I have written little about myself, as the creator of Humanitou, on this site. After I interviewed Yves Sturdevant for Humanitou in June 2019, she said she was curious to know something of my story. She proposed getting together again so she could interview me. I said yes.
When Yves and I sat down again, we talked about where I come from, my Reverence photographic series, and how being a father and husband influence my art.
We also talked about how I unintentionally became a journalist nearly 20 years ago, which ultimately led me to create Humanitou in 2017.
So meet … me, Adam Williams. This is Part One of the story. [Read Part Two.]
Yves: I want to get some background for your readers who maybe don’t know 100 percent who you are as the man behind Humanitou. Where did you grow up and what was your family like?
Adam: I grew up in a small, rural town of less than 6,000 people in flat, northern Missouri. My parents were teachers. I grew up in town, in a nice neighborhood within walking distance of the school.
I was the youngest of three boys. My brothers are several years older than me, so by the time I was 12, I was the only child in the house.
I’ve described my parents as teachers and preachers. One taught in the elementary school and one taught in the high school for most of my childhood.
Adam Williams, Creator of Humanitou. Photograph by Becca Williams
My mother left behind teaching fourth-grade English when I was going into her grade, her class. I didn’t necessarily want to be in her class. And I think she saw it as an opportunity for her to go back to school for a Master’s degree, and to pursue some things she had set aside for many years.
She’d end up starting a literacy center for adults. She kept growing that, in physical space and in the offerings of the center, to include adult basic education, GED studies and other things. She really grew an amazing thing there.
Yves: How do you think that influenced your creative side?
Adam: The connection with creative skills largely came through music. In our family everybody did at least one thing.
My dad played guitar. And, for some years, he often would go on Saturday mornings to the art shop in town. He painted landscapes. He’d watch Bob Ross on TV. My brothers were either in choir or band in school. My mom played piano.
And I grew up being part of a church. When I was really little, our family would go sing and play at nursing homes and in churches.
My oldest brother played piano — he has for almost 50 years now — and trombone. My middle brother was in choir and school musicals. All three of us boys had piano lessons for some length of time as kids. I played saxophone, too.
I fought those piano lessons, though. By the time I was 14 or 15, I was, kind of, let off the hook with that. It was something I really resisted until there wasn’t much choice, I think.
I played saxophone for five years and quit that when I was about 15, as well. I really wanted to focus on sports, basketball mostly.
It also kind of felt like the music thing was an insisted-upon thing that I don’t know that I really enjoyed in any pure love sense. I think I also didn’t like to do things that others in the family, my brothers mainly, were doing. I felt pressure — self-imposed — to be as good as them. Basketball was my own.
As far as creativity, my exposure mostly was through church and classical music.
Adam Williams, Creator of Humanitou. Photograph by Adam’s son, Jasper (7).
Yves: Is that what was playing in the house?
Adam: I don’t feel like we had music playing a whole lot, not like a soundtrack to our family life, or anything.
I do remember us having a few eight-track tapes, though. And a few albums, maybe. One of the tapes was Queen. I remember “Another One Bites the Dust.” I don’t know where it came from. I do remember my oldest brother’s first car had an eight-track player in it. Maybe it came from him.
I had a number of music teachers over the years. Because I was resistant to it, it didn’t go well. I wouldn’t really practice. I would say I was practicing, because I was required to write down that I was practicing a half-hour five days a week.
Now, as an adult, I realize that really is not much time, certainly not if you’re going to become very skilled at a musical instrument. As a kid who is 10, 12, 14 years old and you just want to go outside and play, it felt like forever.
Sometimes my mom would be my teacher. In that case, when I wasn’t part of a group of kids learning with another teacher somewhere, I would have to play at church every so often, in lieu of the recitals I’d have had every now and again with other teachers and their students.
I don’t remember my parents playing popular music. I think that music came when my middle brother started bringing cassette tapes into the mix as a teenager. Huey Lewis and the News stands out. Tears For Fears.
Kenny Loggins, too. I had a song book from Top Gun. I’d play Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and that stuff every day on the saxophone, because the school band stuff — scales and simple things — were boring.
And at some age, I would go to sleep at night, listening to cassette tapes that would click off when they ran all the way through. I’d have fallen asleep somewhere along the way. I remember listening to Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” and “Say You Say Me.” And, for some reason, Burt Bacharach.
