THE CREATIVE CIRCLE
IN CONVERSATION WITH JOHN LILLIE
John Lillie is not only a photographer, he is also very athletic. He was a triathlete for a few years, and interestingly that is what sparked his interest in photography, indirectly - when he launched his own triathlon magazine, which he edited for a number of years. Now retired and living in Spain he has immersed himself in photography. It gives him the chance to be creative and to make images. His focus is to take a picture that combines design, information and emotion.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you become interested in photography?
I am an English man, 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.
What do you want to express through your photography? And what are some of the elements that you always try to include in your photographs?
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 mind-set.
Do you have a favorite place to photograph?
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.
Do you have favorite artists/photographers?
I am influenced 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.
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?
I look at people; not landscapes, not architecture, not animals, just humans.
What are some of your goals as an artist? Where do you see yourself or do you hope to see yourself in five years?
I like to print and hang my pictures in public spaces, it completes the creative circle.
“When I am not out photographing, I (like to)…
To keep moving; I still do my best to keep fit."