Meet creative Johnathan Williams, best known as his name ‘@pharaohdraws’ on Instagram. On the 31st October 2018, I had the pleasure of collaborating with the music photographer himself. The theme was Commercial Fashion photography, utilising a subtle colour palette and basic lighting to enhance facial features.
Commercial Fashion Photography by Johnathan Williams
Johnathan Williams is a twenty-year-old creative from Aston, Birmingham currently studying his final year of Media and Communications at Birmingham City University. He has become renowned for photographing the urban UK music scene as well as his crosshatched illustrations.
Read on in this interview with the man himself on his inspirations, his most memorable moments on set, and his insightful advice for anyone who is looking to get into the creative industry…
Jorja Smith Yxng Bane
What made you start getting into photography?
“I started photography around 2013 during my final two years of secondary school. It was around this time I was learning all the basics of photography so stuff like adjusting aperture, ISO, the rule of thirds and a few other aspects of operating a camera. I never really took it seriously though at the time – I was more focused on art and media primarily because they seemed like more realistic career paths to go down. Surprisingly I ended up getting a grade A in GCSE photography, something that I wasn’t expecting. I ended up going to a sixth form which didn’t offer photography as a course. At the time I didn’t have enough money to buy a professional camera, so I ended up forgetting everything I learned in secondary school in the two years I went to sixth form. It wasn’t until the first year of university that I picked up a camera again and started to re-learn everything I forgot. My university offers a camera equipment hiring service for students on the media and arts course. It’s through this that I got more into photography, started taking it seriously and realised it was a possible career path. I have taken a handful of photography courses during my time at university but most of the stuff I’ve learnt about photography has come from trial and error.”
Your Instagram name is Pharaoh, which is quite interesting! Where has this derived from and how does this resemble yourself?
“I used to make beats in 2015, maybe early 2016 under the alias PharaohNoir. Pharaoh came from my older sister who at the time was teaching me about untold black history. She was educating me about black pharaohs and the wealth Africa once had, stuff that doesn’t get mentioned in traditional European history. All the stuff she said stuck with me. I liked the idea of being a pharaoh or king, so I went with the name pharaohnoir, ‘noir’ being black in French. My interest in music started to fizzle out in late 2016, I started getting back into art. Because I was taking A-level Art and Design, I was drawing a lot more which resulted in a collection of portraits that I really loved. I thought, ‘Why not post them to Instagram?’ I still had my pharaohnoir Instagram account but I wasn’t active on it. I still liked the name ‘Pharaoh’ but hated the ‘noir’ part. So, I dropped ‘noir’ and added ‘draws’ instead, since I was an illustrator. The two accounts were supposed to be linked but I ended up deleting the other one shortly after making @pharaohdraws.”
Who are your biggest influencers? What motivates you to be in this field?
“I have a few influencers, but the two biggest ones are Tyler, The Creator and Jean Michel Basquiat. I grew up listening to Tyler’s music throughout sixth form and the final years of secondary school. He was the first person I saw that I could completely relate to on all levels – it wasn’t just his music but who he is as a person. This weird, outsider black kid that’s so against the grain but doesn’t care. His energy and love of creativity instantly made me a huge fan. He just promotes being yourself and pursuing what you love. Being a free-thinker and not conforming to what society expects of you. Honestly, if it wasn’t for Tyler, I don’t think I’d have embraced being a black teenager who doesn’t fit the stereotypical image you usually see in the media. He let me know it’s okay to be me. I only found out about Basquiat properly a year and six months ago. I had heard about him years ago but hadn’t checked out his work. At first, I thought he was a white renaissance or surrealist painter who died years ago. It wasn’t until I googled his work out of curiosity to discover he was an African-American artist around in the 80’s. I was genuinely shocked. Basquiat was the first black artist I had ever heard of. The first time I saw his work, it left me speechless… it was truly magnificent. I’d never seen someone paint as he does. Everything from the colours to the brush marks were unbelievably beautiful. I had no idea that a black artist could be that popular and influential in a predominately white-dominated art world. I loved his personality – a shy but eccentric individual with a soft-spoken voice and unimaginable amounts of talent. Like Tyler, Basquiat strengthened my confidence and encouraged me to be myself.”
