Dreaming Difference

David Williams

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The remarkable journey of a photographic artist explored in all its depth and variety

  • Offers a range of perspectives on Williams’ work
  • Presents a dynamic selection of images covering all aspects of his creative practice
  • Includes an autobiographical account of the artist’s life and influences
  • Includes related academic and critical comments on each of his core projects

David Williams provides a vivid biographical account of his creative development, identifying pivotal influences including an abiding, evolving interest in non-duality. He outlines key moments in a calling that saw him propelled from a career as a musician, to a vocation as an acclaimed photographic artist. Williams’ essay is complemented by an appreciation of his work by Tom Normand, the photo-historian and author of ‘Scottish Photography – a history’. Academic and critical comments on his work expand the appreciation of Williams’ oeuvre.

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Preface, Sara Stevenson

David Williams, An Appreciation, Tom Normand

INTRODUCTION, David Williams

  • Early Years and Family Life
  • Education… and Music
  • Photographic Beginnings… and Nonduality
  • Some Early Images


  • Pictures from No Man’s Land: St Margaret’s School for Girls, Edinburgh 1984
  • ‘Is’: Ecstasies l-XXll  (1988)
  • Findings… Bitter-Sweet  (1994)
  • Source (1995)
  • Stillness and Occurrence (1995-2000)
  • one taste: (n)ever-changing  (2003-2007); Cedar Tree Tofuku-ji Zen Temple ; 88 Places -  Omuro Nina-ji Temples; Various from ‘one taste…’; flow…  (2009)
  • Illusion of Agency  (2014)
  • Not Two  (2014 – ongoing)
  • The Promenader (2014 – ongoing)
  • Together (stills) (2022)
  • Postscript; Untitled (2014)


References; Contributors; Acknowledgements

It is excellent to see a publication celebrating the contribution of David Williams to photographic practice and debate. His work has long been recognised as a driving force within the evolution of British photography, and together with his contribution as a teacher and academic practitioner, it is a fitting tribute to his achievements.

To enter the world of David’s photography is to enter a world of visual poetry and the realm of the imagination. His restless search for a form of images that convey his emotional and metaphysical engagement with picture making is compelling, and guides us towards a new appreciation of what photography might be. 

David’s feelings towards music, with its unmatched potential for engaging the emotions through abstraction, and his understanding of the technical possibilities of his preferred medium, synthesise themselves throughout this remarkable publication. It is a book above all, about the beauty of the image and providing sustenance for the soul.

Professor John Kippin

…this is by far the best book of photographs of the 2020s…

Having been ejected abruptly from my teaching job (I was 69, but refused to believe it), I ended up in Edinburgh in 2010 for two years 'resting'. I sought David out, as I thought his Pictures from No Man's Land (1984) was at that time, when photographic monographs were quite rare, one of the best books by a British photographer. But I hadn't - for some reason or other - got a copy. And he didn't have a spare one either! However, he would find me one, and it is now one of my favourite possessions.

I realise why I like his post 1984 work that forms the bulk of the book too. It is because he didn't stick with a very successful photographic signature and repeat himself like so many photographers one could cite. He must know better than most, having been a professional musician, that being a tribute band is less challenging and rewarding than being an original. And David, through his many personal and photographic explorative journeys, is just that. He also knows most assuredly that making photographs is about making photographs. Everything else is up for grabs...

Paul Hill MBE, FRPS, Visiting Professor, De Montfort University, Leicester

Dreaming Difference is a visual treat of a book. It offers a generous survey of David Williams’ photographic projects from the last few decades and is enriched by written contributions from some of the key writers on Scottish art and photography from recent times. Williams’ own account of his ‘accidental’ journey into photography, his life in music and art and his interest in the ’non-dual’ that permeates his creative output is illuminating. This study is a celebration of the work of a much respected photographer and educator and a timely reminder of Williams’ key contribution to photography in Scotland.

Ben Harman, Director of Stills, Edinburgh

I’ve been a lover of David Williams’ photography ever since I first encountered it. His work touches a deep place in us, something ineffable and ungraspable. So much is conveyed, for example, in that black and white image of a small child lurching forward in a snowy field, or the image on the cover of a pregnant woman standing in the sea. Profound truths about life and human experience are evoked or suggested without ever asserting them explicitly. The work is so delicate, evocative and magical.

There is an open unknowingness in David’s work that I love: "Not knowing in the face of mystery might be at the very heart of it," he says in the accompanying text, "a kind of Rubik’s cube of awe and wonder unencumbered by the need to provide answers and happy to simply bow to something way beyond our ken and yet closer than close."

As a writer who tries to express nonduality in words, I am in awe of how perfectly David expresses, through his images, the paradoxical mystery of not one, not two – difference and sameness, permanence and change, form and emptiness, stillness and occurrence. He captures the sense of form emerging from no-thing-ness and dissolving back into it. In "Illusion of Agency" he brilliantly conveys the nondual insight that there is no autonomous, independent self in control of our lives—that free will is an illusion. The "Not Two" series thrills me with the magical aliveness of the juxtapositions.

And in the postscript, he writes: "For all the talk of ‘non-duality’, ‘oneness’, ‘not twoness’, ‘unicity’, ‘wholeness’... nowhere have I mentioned the underlying notion which all such arcane expressions perhaps point to – love… My hope is that my work can at least aspire to somehow celebrating the breadth and depth of its mystery." Yes! And yes! That he does, exquisitely.

This is a marvelous book.

Joan Tollifson, author of Nothing to Grasp and other books on non-duality
David Williams is an Edinburgh-based photographic artist. He was Head of Photography at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. He retired from ECA in 2017. Prior to becoming involved in photography, he was a professional musician and songwriter, employed by Ringo Starr’s publishing house. Williams’ intensely lyrical, visually captivating work is exhibited internationally. His photographs have been published and anthologised throughout Europe, in the USA and in Japan. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes and awards. Most notably, he was presented with the BBC ‘150 Years of Photography’ award. He was also nominated for the highly prestigious ‘Kyoto Prize (Arts and Philosophy)’, in Japan.

His work is held in the following collections: City Art Centre Edinburgh, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Equinor (Statoil) Art Collection Stavanger Norway, Ferens Art Gallery Hull, Fidelity Investments Corporate Art Collection USA, FNAC International Collection Paris, Iceland National Art Gallery Rekyjavik, The McManus Dundee, National Galleries of Scotland, Navigator Foundation, Boston, USA, Polaroid International Collection Westlicht Collection Vienna Austria, Standard Life Edinburgh, St Andrew’s University, State Street Bank Boston USA, Sun Chlorella Corporation Kyoto Japan, University of Edinburgh, Victoria and Albert Museum London, WMG Photography Fund London and in various private collections.

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