Tracie Williams is a documentary photographer, visual artist, and filmmaker with over nine years of experience in the field, including but not limited to humanitarian efforts in Southeast Asia and protest movements in the United States. Hailing from the deserts of New Mexico and transient by nature, her spirit has brought her from the bays of Australia to the banks of the Mekong River in Laos. She now rests her head in the heart of the beast that is NYC.
Although Williams’ roots are social documentary and street photography, her quest to experiment and discover innovative approaches to the traditional narrative led her to pursue an MFA in Advanced Photographic Studies at ICP-Bard. Last year, she completed an experimental documentary film Fellowship with the UnionDocs Collaborative Studio, based in Brooklyn.
In March, Williams returned from a month-long, self-funded embed in Standing Rock where she was living and documenting the main resistance camp of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, just south of Cannon Ball, North Dakota. On Feb 23, 2017, law enforcement arrived with snipers situated on the roofs of Humvees, dressed in camouflage and armed with automatic weapons to systematically clear the camp. Williams was arrested while covering the militarized raid that took place there, moments after the image of the two Water Protectors praying near the Sacred Fire – with weapons aimed at their heads, point-blank range – was made.
Williams’ camera, audio recorder, memory cards and cell phone were confiscated as evidence. With perseverance and help from a couple of lawyers, several advocacy groups and a local Senator, she managed to get all of her gear back (data intact) literally hours before jumping on a plane back to NYC.
Over the course of the protest movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the state of North Dakota arrested at least 10 journalists and only seven were arrested in Syria during the same time period, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Tracie Williams was charged with “Obstruction of Government Function,” which is a Class A Misdemeanor offense carrying a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and/or $3k fine.
As the emphasis for Williams’ work at Standing Rock was on on those protecting the water while paying homage to the traditional documentary approach, her current project employs non-lens based photo methods to investigate water sources that have been contaminated by industrial waste, uranium mining, and long-term oil spills.
FEED THE FLAME
“Feed the Flame” documents the final three weeks leading up to the eviction on Feb 23rd, 2017 of the Oceti Oyate Camp, formerly known as the Oceti Sakowin Camp, located just south of Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Serving as the epicenter and headquarters for the indigenous led movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline, Oceti Sakowin was the main resistance camp and home to, at one point, thousands of Water Protectors.
Fulfilling a Lakota prophecy of a black snake that would rise from the depths of the earth delivering great sorrow and destruction, the Dakota Access Pipeline’s 1,172-mile route passes through treaty lands of historical and spiritual significance, including sacred burial grounds. The $3.78 billion project is expected to transport crude oil from the Bakken region in North Dakota to an oil tank farm in Patoka, Illinois, running underneath the Missouri River. A rupture in the pipeline would contaminate the primary water supply to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.
The Dakota Access Pipeline protests are defined as an unprecedented moment in history, ignited by the actions of the Lakota youth, of whom united all seven bands of the Lakota-Dakota-Nakota (Sioux) Nation for the first time in over 140 years, along with over 200 tribes and thousands of non-indigenous allies from around the globe for one purpose: to protect the water.
Although the physical encampment has been forcibly removed and the Sacred Fire extinguished, a spiritual fire has been lit among many. As the resistance grows, the fight continues for indigenous, environmental, and humanitarian justice against the expansion of corporate greed.
To view more of Tracie’s work please visit her website.