- Associated Press - Saturday, January 9, 2016

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) - “A picture is worth a thousand words,” or so goes the old saying.

If that’s true, an award-winning Orangeburg photographer’s body of work over several decades speaks volumes about the history he has chronicled with his cameras.

Cecil Williams has captured once-in-a-lifetime moments dating back to the Civil Rights Movement. He is also an “inventor,” with his most recent creation being a tool called the FilmToaster, which preserves negatives.

Williams, who has worked for JET Magazine and owns a photography studio, Cecil Williams Photography LLC, created the tool that enables users to put their film in digital format.

“Digital offers (film) a new lease on life,” Williams said.

Williams began taking photos in 1947 at the age of 9. Since then, he has accumulated approximately a half-million to a million negatives.

He recently recognized that about 2,000 of his negatives were in peril. They had begun to crack, coil and become damaged.

“I was alarmed at the rate of the decline. This happens just like cancer. It spreads,” Williams said.

Each of the damaged negatives has to be discarded because they’ve dried out and can catch fire easily.

“Our heritage, our history, our legacy, our culture lies in someone taking the responsibility to save archives like my collection,” he said.

Williams was driven to find a solution to the problem in order to save his negatives.

“I got to thinking about it. I said, ‘Well, with today’s digital cameras, why not take a picture of (the negatives)?’” he said.

The FilmToaster takes a photo of the negatives in less than 5 or 6 seconds, preserving and converting the negative into digital format, which takes less time than the flatbed scanner.

“My product does it faster and with higher resolution,” Williams said.

His invention has “slots” that enable its users to put different sizes of film inside.

“It’s probably the only one in the world that does that,” Williams said.

A replaceable light source is used at the bottom of the FilmToaster.

“This whole unit is completely passive. It has no electricity within itself or any electronic components. Therefore, it won’t go out, neither will it become obsolete,” Williams said.

“Once your negative is digital, then you can put it on the computer. You can add metadata to it. You can use digital asset management software to further identify when it was or who it was in the picture.”

Williams debuted the FilmToaster at the New York Photo Expo in October. About 35,000 photographers attend the expo each year.

The FilmToaster is currently being sold online on Amazon, eBay and on Williams’ website at www.filmtoaster.photography for $2,399.

Within a five-month period, he has sold 63 FilmToasters. He uses Google Analytics to monitor the locations of his potential buyers.

Currently, the machine and its components are made in Nova Scotia.

“Frequently, my customers have questions. I give support also, along with selling of the merchandise,” Williams said. “You have to know something about macro photography to be versatile with this.”

Creating the FilmToaster was about a six-year task for Williams. He is awaiting a provisional patent.

He markets the FilmToaster through his own developing list of potential buyers, such as museums, archiving places and photographers.

The FilmToaster has been mentioned in USA Today and has been described as the “Object of Desire” by PDN Magazine, an award-winning publication for the professional photography industry.

Williams has been appointed the director of Historic Preservation at Claflin University.

“We will have work-study students who will be working with the FilmToaster. They’ll be helping me scan my vast collection of negatives — at the same time, gaining practical experiences,” he said.

Williams was recently selected to receive the Herbert A. DeCosta Jr. Trailblazer Award for extraordinary accomplishments in his profession by the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission.

The award recognizes exceptional achievement by South Carolinians in the arts, science, government, economics and academics. Congressman James “Jim” Clyburn is also a recipient of the Trailblazer Award.

Williams, 78, says it has become extremely difficult to stay ahead in the photo and digital technology world because “everyone thinks they’re a photographer.”

“However, I would call myself a real photographer. I go beyond what a lot of the instant picture-taking does today through cellphones and digital cameras,” he said.

“I think I stay ahead by doing things other people cannot do … “

Williams calls himself the “Energizer Bunny,” saying he doesn’t stop when it comes to his craft.

“I am passionate about history, technology, photography and art,” he said. “I feel that in order to be good at something, you have to go beyond the ordinary amount of time that you devote to it to learn about it, become an expert in it and overcome the challenges that may come about.”


Information from: The Times & Democrat, https://www.timesanddemocrat.com

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