The world of photographer Chris Tilley can be an uncomfortable one. Looking at his works, you will not find carefully posed, photoshopped models. The viewer is left with the realization that Art and Beauty are not just about fantasy but also what is real and real is not perfection. It is about shaking up ones ideas, provoking change and challenging ones thought process. Art and Beauty are everywhere but you must be willing to see it.
Chris Tilley is a self-trained part-time photographer and classically-trained part-to-full-time musician. Also a composer, lyricist, and occasional playwright, he’s long been interested in art and creation. Despite occasional trysts with photography as a teen and young adult, Chris spent many years avoiding cameras, only recently coming to photography as a serious interest.
1. How did your interest in photography develop?
Really it started only a few years ago, when I got a new cell phone which happened to have a camera. It was a pretty decent camera phone, so I started taking occasional pictures of things I found interesting or pretty — a tree, a building, a sunrise…whatever. I’d post them on facebook, and I got some compliments. People would often be surprised that I’d taken them with a phone. So, with that encouragement, I took more and more.
Then, about 2½ years ago, I happened to find myself significantly underemployed. I wasn’t working on any significant music projects, and I wanted to do something different and interesting. So, I started a blog called “My Naked Blog”. Mostly photos, mostly nudes, mostly self-portraits. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I didn’t feel entirely comfortable asking other people to model for me, so I took pictures of me. It was partly an artistic endeavor and partly a personal socio-political exploration. I’ve described it as being like “coming out of the closet”. I was basically saying to the world, “Hey, some people already know this, but…I tend to be naked if I’m home. It’s not a big deal. Everyone has a body and this is mine. It’s totally okay to have a body, not be afraid or ashamed of it, and we should all embrace that.”
I also did some writing in the blog — sort of “reviews” of nudity in TV, movies, plays, etc.—and nudity in the news. Not at all a tacky, pornographic thing, just an open and frank discussion to do with nakedness and a bit of commentary on the always ridiculous, sometimes confusing, and often unhealthy attitudes about nudity (and sex) in our culture.
I learned a lot by photographing myself, and eventually I got a cheap digital point and click camera. Then I started asking a few friends to model for me. Most said “no” a few said “yes”. By that point I was doing nudes and clothed pictures and a lot more other non-people pictures and doing some editing on my computer. And the more I did it, the more I enjoyed it. Only last year did I buy what I call my “grown-up camera” — a DSLR camera. So, it’s all still sort of new for me.
2. How would you describe your photography style?
I tend to want to photograph things that the average person might not notice or pay attention to — things that you don’t always see. That might be some random item someone discarded on the side of the road, or maybe road kill. (We never see dead things in our culture. It’s like we’re completely afraid of it. It’s a real problem.) I definitely have an attraction for abandoned buildings. And I think that same impulse to look at and show the things that we don’t always see is connected to my interest in nudes and part of the reason I started that blog a few years ago — to uncover and say, “Look, this is what’s here. Don’t be afraid of it.”
I terms of aesthetics, I tend to go dark. That’s subject matter but also the way I edit. The sort of bright and shiny commercial look just doesn’t go well with my personality. And the sort of extreme photoshopping of people’s bodies and skin tone and all that is just offensive to my aesthetic sense. I don’t want to make people or things fit some ridiculous unreal idea of “perfection”. I want to show things that we’re not used to seeing or thinking about.
Now, when working with people, I find myself not just wanting them to pose for me, but wanting to sort of uncover something about them, who they are. I’m not sure how well I’m succeeding at that, but it’s something I’ve been thinking on lately.
3. As an artist, what do you find inspiring?
Something direct and honest, especially a person who is open and direct and unashamed.
Something beautiful but not glossy or fake.
Something I haven’t seen, or haven’t seen in quite that way.
4. How do you think you have changed since starting photography?
I definitely look at things with a more purposeful eye. I look around at things and people more.
I remember several times, a year or so after I really started taking a lot of pictures and after just a few people had modeled for me, when I found myself looking around at people’s faces and bodies and how they walked and moved, and I wanted to photograph them all.
5. What do you think the job of a good photograph is? What should it do?
Well…there are different ways that people use photography. There’s the documentary photo that just says, “This is something that happened.” Whether it was some major event that’s headline newsworthy, or your child’s birthday party, It’s a “moment” that someone thinks is worth “capturing”. It’s something you want to share with your friends and relatives or with the entire world, or maybe just put away in an album to look at again in 5 or 10 or 50 years. I think that’s a perfectly valid sort of photo.
As for me and the kind of photos I want to take, I think my attitude comes from my music background. Some music or films or photographs may be mostly entertainment. It serves the purpose of a pleasant pastime. And that’s important, because we humans seem to want to experience things, sometimes in a mostly shallow way. That’s fine. It’s okay that those works aren’t necessarily deep, but they should still be as good and interesting as one can make them.
But other times we humans want more. We want sounds or stories or images that move us in some deeper way. So those kinds of work may have deeper meaning. But even so, many of those more “artistic” works can also be enjoyed on a surface level – “Look, isn’t that pretty or interesting or sad…and now I’m moving on to something else.”
I happen to think that the best photographs (or other works of art and entertainment) do both.
6. Which photographers do you admire the most?
Honestly, while I do look online for things that grab my attention, make me stop and look, admire, think a bit, I don’t “follow” a lot of photographers and try to see everything they do. We’re so inundated with images (and music and movies, etc), and it’s so easy to find hundreds, thousands of images; you just need internet access. It can be overwhelming.
But here are some names I responded to positively when I discovered them:
Jock Sturges – His beautiful pictures of everyday, casual nudity I found very compelling.
Spencer Tunick – I really like his earlier work with individuals and small groups. I’ve not seen any recent work of his, except the large, record-breaking “installations” which are really neat.
There’s a photographer named Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, who does mostly portrait work — famous actors, athletes, politicians. They’re very nice portraits, but I only remember him because of his photos in a book called XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits, which has 30 sets of 2 pictures each of the same subject. One picture is clothed and the other nude, and they’re in the same pose (as much as possible). All the subjects are stars of pornographic films. I was fascinated by the different “persona” portrayed in the two pictures. It was the same person clothed and nude, but it was like they were different characters. I’ve seen similar things since then, but never done as well.
When I was in college and for several years after, I was looking into painters. I almost always preferred early to mid-20th century painters who painted people in some non-realistic style. Two favorites that come to mind were Egon Schiele and Amedeo Modigiani. I found them sad and beautiful and compelling.
7. You meet someone considering a career in photography- What do you say? Advice?
Take lots of pictures. Look at them, even the bad ones — especially the bad ones — and figure out why you think some are good and some bad.
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
If you have an expensive camera, great. If you don’t, use what you have and learn what you can from that.
8. Parting thoughts/quotes/warnings/words?
Well, here’s a warning from my life. If you do nude self-portraits, be aware that you may lose a lot of friends on facebook, and even in real life. You may also sometimes get creepy, stupid anonymous comments on your blog. You may even lose work, despite your photography having nothing at all to do with your other employment.
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