What type of photoshoot is your favourite?
“Although they are very unpredictable and limited to get at this time of year, concert shoots are still my favourite types of shoots. It’s the unpredictability which makes it interesting yet nerve-racking at the same time. You don’t have control of the lighting, colours or how the performer acts. I’ve photographed amazing shows, where the lighting and colours used are perfect. The artist arrives on time and delivers a great performance. I’ve photographed some shows where the lightings dreadful, the colours used in the lights are too saturated and the artist’s performance is horrible. It’s that uncertainty that will test how good you are.”
If you could choose 3 words to describe yourself, what would they be?
“Hardworking, self-aware and down-to-earth.”
You have an impressive collection of shooting famous singers, creatives and artists, which one was your favourite to do?
“So far, my favourite moment was shooting Rae Sremmurd at Wireless Festival 2018. It was the last day of the festival in the late afternoon. The weather was uncomfortably hot, I had come to the festival slightly unprepared. The gap between the press pit and stage was bigger than I expected which meant I didn’t have the right lenses for the main stage. I was still able to take decent shots, but it was frustrating not having a zoom lens to capture close-up shots. A couple of minutes later Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi run out onto the stage with an insane amount of energy. Around three to four minutes into their set, Swae Lee jumps from the stage into the press pit which gets the crowd unbelievably hyped. Me and what felt like 50 other photographers are all trying to get shots of him interacting with the crowd. At this point, I’m just taking as many shots as possible before he gets back on stage. Then out of nowhere, he jumps on one of the amplifiers still rapping shirtless. It’s during that moment I captured some more shots. That entire scenario only lasted ten minutes maybe but during that ten minutes, I captured some of the best photos I’ve ever taken. Until that performance, I felt like I was wasting my time trying to take photos at the main stage. I appreciate what they did mainly because they didn’t have to do it.”
That sounds incredible, I wish I was there myself now! Do you have any funny/memorable stories whilst doing any of the shoots to share?
“Lil Pumps 2018 Reading festival performance is arguably the most memorable live show I’ve ever witnessed. It’s the last day of Reading festival and I am at the BBC Radio 1 stage waiting to see Lil pump perform and after waiting 15-20 minutes, he still has not come out yet. Then Lil Pump runs onto the stage and gets the crowd really hyped. I’m taking photos and then out of no-where, Lil Pump starts climbing a ladder leading to the lights on top of the stages tent. At this point, the security team are freaking out literally losing their minds. The crowd are so energetic that they start pushing to reach the front of the stalls. Some people in the front start hyperventilating and over-heating. Lil Pump gets down from the ladder, jumps off the stage and gets his security to carry him to the front of the stage then starts swearing at a fan who tries to punch him. More and more people are getting carried out the crowd and the sound engineer tries to cut the sound off, attempting to end the show. Lil Pump gets mad and forces the sound team to switch it back on. He performs at the front for a bit then gets carried back to the stage. Everything is so hectic that the security forgets the photographers are still in the pit taking photos when we were supposed to leave after the first three songs. Lil Pump finishes the set by telling the crowd to yell “F**k security” at the guards, which of course they do, then Lil Pump leaves the stage.”
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in the industry?
“Never get discouraged when things don’t go to plan, or opportunities fall through. It sounds cliché but everything in life happens for a reason. People won’t always support you, you’ll come across a lot of naysayers and negative people who’ll try to derail you off your path as a creative. It’s your duty to keep striving when times get difficult. If you genuinely feel like you’re supposed to be in the creative industry than you’ll power through the hard times and produce some amazing pieces of art whether its photography, music, films, fashion etc.”