Portraits by Kevin McWilliams

Arts / Article

In the Archive Space in the Crane Arts Building, Kevin McWilliams examines a slice of Philadelphia life by taking a closer look at the appearances and personalities of his friends. While family and coworkers are generally people we can’t choose to be associated with, our close friends have a tendency to define us more clearly since we choose to spend time with them. From this vantage point, we garner a lot of information about individuals and their social circles which make up the foundations of the cities around us.

By photographing those closest to us, we engage in a sort of personal examination in many ways. The situations we find ourselves in with our peers oftentimes tell us as much or more about ourselves than turning the camera in our own direction. Portraits allow for a candid angle on our daily lives as opposed to the often posed self-shots. In this light, our daily lives seem truer and more personal as we are mirrored in the faces of those who know us best.

Kevin McWilliams, “Tomy (Christian St.).”

Kevin McWilliams works in all black-and-white for this series, which serves to further chisel down his experience to the barest essentials. Speaking of bare, many of his images depict people shirtless or in repose, showing off their tattoos. Body art is increasingly common and even respected in many urban and artistic circles, and McWilliams’ compatriots have no qualms about showing off their ink. In his particularly intriguing portrait “Tomy (Christian St.),” a seated man stares down the camera, his long, wild hair in braids and chest exposed. His many tattoos include baseballs, faces, a gemstone and the palindrome phrase (the same forwards as backwards) “A man a plan a canal Panama.” The quirky wordplay and varied interests give a little insight into Tomy’s personal life outside of his intense stare and Bohemian composure, but also leave much to the imagination.

Kevin McWilliams, "Mikey (South Brooklyn)"

Kevin McWilliams, “Mikey (South Brooklyn).”

Mikey, photographed in South Brooklyn, lies on the ground and appears to be completely asleep despite the sun being high in the sky, as evidenced by the shadows of the surrounding blades of grass. His shiny bison-laden belt buckle rests directly below his exposed belly that, along with his arms, reveals a smattering of spiraled tattoo patterns. This park photo counters the hard edged cityscape in the background of “Dwain (Hester St.).” Here, the metal doors of city businesses texture the landscape with horizontal stripes as the bearded man in thick-rimmed glasses and a tank top flashes a half grin beneath his hoop-ringed nose.

Kevin McWilliams, "Dwain (Hester St.)"

Kevin McWilliams, “Dwain (Hester St.).”

A majority of these portraits show males, but a couple shots do touch on some female acquaintances of McWilliams. “Kelly (Wissahickon)” is blurry and surreal, the wooded environment distorted by the camera’s lens. Kelly herself, caught in mid step, appears smiling (or in mid sentence as well), focusing on the apparent hike at hand. The tassels at the bottom of her dress part slightly for her leg even though she appears to float through the frame.

Kevin McWilliams, "Kelly (Wissahickon)"

Kevin McWilliams, “Kelly (Wissahickon).”

Kevin McWilliams has 14 photos on display that variously peer into his personal life and the lives of his friends. This portrait exhibit will hang in the Crane building through April 8.

The Crane Arts Building is located at 1400 N. American St., Philadelphia; [email protected]cranearts.com.