I had been afraid to study art, to study photography and writing. All these things that I now do, I had been afraid to do in high school and college.
Yves: Do you remember when you first became interested in photography?
Adam: We had a slide projector and screen in the house. I’d ask to get out the equipment and have a slideshow of old family vacation slides. I loved that.
It’s what my grandparents used, too. I have their sets of slides now, the Kodachrome slides, and our family’s old prints. From my grandparents, my parents.
I don’t know why I was drawn to those as a kid. But I was, and still am.
Yves: How would you say that being a husband and father influences, or makes its way, into your art?
Adam: The most obvious thing to me is that Becca, my wife, and I are both photographers. We have this whole common ground in visual art and communication through photography.
We’ve had a photography business together before. We’ve both freelanced as photographers for newspapers and magazines. And we met in grad school for photojournalism.
She is a sounding board for me and helps me to keep going with what I’m doing when I need that lift. Yet, she’s also an honest voice with a knowledge base I can trust when she gives me constructive feedback.
With my sons, it’s interesting the impact that some of this stuff has on them. They’re proud of me for having Humanitou. They’re proud of me for what I do as work.
I left behind a career about two years ago. I had been head of marketing for a company in Denver and, effectively, also was leading aspects of the marketing strategy for its parent company, a global manufacturing company in Germany.
Leaving that behind was the end of that particular professional creative arc for me in writing and photography — content in its various forms — that started in journalism and evolved and morphed, and came out in marketing.
Now, I am a stay-at-home-dad who publishes Humanitou and teaches yoga, and creates through photography, writing and poetry.
Together, we’ve shifted our lives to build around what’s meaningful and what’s enough, financially, to make it all possible. We still travel. We ski and snowboard. We still live full lives, and create wonderful opportunities for our boys and our family. We just do it intentionally with less.
I feel privileged that people share vulnerably with me. It is not easy for them to do, and I know it. It’s not easy to have those vulnerable moments and thoughts go out publicly. It’s the essence of that that is my favorite (thing about Humanitou).
The boys will learn more of the grown-up realities of how we make this work later. For now, I share what I do with my family, and having their support is super important to me.
For our sons to feel like the world is possible, that it’s limitless … that’s one of the main lessons we want to instill in them. Modeling that for them is a motivation for me.
Yves: Can you tell me about your Reverence series and how that came to be?
Adam: Reverence is a collection of portraits that highlight details of nature. They are still life photographs.
I call it Reverence because it’s about respecting these details in nature that often are overlooked: a dried leaf or broken piece of wood, an unusual rock or bones of wildlife.
It’s the practice of paying attention, of really seeing what’s around us, and taking an interest, seeing the poetry and artfulness in whatever it is.
And taking interest in more than just the given ideals of what natural beauty is. Like, say, a fresh, red rose. What if it’s something that is decaying?
The Reverence series includes things like those bones and pieces of wood that have a story of death, a transitional, fading aspect to it. To me, observing those worn, textured, seemingly lifeless pieces also conjures life and what that whole cycle is.
So I find one piece of nature in the woods, and I think about who and what else has been here, has played a role in the story … and now it’s in my hands, where I can shine light on it, give it attention and share it through photography or poetry.
If I can do that well, then maybe I help bring attention to those details, and to how we’re all intertwined. Maybe I can help show people what is around them, what they can see if they slow down and give it a look.
I’m fascinated by it all. Really curious. And it’s a process of practicing reverence for all those pieces of nature, all those lives and stories.
That awareness of details is in a lot of the things I do. I see it not only in what I’m doing through photography, but awareness also is integral to my spiritual practices. For me, it’s through meditation and the various forms that yoga takes, including creative arts.
Just to have awareness of the world around us, to me there’s always story in that.
Adam Williams, Creator of Humanitou. Photograph by Adam’s son, Taos (9).
Yves: I’ve noticed that you have an innate curiosity and an ability to be a thoughtful listener, being somebody who had a conversation with you in your Humanitou project.
Is that what brought you to the Humanitou project, or what was the kernel of inspiration for Humanitou?
Adam: Even before journalism, as a teenager or maybe a young adult, I had interviewed my grandmothers and my parents. Just for myself. I wanted to capture something of their stories.
