Concord, MA, 2019
My interest in photography began as a teenager and has continued unabated over the past 50 years. My work consists of 10-20 print portfolios produced around a particular theme or visual idea. When I am looking for a new theme, I cast around exploring many possibilities, feeling somewhat disoriented. However, when I get a kernel of an idea, I start developing it, and a portfolio will evolve over time.
My earliest work was a documentary series on youth in Lowell, Massachusetts. These were black and white images from poor neighborhoods in Lowell, where I was working as a counselor. Another early series focused on beach grasses and seaweed that resembled Chinese Calligraphy, and a third sought to capture the sculptural quality of trees and hedges.
My photographs have often come from areas where I was doing professional work in economic development, such as Africa and the Middle East. For instance, in one series I superimposed images of African dance masks onto images of contemporary African landscapes and cityscapes and then hand-painted the images. This series emphasized the primitive strength of African art and its environment. In another series, I reworked Egyptian hieroglyphics by hand-painting black and white images to capture a musical fluidity in the hieroglyphics.
More recently, my work has used a grid structure to construct new images from pieces of many photographs. My desire was to create a new world from the repetition of many small squares. These images resemble mosaics. The technique was applied to carvings on headstones in New England, to ruins in Jordan, to the sculpture and architecture of Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona, and finally to the works in the sculpture gardens at the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. These photo-constructions sought to create an other-worldliness and spirituality while taking your eyes on a visual journey.
My new work has focused on the beauty and sculptural quality of rocks and boulders in Joshua Tree National Park in California.
I believe that each image should transcend its topic and have visual life, usually stemming from movement and rhythm.
John Tilney, Concord, MA