Eric Williams is a lifelong Chicago musician and photographer. We checked in with him on shifting gears during COVID.
1. How are you holding up?
I’m actually doing pretty well. After the initial fallout of lost/canceled gigs and the revenue associated with them, I had to take a moment to really figure out a way forward. Fortunately, my wife has had a major surge of new business. She’s a chef and the two of us own a catering service. Our company wound up getting contracts to make meals for first responders, which meant making in excess of 200 meals a day sometimes. A huge chunk of my own personal business comes from live events, which of course came to a very immediate and screeching halt so I had loads of time to jump in and work with my wife. Subsequently, I’ve been everything from sous chef to delivery driver. She also runs a soup kitchen every Wednesday and I help out with that too. On the social side of things, there hasn’t been much of a change. My default setting is kind of “shelter in place” anyway. I spent a lot of time at home in my own environment previous to all of this. Typically for me, work entails being around lots of people in a very engaged way which for me is very draining. I really like solitude and quiet so if I’m not working, I’m at home on chill mode. The only real anxiety I feel is for a lot of my friends who are really getting beat up by this. For me, this is not my first time having to deal with this level of adversity and uncertainty. Years ago I contracted a severe autoimmune illness that left me practically bedridden and physically compromised for over a year. Back then you couldn’t get any kind of assistance as an independent contractor. My entire business was wiped out, I lost my home and the accompanying stress was a major factor in my first marriage ending. Suffice it to say I have developed some coping skills for these kind of times.
2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work?
On the one hand, it’s had an effect on my work in the way that I view its importance in my life. I’m so blessed and fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and take that for granted. On the other hand, my creative work typically is not influenced by whatever is going on at any particular time or current events. Musically I usually draw on past life experiences or I’ll create a character and explore a narrative through that character. My photography work is primarily focused on food and I guess can be considered a more commercial/editorial than an artistic endeavor. The creativity in that realm usually revolves around compositional elements that the outside world has no bearing on. I joke with friends that food photography is probably one of the most bourgeois gigs you can have. It really has no basis in reality and is just there to please the eye and titillate the appetite. That being said, I really enjoy it nonetheless.
3. Is there anything you’ve added to your practice that you’d like to keep after this is over?
I’ve really had to explore making a big shift in how I do things from here on out. Ostensibly live events like concerts and conferences will not be coming back any time soon. I really can’t see that industry doing much until we see a definitive flattening of the curve and a viable path towards a vaccine. There has been and will continue to be a shift towards virtual meetings and events. By design, such events have a much lower need for large crews of technicians and support staff. That means fewer opportunities for people like me so I’m working on converting part of my recording/photography studio to a space that can facilitate live streaming events for clients. The restaurant/food industry is making some significant changes to how they do business. Food delivery is a big part of that and as a result, I’ve had a big increase in the food photography business. More than likely I’ll put more effort into pursuing avenues in that space where up until now it’s been more of a side hustle. Oddly enough the thing that I’m probably most well known for, which is being a musician/songwriter/producer hasn’t really been clicking for me right now. I’m writing this surrounded by musical instruments and recording equipment which save for a bit of noodling here and there have been inactive for the most part. I’m chalking it up to a dry spell, which is something that I’m no stranger to. I do have a bunch of material in various states of completion but for now, I just haven’t had the focus for it.
4. Of the artists you follow, who’s handling this particularly well?
Overall I would say the overwhelming majority of creatives in my circle are handling things well and I also must say that I’m very impressed and inspired by that. A lot of cats are taking the time to hone their crafts while others are taking a more activist approach to what’s going on. This is all happening while in many cases they are having issues getting stimulus money, unemployment benefits (many are contract/gig workers), or finding some alternative means of income. Times right now are incredibly uncertain and stressful. Anyone that can maintain any level of focus or productivity right now has my respect and admiration.
Notes on Process
The thing I enjoy about my photography is the unexpected nature of what I may capture. I will devote days to just going out either driving or walking around with no particular area in mind.
The whole time I’m observing and composing in my head. When I see something that is really striking to me in one way or another, I’ll shoot it. It’s pretty random. I have a tendency to always have a camera with me for that reason. There have been times where I didn’t have my camera and I saw something I would like to shoot.
I’ll try to make it a point to get back to that particular spot and take some shots.
A short bio…
Chicago South Side native…
When I was a kid I used a vuvuzela to play air guitar to “Frampton Comes Alive” in my bedroom.
When I was 15 my dad bought me a 70’s blue Fender Mustang with a dark blue racing stripe, which I really should have kept. At some point, I traded it for a Gibson SG. I could swear Liz Phair wound up with that damn Mustang. In the mid to late ’80s, I played in a Surf/Punk/Pop band called 007. We used to open up for national touring acts that came through the city.
Making records in the studio with 007 got me interested in audio engineering. By the late 90s, I was transitioning from musician to engineer and opened a small studio on the Westside near Ukrainian Village. I as mixing mostly hip hop artists and doing house music remixes.
I never really had any aspirations to be a photographer growing up. I always admired people like Helmut Newton, Annie Lebowitz, etc, . I started photography to help my wife promote her business. She’s a chef so in my mind, good photographs would help sell her service. Once I got a camera I just started taking pictures of everything! It was like when I got my first guitar all over again with the excitement of learning new things and creating something.
I’ve been putting a bit more energy in to my photo work vs other areas of my creative life. Here are links to my photography: