive photography collection to UNT. Photos/graphic courtesy of Byrd Williams IV.

Bottom photo: A photograph from the collection of the Queen of England at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony center in Dallas. Photo courtesy of Byrd Williams IV.

Feature photo: Vintage cameras donated by Byrd Williams IV on display at Willis Library in the archives and rare books division on the fourth floor. Williams IV donated thousands of photographs taken by all four Byrd Williams generations since the late 1800s. Photo by Edward Balusek / Staff Photographer 

About Author

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman

Nicholas Friedman is the Editor In Chief of the North Texas Daily. In addition, he's had his work published at The Dallas Morning News, GuideLive and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

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