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Williams: “There’s so much beautiful stuff right now.” Photo by Donnie Williams.

Photographer Donnie Williams’ creative output is informed by the past and shot with an eye toward the future. We met up at Panther Island Brewing recently to chat about craft beer and his upcoming zine, For Future Reference. It was the photog’s first outing to the Northside brewery. Just like a photog, he complimented the space’s ample natural light that wafted through the overhead windows. 

“Tailgator, I like that one,” he said as we hoisted our first brew that afternoon. “It’s not as salty as Salty Lady. IP-f’n-A, that’s my go-to, especially when it gets cold. You can drink one then have some lighter beers later.”

Cannonball, he continued, was “smooth and chocolate-y — a bit like coffee.” 

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The winner that day, though, was Imperial Sweet Fang, which dethroned IP-f’n-A as Williams’ favorite Panther Island brew. 

The upcoming zine is a “study of artists after having a show,” he said. “I started working on this after my show at Fort Works Art. I feel like after you have your work up, people love you. Then you have to get back to work. I’ve spent a year-and-a-half shooting. I traveled to Arizona and Colorado. All these images haven’t been seen. I wanted to stay focused and build a body of work. For me, it’s more about the journey.”

Followers of Williams can expect landscape images and shots that are a “little different” from what the photographer is known for locally. He said 50 to 60 photos will make the final cut. When asked what inspires him to spend his weekends shooting and developing dozens of images week after week, Williams was candid. 

“I feel that being a street photographer, you’re making things for the future,” he said. “We’re capturing history as it’s happening.”

He gave an example. On a recent shoot downtown, he noticed the preponderance of locals were transfixed to their smartphones. The images, from our perspective in time, are admittedly banal. But seen from a time when smartphones are replaced by a newer technology, the moment will have deeper meaning as a cultural document. Indeed, Williams sees life through a wide lense. To him, his close artist friends aren’t “aspiring” or “emerging” artists. They have already arrived. The accolades and public validation will eventually catch up. 

As he walked around the brewery, camera in hand, he gave some insights into his craft. If something catches your eye, shoot it. Don’t overthink it, he said. We took one image from the middle of bustling North Main Street, trusting that our fellow townsfolk would lend us the lane. They did. As he shot, he took breaks to wind or replace his film. It’s the tangible aspect of film that keeps him in the old tradition, he said.

Williams: “We’re capturing history as it’s happening.” Photo by Donnie Williams.

Before we settled back in the brewery for one last pint of There Goes My Hero, Williams reflected on Fort Worth and the role photographers have in documenting it. Fittingly, we are at a nexus, one of the growth plates that spurs a reluctant Fort Worth toward its cosmopolitan future. Between us and downtown lay several heavy earthmovers, part of Panther Island’s pending transformation into a riverside destination. 

“That’s why I share so much on Instagram,” he said. “For me, it’s like a diary. Maybe it’s not for us. Maybe it’s for the future. There is so much beautiful stuff right now. I know it’s going to change.”

You can follow Williams on Instagram @Willid420.

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