Robert Alexander Williams



Robert Alexander Williams began using the camera in 1981 as a part-time forensic autopsy assistant and medical photographer while a graduate student in Physical and Forensic Anthropology. He never finished graduate school, but the love of photography took hold. He became interested in wet plate collodion photography after studying and marveling at the work of the great 19th century expeditionary photographers from the United States, England, and France -and where these photographers traveled great distances in pursuit of their art, Williams rarely wanders beyond a few hundred acres outside his front door. He has been practicing the ‘black arts’, as wet-plate is sometimes called, for over ten years, and studied under the expert guidance of France and Mark Osterman in Rochester, New York.

Williams lives with his husband of 29 years and their two Labrador Retrievers in an intentional community near Rockbridge Baths, Virginia.



2006  Advanced Wet Plate Collodion Photography Workshop with Mark Osterman and France Scully Osterman, and additional Private Lesson with France Scully Osterman, Rochester, New York.

2004  Wet Plate Collodion Photography, Private Lesson with France Scully Osterman, Rochester, New York.

1989     Associates Degree in Nursing, Everett Community College, Everett, Washington.

1983-1985     Photography Coursework, Lansing Community College, Lansing, Michigan.

1981-1982    Graduate Coursework in Physical Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.    

1981    Bachelor of Science, Physical Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan.


2007 to Present   Wet Plate Collodion Workshops and Private Tutorials.

2014    Beverley Street Studio School, Staunton, Virginia, Ambrotypy Demonstration.

2014      Natural Bridge, Rockbridge County, Virginia. Ambrotypy Demonstration.

2007-2009    Ambrotype Workshop, Spring Term Alternative Photography Class, Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

Gallery Representation:

2016     Wolf & Co., Lexington, Virginia.

2008-2009    Nelson Gallery of Fine Arts, Lexington, Virginia.

1999-2005    Lexington Art Gallery, Lexington, Virginia.

Solo Exhibitions:

2013    In-Studio Pop-Up Show organized by Kiernan Gallery, Lexington, Virginia.

2010    Artifacts, Brix Restaurant, Lexington, Virginia.

2007    Artifacts at Artifacts, Artifacts, Charlottesville, Virginia.

2006    Untitled, DuPont Gallery, Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

2001    Looking into the Sun: Photographs of the Land, The Miller Gallery, Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Virginia.

Group Exhibitions:

2012    Land Not Lost: Contemporary Views of the Virginia Landscape, Staniar Gallery, Washington & Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.

2011      Illusion and Chemistry: The Alternative Process, Kiernan Gallery, Lexington, Virginia. Curated by Christopher James.

2010   Curated and participated in: PICTURES/WORDS, Nelson Gallery of Fine Arts, Lexington, Virginia.

2008      Virginia Rivers and Streams, Nelson Gallery of Fine Arts, Lexington, Virginia.

2002   Contemporary Photography in Virginia, Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke, Virginia.

2001      2-Person show at Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.


2013     Jump Mountain: Ambrotypes by Robert Alexander Williams, Designed by Kat Kiernan of the Kiernan Gallery.

2011      Catalogue, Illusion and Chemistry: the Alternative Process, Kiernan Gallery.


The Changing Room 

"Life is an illusion of sleep. I am a delusion of sleep. I know this doesn't make much sense, but then, hey, it's my fucking dream."--from "The Changing Room," a novel.  (A work in progress by Robert Alexander Williams)
These ambrotypes plates are from an ongoing series of work intimately linked to a sixteen-year long writing project titled The Changing Rooms which explores the evolution of recovery, transformation and the journey of self-discovery.

Jump Mountain

My work exists in the shadows of Jump Mountain. I live in the shadow of Jump Mountain.

I have been documenting the land surrounding my house with sheet film and glass for seventeen years, but rarely do I photograph Jump. Jump is this towering, looming presence that in many ways defines the people and the land of the 140 acres intentional, and sometimes dysfunctional community where I live.  Jump is our anchor, our beacon—our lighthouse without a keeper, and it reveals itself boldly or quietly from moment to moment, but photographing Jump is tricky. This is nonsensical, but the nuances of Jump seem too subtle and fleeting to be captured, which is more rubbish, as my images are all about nuance and subtlety—some might say subterfuge. Instead, I photograph around the edges and off into the periphery, all the while looking over my shoulder to check on Jump like a dog or a child will do to make sure you are still there. I feel safe with Jump because as long as I know where Jump is, I will always know where I am and where I will find home.

We rarely refer to Jump as the mountain that it is. It’s just Jump, as in: “Man, did you see Jump this morning?”. My husband and I have the primo power view of Jump with our two stories of floor to ceiling six-paned-window which are always losing their seals and needing to be replaced, but this is the price for having Jump’s peak practically in our living room and a house built by wanna-be-hippies.

I like to think I own Jump. I suppose this is the photographer’s nature and why so many cultures have historically distrusted the camera and disdained the photographer. This is a particular curse for the wet plate photographer. The chemicals, which include ether, plain collodion, grain alcohol, various iodides and bromides, lavender oil, and sometimes cyanide; and the processes of polishing, coating, sensitizing, exposing, developing, fixing, washing, drying, and varnishing a collodion plate certainly entitles one, in my view, to whatever is captured. Wet-plate is, and always was, a Safari Art, and the ambrotype is my trophy, so in essence, I am both hunter and taxidermist. But, I am also impatient, and waiting to make and see a print from a wet-plate negative is satisfaction entirely too delayed and basically, makes me crazy.  The ambrotype, like a 19th century Polaroid, does away with the middleman—this is both its strength and weakness, as it also does away with the ability to make endless analog copies. But, there is also something magical about the physical and emotional connection you have holding in your hands this fragile, reversed one-of-a-kind image, and the cool fact that the actual light rays that reflected off the subject then traveled through my massive, beautiful 150-year-old lenses actually formed the image. It is life frozen in time. The same can be said for the tintype, but, my images are not going into battle, and the same holds for the daguerreotype, but daguerreotypists are way too anal, and the thought of boiling mercury in a hot car is scarier than inhaling a little ether.

There is a downside to living in the shadow of Jump.  With anything you see and live with every day, there is a risk of becoming inured. I see this when I spend extended time away from the camera and the land. Jump becomes simply a pretty picture through a window and not the living, breathing ecosystem that I need to feel through dew saturated shoes and pant legs, and that I need to smell through pollen clogged nares the fragrance of honeysuckle, wild rose, ether, and the bug spray that does little to repel the swarm of no-see-ums attracted to the hardwoods of the forest and the taste of my sweet blood. And, that it’s important I wade through the tall grassed fear of the rattlesnake and the ache in my arms from the heavy equipment and the strain in my spine from the bending backwards and standing-on-head, because, I am embarrassed to say, that after all these years spent with the large format camera, I have still not conquered the upside-down world of the ground glass.

Associated Exhibitions

The Male Gaze
May 17 - July 14, 2018
2nd Anniversary Show in our New Gallery Space.
January 20 - February 17, 2018
Sense of Place
June 20 - September 3, 2016