biography

michael williamson
Third Place
55th annual POY Competition

"If you ask a photographer why he takes pictures," Michael Williamson says, "the pat answer is, 'I'm trying to tell a story.' Well, that's obvious. What I'm trying to do is tell a story that's interesting."

"I don't really care whether photographs are great or not," he says. "But if you wade through my singles, you have to stop and wonder, 'Why is that guy carrying a head through the airport?' Or, 'What is with those dead aliens in Roswell?' To me it's more important to be interesting. I like stuff that's kind of nutty."

In the course of his photography career, Williamson has faithfully chronicled the bizarre and the touching, particularly when the two merge. In his photographs of the fans who gathered in Memphis for the 20th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, Williamson at once captured the campy weirdness of the scene and the simple human emotion behind it. "The hardcore fans go to pay tribute to Elvis," Williamson says, "but equally as much, they come for each other. . . . This is about camaraderie. This is about remembering youthful days."

On a trip to Mexico, Williamson visited Guerrero Viejo, a town that was flooded by a man-made reservoir, then resurrected 45 years later when the water evaporated in severe drought. His photos of the newly revealed town are eerily resonant. While in the area, Williamson got hold of photos of the town before the flooding. "There were pictures of people flirting in the streets, of cars going by," he says. "I would hold the photos up in front of me at the exact spot in Guerrero Viejo where they had been taken, and it was really creepy. It had been so lively, but there was no more sign of that life."

Williamson's photographs of D.C. General Hospital capture the rawness of emotion and activity there. The hospital acts as Washington's de facto repository for trauma victims – especially those injured in criminal incidents. "D.C. General," Williamson says, "is made up of a series of pieces of human emotions: There's horror, humor, fear, compassion." All of which are evident in his arresting photos.

Though he was born in Washington, Williamson grew up in a series of foster homes and orphanages in more than 15 states, a situation that he says led to a love of travel. He and a collaborator, writer Dale Maharidge, have produced three books, one of which,"And Their Children After Them", received a Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 1990. The pair's first book, "Journey to Nowhere: The Saga of the New Underclass," was the inspiration for several of the songs on Bruce Springsteen's album, "The Ghost of Tom Joad"; Springsteen wrote the introduction for the book's latest edition.

A photographer with The Post since 1993, Williamson took first prize in the "Newspaper Photographer of the Year" contest in 1995.

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