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February 22, 2021


Photography by John Lillie
Interview by Melanie Meggs

John Lillie is a man of many talents. From his years as a triathlete to his lifelong passion for photography, his story is one of profound transformation and artistic discovery. John found himself inspired by the world of triathlon, captivated by its challenge and energy. As he immersed himself in the sport, he quickly developed an entrepreneurial spirit and launched his own triathlon magazine. However, it was not until he bought a camera to capture images for the magazine that his passion for photography truly blossomed. Since then, John has dedicated himself to the craft, taking summer courses at St Martins Art College and immersing himself in street and portrait photography. Now retired and living in Spain, he has been able to bring his creative vision to life through his work. His focus is to make images that combine design, information and emotion. John’s dedication has paid off; in 2020, he had six exhibitions of his work in galleries and exhibition spaces. His passion for capturing the beauty of everyday life has only grown and he continues to explore creativity and experimentation as he further develops his craft.

“From my days of producing a print magazine each photo I took back then would involve some forward planning; how I would use the picture, where it would go, landscape, portrait or double page spread, all these options would be considered. Also, using film and paying for every frame, plus the processing fees, kept my shot rate low. I continue with this same mindset.”


TPL: John please tell us about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?

JL: I am an Englishman, born in 1945. In my youth my passion was cycle racing. After racing I had various businesses - I have always been self employed. While working I still rode my bike and also played squash which led me into triathlon. I was a triathlete for a few years (a four times Ironman finisher).

One day I was so disgruntled with the existing triathlon media that on a whim I started my own triathlon magazine (it still exists). I did not have a budget to pay for pictures so I bought a camera. This is how I became interest in photography. I stopped being the editor after 7 years but kept my Canon EOS1s and said goodbye to Fujifilm Velvia and gave up taking snaps.

Twenty years later (2015) I bought a used Fujifil XT1 with pancake lens and walked around taking pictures of my locale. By now I was retired and living in Spain. Since then I have immersed myself in photography. To get some education, I have taken various summer courses at St Martins Art College in London, specialising in street and portrait photography.

A little while ago I started printing and framing my best pictures, I liked seeing them in print so much that I put my energies into finding galleries and exhibition spaces. I have had six exhibitions in 2020.

TPL: When you go out to photograph, do you have a concept in mind of what you want to photograph, or do you just let the images 'come to you', or is it both?

JL: I look at people; not landscapes, not architecture, not animals, just humans.

TPL: Do you have a favorite place(s) to photograph?

JL: Somewhere new, different from home, a busy place, probably any foreign city, the more foreign the better. In 2019 I visited Kathmandu, a dirty, dusty, poor beleaguered city. But full of wonderful, amazing and beautiful Nepalese people. I made a collection of pictures that I am proud of, I hope to revisit one day.

I look at people; not landscapes, not architecture, not animals, just humans.

TPL: Do you have any favorite artists or photographers you would like to share with us, and the reason for their significance?

JL: I am inspired by many famous photographers and I regularly buy books (mostly second hand) but these four I like a lot: Mary Ellen Mark for her storytelling, André Kertész for his graphic design, Philippe Halsman for being astonishing and Duane Michals for a bit of all of them.

Looking at some of these classic photos inspired me to take similar pictures which led me to a series of Homages - It’s fun to make a very similar but not a carbon copy of the original. I had my friends dress as Picasso and emulated the Robert Doisneau photo with bread in place of Picasso’s hands. I was visiting friends in Bali and bread wasn’t easy available so a couple of Picasso's had bananas for hands.

TPL: What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or do you hope to see yourself in five years?

JL: I like to print and hang my pictures in public spaces, it completes the creative circle.

TPL: When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…

JL: To keep moving; I still do my best to keep fit.

John Lillie's story is one of dedication, creativity, and resilience. His transformation from triathlete to award-winning photographer is inspiring, and a testament to the power of hard work and passion. John has dedicated his life to capturing the beauty of everyday life, and his work has been recognized in exhibitions across the world. He continues to explore and develop his craft, and we can't wait to see what else he produces. To get more familiar with John's photography, be sure to view his work through the links below.

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