Photography student inspired by his roots


It takes a certain kind of student to stand out in a crowded classroom.

In Elijah Williams’ case, he has repeatedly proven to his peers and teachers that he is unique.

Elijah Williams is a First Nations student in his fourth-year of the Bachelor of Photography program at Sheridan College. He is a member of the Cayuga tribe, which belongs to the Six Nations reserve in Brantford. Williams, 22, lived on the reserve until he was 18.

“I chose Sheridan because of its reputation,” he said.

“I knew Sheridan would prepare me for the industry, and would give me the best employment opportunities.”

Elijah Williams shows off a Phase one camera used to shoot billboard photography.

Elijah Williams shows off a Phase One camera valued at $55,000, used to shoot billboard photography. (Photo by Ross Andersen/The Sheridan Sun)

Williams discovered photography at a young age. Upon picking up his first digital camera, he saw life differently. The way photography captures moments and tells stories is what inspires him.

“Images can be so influential, and they capture the zeitgeist, and surely capture a reflection of our culture,” said Williams.

Williams specializes in fashion and portrait photography, although his creative photography is found in street photography. Its candidness appeals to him. There is a thrill of capturing moments that will never happen again.

“Nothing is staged and everything is natural when shooting people on the go,” he said.

His passion for fashion turned into a reality when Williams applied for an internship with Vanity Fair, in Los Angeles. After months of following up, he was finally flown to L.A. for an interview, and landed the position.

“It was a surreal experience, and I gained a lot of valuable skills through the internship,” he said.

Williams shared a two-bedroom apartment with 10 people.

With Vanity Fair, Williams had the opportunity to create a travel itinerary for Warner Bros. – another aspect of his training.

“I find the business aspect of photography most appealing to me,” he said.

“I enjoy coordinating photo shoots and keeping everything organized.”

Williams’ success did not come without challenges.

“Being a First Nations student, you are at a disadvantage because you grow up on a reserve,” said Williams.

Elijah Williams demonstrating a Phase One camera. (Photography By Ross Andersen/The Sheridan Sun)

Elijah Williams demonstrating a Phase One camera.
(Photography by Ross Andersen/The Sheridan Sun)

Williams explains the education on reserves is below standard, and once a student leaves to attend high school, they are already behind. Many First Nations students must adapt quickly to their new education system.

“Aboriginal people have a sense of patriotism, and when you leave the community, you begin to lose that feeling,” he said.

Williams says it is uncommon for First Nations students to go to post-secondary. According to Statistics Canada, 24 per cent of First Nations adults in jail are under the age of 25.

“We are not just a stereotype, and we can be successful at any level,” said Williams.

The pressure for Williams to not be a statistic is what fuels his motivation to succeed. Williams’ passion goes far beyond photography, and hopes to continue his education after graduating.

“I plan on doing a masters in Policy and Administration,” he said.

He explains policy needs to change for First Nations people, because there is an over representation in correctional institutions.

“I want to go beyond photography and fight for a real change in Canadian First Nations communities,” Williams added.
Williams’ long-term goal is to impact the communities that need it most. He knows first-hand the struggles these people endure, and he pictures a bright future ahead.