Creative Pixels

Mark Hillyer: Dissipating the Fog

by Mark Hillyer
photographer based in Melbourne, Australia

This essay is an exploration of my creativity.

Photography is a fickle creative outlet for me. Sometimes a passion, sometimes not. I’m a native of Melbourne, Australia, and photography has been something that has ebbed and flowed throughout my life from childhood and the family Kodak Box Brownie, through film and transparency SLRs (Olympus), and into the digital era (Canon and now Sony). Pretty much self-taught along the way.

There is a fragility to my creativity. The constant flux of my mental, emotional, and physical stamina strongly influence how engaged I am with the outside world or connected with the models I work with. Acquired aphantasia took away my ability to visualise in my mind’s eye.  Depression and other chronic illnesses frequently play their hand. My creativity is thus a process of the pieces in front of me. In the studio I prefer the simplicity of model, one or two lights, and a plain background. Outdoors is more about contrasts and textures. Abstraction, movement, flow, emotion, personality, softness, sensuality, and negative space appeal.

This essay is about discarding the mental baggage and letting my creativity soar.

Selecting the images for the essay that accompanies this text has been much more than just “selecting” the images. It has been a process of going through my 120-odd art nude photo-shoots with a fresh eye and without the fog of depression and self-doubt that led me to reject so many images in the past. Finding the gems that no-one has seen before, including – in a figurative way – me.

It is the immediacy of photography that I love. I am a perfectionist. I need to be in the moment as much as my subject needs to be. I try to get things right in camera but can spend time tweaking the crop until it’s just right. To me, aspect ratio is also just as important as any of the other tools of composition. Most of all, moods, expressions, and the model’s “presence” are extremely important. I get frustrated – and often deflated – if I haven’t captured “the moment”. This can be the difference between the model breathing in or breathing out, but never holding it. I need to catch the right moment. Flowing though poses. I need to catch the right moment. Presence needs to be in “anonymous” bodyscapes. Character and personality in art nude if it suits the style of the image I am seeking. Break the rules? Certainly. But what are the rules? Something made up to be ignored? In a way, but in most cases they are simply attempts to document or explain what happens in that incredible image processing and pattern recognition system that is the human brain. In some people it is intuitive; in some it is strong but needs guidance; in some it is weaker and needs a framework. 

Helping others observe and “see” what is in front of them is something I love doing. An awful lot of photography seems to be about striving for technical perfection or artful imperfection, often neglecting the “soul” of the image. Seeing and understanding subtleties of moods, motion, or emotions in the subject and how they relate to the story being told are paramount.

Do I have particular styles or influences? Many and few from the history of art, photography, and cinema, but they don’t always come to mind. I shoot what I like and (occasionally) like what I shoot. The Australian artist Norman Lindsay is always an inspiration, though not necessarily an influence: A powerful intellect, immensely creative, with a sharp sense of humour, and a willingness to subvert art traditions. And, above all, a particular fondness for poking and provoking the wowsers: the self-important, self-appointed arbiters of “community standards”. Sound familiar?


    I passionately believe that the future of professional photography is in the areas that we still have advantages over technology – connection, imagination, creativity, passion, energy, soul, and – most of all – knowing how to use the technological tools, be it the equipment, framing, perspective, and creative (and relevant) post-processing. And over it all, a sense of fun, energy, a healthy dose of a sense of the absurd – and leaving the ego at the door.


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