James “Kimo” Williams was born in Amityville, New York, and grew up on military bases as the son of an Airforce dad. In May 1969, just before enlisting in the U.S. Army, he attended his first major music concert: Jimi Hendrix playing at the Waikiki Bowl. He was so inspired, that he dedicated himself to music and playing guitar. After returning from Vietnam, Kimo earned a BA in composition from Berklee College of Music in Boston. He also holds a MA in management and human relations from Webster University.
An award-winning musician, Kimo’s compositions have been performed by the symphonies of Detroit, Atlanta, Savannah, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Alabama, and Dallas, among many others. Additionally, Kimo is an award-winning photographer, and owns a gallery in Shepherdstown (133 W. German St., Suite 100).
His photography has been featured in the Smithsonian magazine, as a National Geographic editor’s choice, and in the National Veterans Arts Museum in Chicago. Recently, Kimo’s photography has been jury-selected and curated at the Berkeley Arts Center in Martinsburg, the Scarab Club in Detroit, Michigan, and the Cooperstown Art Association Galleries in New York.
He and his wife moved to West Virginia from Chicago to be close to their daughter, who works in Maryland. “We wanted our living environment to include less people and more trees and nature,” he explained. “We found a nice view on a cliff overlooking the Potomac in Shepherdstown.”
And thus, Kimo decided to take what he calls ACT III of his life and spend more time on photography. “I started taking pictures of our property and was inspired by the shots that I took and the closeness that I had to the subject at hand—without any time constraints. I am now spending more time with my camera than ever before, and trying to find unique ways to bring my adventures to visual realizations.”
In 2018, he opened up his shop and decided to call the venture KimoPics Studio and Gallery. He sees the store as a means to meet new and interesting people from all walks of life that he never would have come in contact with. “I do make my photography available for sale, but more importantly, and my main goal, is to engage with those who enter my gallery on a plethora of subjects, and to create a positive camaraderie that can be sustainable once they leave.”
On the Horizon
As an artist, Kimo considers himself a moment-in-time enthusiast. “My main form of artistic expression is as a composer of music,” he emphasized. “I use that idiom to reflect on and communicate past experiences as well as current life events. I take that same approach when I decide on a subject to capture through the camera.”
Once in the shop, visitors can expect to hear Kimo singing or even playing guitar (Jimi Hendrix only), as well as images on the walls in many different settings (metal, framed, canvas, large, extra-large, small, etc.).
“I also have prints available for sale from my many years of shooting images around the world, including France, Vietnam, Kuwait, Hawaii, Germany, Italy, Russia, Helsinki, Korea, Singapore, Afghanistan, and throughout the U.S.,” he noted.
Kimo is currently working on a project that he might call “A Look Through Legacy,” where he’s set up a backdrop in the studio with a subject (still life) that he shoots with each of the many analog antique cameras he has collected. “I will then exhibit the images, along with the camera used,” he said. “Upon entering the shop, visitors might see me shooting for this exhibit.”
He’s also excited about a collaboration with veteran artist Erich Ruth and community artist Dan Tokar. “In collaboration with these two, as well as my daughter and wife, I am creating a Vietnam veterans scrolling names installation called ‘The Names of Those,’ which will include a video monitor to scroll the names and date of death of every U.S. military member who died as a result of their service in Vietnam during that war.”
Those names, according to Kimo, will be presented alphabetically by state, name, and official date of death. The recorded composition Symphony for the Sons of Nam, written by Kimo in 1991, will accompany the video presentation for the entire 20 hours it requires to complete the list.
“The project is accepting donations at the KimoPics storefront and online,” he indicated. “All donations will be used for the construction, development, marketing, and presentation of this project. Donors can contribute in recognition of a specific individual or provide a personal comment, if desired.”
On the immediate horizon, a “moment in time” for both Kimo and the community will be on display March 20-22 at Shepherdstown’s War Memorial Building (102 E. German St.), from 11am-5pm. The photo exhibit – Faces of Vietnam – will highlight images Kimo took upon returning to Vietnam in 1998, and many years after, to capture the beauty of the people and landscapes he wasn’t able to capture the first time around before leaving in 1970.