I’m interested in story, and even from a young age I’ve always been interested in history. I was interested in whatever those real, human stories of experience are. I joined the Army, in part, because I wanted to engage in personal experience in a significant, real way. Journalism had that potential, too.
And when journalism factors in … which, by the way, I was not actually interested in becoming a journalist. It was right after the Army and all I really was interested in was going forward and living by my own authority and autonomy, saying that this is the life I want to live.
I had been afraid to study art, to study photography and writing. All these things that I now do, I had been afraid to do in high school and college.
Then I went into the Army and I came out of that in my mid 20s, and I felt like I am now going to take action to live life in the way that I want to, to learn the things that I want to.
I made the choice to go into journalism school to study photography simply because it was a two-year program, as opposed to the three-year M.F.A. program. It would cost me a lot less money and time. All I wanted was the creative aspect of photography, to learn something, anything, about photography.
Because of the journalism aspect, what I would do, and have done now for going on 20 years, is work in features, in human-interest stories. Photography. Writing. It was talking with people and listening to their stories. It was focused on positive things in life.
It wasn’t the investigative or news-breaking side of things, or going and digging into the ills of the world to shine light there — which is important, for sure — but my focus always has been in shining light on the good, on what we can lift up and share in common.
So it was a natural thing for me when I started Humanitou nearly three years ago that I would use that background, those skills with writing, photography, publishing.
It’s about the totality of Humanitou. I want there to be a diverse mix of voices. I want the collective learning and understanding about all this, about humanness, about what we share in common.
The reason I created Humanitou started because we had lived in Manitou Springs for a year and a half and loved it, yet realized we hadn’t really been engaging in it much. Becca and I worked remotely from home, so we didn’t even have offices or coworkers in town to connect with. We wanted to become more a part of Manitou.
For me, as someone who describes himself as introverted, and whose social interests are not in going to big social events and making small talk with lots of people … I want one-on-one conversations with depth.
I am interested in knowing what people think and feel, what their experiences and insights are. I want to be able to share who I am, too, in that real give and take of mutual curiosity.
So to take all those skills and background interests and my curiosities, and start Humanitou, it was a way for me to meet people in my community one at a time.
Yves: I was curious about the role that introversion plays in your project. For me, maybe as a DJ and the stuff that we do in dance, it’s trying to find purposeful engagement with people, instead of showing up at a party and having small talk.
You’re creating a reason to share something purposeful with other people in a more intimate and meaningful way. On the way over here, I wondered if Humanitou would exist if you weren’t an introvert.
Adam: I doubt it. I think that’s my way to connect. And to not have it be about casting the light on me in the process.
Yves: To date, what is your most memorable interview experience in your Humanitou project? Is there any moment that kind of shines for you?
Adam: Well, I could say there’s a recency bias and say it’s always the one that’s most recent, because, if for nothing else, it’s the one freshest in my mind.
Something I do enjoy in getting to transcribe — I don’t like the tedious process of transcription, but … — is that I get to relive the conversation.
I feel like I have a special experience with all of this that no one else gets to have in that I get to be the one who meets with each person, and we get to have this on-on-one conversation.
Then I’m the only one who gets to listen to it again and hear every word that’s said. The edited and published version is not everything we shared in person.
To me, there’s some of that specialness in every conversation. Only me and the other person who was there know, or ever will.
As far as a favorite, if we go back to the idea of the story that is forming in totality throughout the project, it’s that idea that I want there to be a diverse mix of all these different voices. I want the collective learning and understanding about all this, about humanness, about what we share in common.
I feel that part is amazing, and I feel privileged that people share vulnerably with me. It is not easy for them to do, and I know it. It’s not easy to have those vulnerable moments and thoughts go out publicly. It’s the essence of that that is my favorite.
It’s about what I see shaping up as a whole. Every story that comes along is adding to the collection of that humanness and creativity.
Yves: There’s something about the ease of conversation with you, and your thoughtfulness, that makes it really easy for a person to be able to open up. It feels quite comfortable.
I’m sure if I would have sat and thought, “Everyone is going to read this stuff that I’m saying about my mom,” I probably wouldn’t have done it. But that didn’t even come to my mind when I was talking with you.
You’re creating a safe space for people to feel that they can share their stories. There’s something about you. You’re in the right role for what you’re doing.
Adam: Thank you. That means a lot. It’s what I hope for.