Paul Williams for Sports Illustrated

Paul Williams

Some assignments change your perspective. Photographing former boxing champ Paul “The Punisher” Williams a few weeks ago was one of them. The assignment was to take a few portraits of Williams for Sports Illustrated’s annual “Where Are They Now?” issue, which published this week. Williams, who had an impressive 41-2 career as a boxer, was paralyzed following a 2012 motorcycle accident in Marietta, Ga. I photographed him at the Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center in Atlanta.

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I shot most of the photos with the wheelchair playing a minimal role.  This was important, considering the fact that he’s in a chair does not define who he is. I didn’t have a whole lot of direction for the shoot from SI Director of Photography Brad Smith, except “shoot it clean.” I only had a short time to scout a location at the spine center, and ultimately decided on shooting against a white wall in the office reception area of the third floor. It worked out perfectly … it wasn’t out of the way for Williams and it was enough space to fit a couple lights in. Ideally, I would have had a 9-foot seamless background, but there’s not always time and space for that.

Williams was easy to work with and a natural in front of the camera. His sense of humor and humility are a big part of who he is, and I believe, are very important when dealing with tragedy. In an interview with Showtime Boxing’s Jim Gray, Williams said “I’m just chilling in a wheelchair because I got tired of walking … that’s what I tell people.” Click on the image below to see the full interview.

Paul Williams

Williams has relied heavily on his faith throughout the ordeal. It’s one thing to hear someone talk about how they God is instrumental their life and another thing altogether to witness it. There are so many things in the life I take for granted every day and seeing this man, whose life was so devastatingly changed that summer day when he collided with a oncoming car. Williams reminded me that happiness comes from deep within. “Walking or not walking, my game ain’t over til the Lord take my life,” he told Gray in the interview.

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Above: How SI used Williams’ portrait in the iPad edition. Below: The print edition.

Paul Williams


  1. Reply
    Joanie L July 11, 2014

    I bet that day was an easy gratitude check day. Thanks for sharing your time and talent. Joanie

    • Reply
      Kevin Liles July 21, 2014

      Thanks Joanie!

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