Janna Ireland on Paul R. Williams

The Glass House
September 24, 2020

For nearly five years, Los Angeles-based artist Janna Ireland has criss-crossed Southern California photographing the work of Paul Revere Williams, one of the 20th century’s most prolific architects whose imprint on the built environment of California cannot be overstated.

Born in Los Angeles in 1894, Williams built his career decades before the Civil Rights Movement by navigating a non-inclusive profession and designing nearly 3,000 buildings, including civic structures, banks, churches, hospitals, university halls, and numerous private homes. He designed public housing projects as well as estates for celebrities like Cary Grant and Lucille Ball in neighborhoods that he was not allowed to live in at the time. In 1923, Williams became the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects. In 2017, nearly forty years after his death, he became the first Black recipient of the AIA Gold Medal.

“At its core, my work is about the expression of Black identity and American culture, and I felt an immediate connection to Williams’ story,” says Ireland. She began the project when architect Barbara Bestor invited Ireland to make images of Williams’ work for an exhibition at Woodbury University’s Julius Shulman Institute; the artist James Welling made the introduction. Ireland gained access to the buildings by word of mouth referrals or by calling the building owners.

Ireland’s sensitive and elegant images of Williams’ work are collected in "Regarding Paul R. Williams: A Photographer's View," just out from Angel City Press: “My goal was to create an experience of Williams’ work that was about the feeling of living in his spaces and loving them. Williams thought about every little detail and I felt that seeking out those details would be a fitting way to honor him.”