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‘Without people there is no purpose’: Photographer Cephas Williams on 56 Black Men

The photographer, architect and founder of 56 Black Men and the Black British Network tells Andy Martin about his life and work

Monday 04 January 2021 15:32
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<p>‘A black person is not valued on an intellectual level – unless you entertain us first,’ says Williams</p>

‘A black person is not valued on an intellectual level – unless you entertain us first,’ says Williams

It’s not often one of these conversations begins with the interviewee telling me: “I was depressed and suicidal at the time.” He was 17 then. Now Cephas Williams is 29, a photographer, an architect, and the founder and director of 56 Black Men and the Black British Network. And he’s a father too, with a life-affirming message for his son.

Growing up in south London, he experienced a fair amount of “trauma”. But not so much on his own account. “I’m empathetic,” says Williams, “and I carry the burden of others. I was seriously upset.” He had a workable solution for fixing his “inward-facing rage”, though. And I think this might help anyone else who is feeling down. He tried to imagine what the world would be like without anyone in it.

“First I took out everyone in New Cross. Then I took out everyone in London. Then the UK, then the whole world. I was seeing the whole world with only me in it. And I came to the realisation that without people there is no purpose.”  So he added everyone back in again, one by one. “If there was no one in the world, there would be no reason for my existence.”

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