Business + Marketing

Documentary Portraits of Humans at 100

April 3, 2023

By Abbey Pleviak

In this episode of The Portrait System Podcast, host Nikki Closser speaks with Katherine Williams of White Wolf Portrait Studio in Christchurch, New Zealand. Williams shares how she brings her passion for documentary photography into her lifestyle family portrait studio and her project, Being Human at 100

When Williams was young, one of her teachers wrote in her report card that she could be a professional photographer. From then on, she knew it would be so. While studying photography at Polytech, Williams offered to work for free for visiting photographers. By graduation, she had a mix of paid work, including photographer’s assistant and wedding photographer. After school, Williams was photographer on cruise ships for nearly ten years. Then, she opened her own wedding photography studio. She gradually shifted into portraits and has always loved documentary.  

[Read: Environmental Portraiture: Telling Stories About Your Subjects]

Williams’ current documentary passion project focuses on portraits of elders over 100. She has traveled to locales like Cuba, Japan, and the Philippines to photograph them. Initially, she had no idea how to start, but by chance, met someone with a friend in the Philippines mountain village she wanted to visit who arranged for her to visit eight elders. Likewise, in Japan, a “fixer” arranged for Williams to visit different households. The custom dictated that after entering, she would pray at the family shrine, and only after would know if she would be permitted to stay and take portraits.  

[Read: Personal Photo Projects for Greater Brand Exposure]

When it comes to paying for her project, Williams says, “I don’t want to think of this as a profit-making enterprise. This is in my bones. It’s in my heart. . . This is why I do the business of photography, and this is the why for doing everything else that I do in photography to make money.” 

[Read: Documentary Photographer Tony Carter’s 30 Year Career]

Williams’ money-making studio is the lifestyle family portrait studio she runs with her partner Tony Carter. They love to focus on the documentary aspects of their work, and one of their most popular products represents that. “Flow” tells a story through a framed series of images involving natural family interactions. They also sell folio boxes, albums, and wall art. 

© The Portrait System

To learn more about Williams’ documentary portraiture, visit White Wolf Portrait Studio and see more from her Being Human at 100 project at Katherine Williams Photography

The Portrait System Podcast helps portrait photographers navigate the world of photography, business, money, and much more. Hosted by Nikki Closser, the podcast is powered by The Portrait System, a comprehensive, online educational platform that teaches all aspects of running a successful portrait photography studio.