LIMA — A Lima native is making his mark in the country music scene, but not as a musician.
Brian Williams, who graduated from Bath High School and the University of Northwestern Ohio, has been hard at work taking professional photos of some of country music’s biggest acts out of Nashville, Tenn.
Williams works with NOW Marketing Group in Lima but has an exciting second life as a photographer for recording artist Julie Roberts.
“I remember when I was younger, and I and my papaw would go to Hallmark in Lima,” Williams said. “Because he worked at Ford and he of course loved cars, he always wanted to go look at the car magazines. I always wanted to look at the music ones. So I would be sitting at the aisle across from him looking at the Billboard chart seeing what music was coming out and where they play.”
“So for me to be in this place in my life and remembering that moment of looking at the Billboard article and seeing my name and the picture was just a very surreal moment,” he said. “So that was super cool.”
Williams said that a number of things have contributed to his success, none less than motivation from friends and family.
“One of my friends, Scott, called me while I was in Puerto Rico and he was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing? You have so many opportunities in front of you that people would love to have. I just don’t think you see it. I really think you need to give it a shot and go.’
“And people have been telling me that for years. Just to try it, there’s no harm in going but stop wondering ‘what if.’ Just seeing another part of the world and just seeing how big the world is and what it has to offer and us hiking up a mountain and seeing the top of it while I was in Puerto Rico, it really showed me I can do this. I have had so many supportive people in my corner who have been telling me this for years, but that one kind of really just pushed me over the edge to do it.”
But it might never have started without Williams’ love of music and Roberts’ belief in him.
“That’s what the difference is,” Williams said. “I’ve known Julie and her husband, Matt, now for five years. It’s really the friendship that I’ve built and the camaraderie that we have. It doesn’t always feel like work. And that’s kind of why I backed off of working with so many other people is because I believe in the music, and I believe in her.
“You hear a lot of stories about famous people and how they’re not kind or they put up a front, but Julie is one of the nicest people that I have literally ever come across in my entire life. She believed in me when she had no reason to. Someone of her stature in the industry giving someone like me from Lima, Ohio, a chance to, one, run her social media, two, to give me an opportunity as a photographer when there were so many more talented people at the time when I first started, that in itself I think just speaks volumes for her as a person.”
Williams said that he remembers going through a booklet from one of Roberts’ albums as a kid and that now that his work is in one of her recent booklets, it is hard to believe.
“I just think that is looking back and knowing that I knew her as a country artist as a 13-year-old to now being 32 and I know her as a friend, I think that’s my favorite part of the whole journey,” he said.
And it all started when he first met Roberts at a Shooter Jennings show that she opened for in Newport, Ky.
Williams struck up a conversation with her, and Roberts asked him to help her with marketing, something she had no prior knowledge of his passion for.
Williams had previously wanted to attend Belmont University for a music major but instead chose to study marketing at UNOH.
“Our paths crossed at the right time,” he said. “It was five years ago this December that that conversation took place. So I just started really remotely working, kind of helping her build her social media audience. For most of the artists back then even five years ago, social media wasn’t a huge focus that has become now for them. So just helping her stay consistent with posting and engaging with fans and coming up with new ideas was what I did, and she even flew me to concerts every now and then, and I would just shoot some stuff on my iPhone because it had 4K.”
After seeing a friend shooting photos and social media content for a different act, Williams had the idea to try it on his own with a brand new camera in June 2019.
Once again it was Roberts, who nurtured Williams’ talent by giving him an opportunity to shoot her concert in Lafayette, La., prior to the pandemic.
After the pandemic hit and the housing market began booming, Williams figured that was his sign to dive headfirst into the business. He sold his house in Lima and moved to Nashville.
Roberts was ready with another opportunity almost immediately.
“Julie was pregnant with her first kid when I moved to town and had him shortly later in August, so she didn’t really have much going on, but she had the baby and come September a few months later she said, ‘Hey, I’m looking for some baby photos. I know that’s not something you typically like to do because I know music is more your thing, but do you want to come over and take some of Jackson’s first photos?’”
But the photos did not automatically end up in magazines.
It took some prodding from Williams’ grandmother and a little research on social media to get the photos in People Magazine.
“I found a writer’s name on Instagram and sent her a message offering an exclusive for Julie’s baby photos, and to my surprise they picked them up,” he said. “And so they did an article and my name is under the photos and they have a ‘People Exclusive Photos’ emblem on each of the photos they use in the article.”
From there, the opportunities kept coming, as Williams’ skills took him to California to shoot with more artists and back to Roberts’ backyard for the completion of her newest album “Ain’t in No Hurry,” the artwork of which Williams oversaw. The culmination of this journey found him shooting photos of Roberts at the Grand Ole Opry.
As for the future, Williams said that he still has plans to move back to Lima to be with his family, who still live here. He is prepared to make it work thanks to remote access. He will need to as he prepares for a new role at NOW Marketing, which will include taking on more photography and short-form content duties, in addition to his ongoing gig with Roberts and other artists.
“I definitely see myself doing other things as well as time allows,” he said. “But I think that’s the greatest thing about being in 2022 is people are not limited on their distance or where they’re located at the time or anything like that because we have just grown in the workforce in that area.”
Williams should have a lot on his plate in the next year, as Roberts’ team prepares to tour across the country.
“I’ve learned to never underestimate God’s plans or for my life,” Williams said. “I feel like if I would have tried to write any of this down, I would have missed so much. I tend to sell myself short, and I think a lot of artists in that sense, whether you’re doing marketing or you’re painting or you’re taking photos or you’re creating sculptures, I think we look at our art sometimes, and we’re very hard on ourselves. Oftentimes it’s like we made it because we did, but other people see so much beauty in it.
“I think that really I would have missed out. I would never have really taken a chance on myself or thought that I would have been published in Billboard or had photos in this album booklet or been on a music video set taking behind-the-scenes photos if I would have written it down myself because I didn’t believe in my talent that way.”
Williams’ work can be found on social media, on the web and in print accompanying stories about Roberts, and on his website, meetbrianwilliams.com.
Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.