John Brill: A Pioneer in Outsider Photography - RAW VISION

John Brill: A Pioneer in Outsider Photography

First published: Winter 2015

Within the broader world of Outsider Art, a specialised area of research and investigation has begun to emerge, one that examines photos made by self-taught photographers. It is still too early to tell if it might take off and spawn an active, new field among collectors, but recently some examples of the kinds of works on which it focuses have surfaced at art fairs and other venues.


In the United States, the American John Brill is an emblematic creator of what is becoming known as “Outsider Photography”. Like makers of other forms of Outsider Art, Brill, who is 64 years old, is completely self-taught in the use of the equipment, materials and techniques he employs to produce his photographic works. Based in New Jersey, where he was born and grew up in a large, Italian-American family, Brill obtained his first camera, which was made of Bakelite plastic and used 620-size roll film, when he was eight years old. He did not go to art school but instead attended Colgate College in central New York State, where he earned an undergraduate degree in physiological psychology. His training in that subject area, he explained in a recent interview, “was rooted in an empirical, scientific point of view.” He said, “As I’ve gotten older, I haven’t jettisoned that empirical approach but I have augmented it with introspection. Now, with age, everything does not appear to be either/or. I’ve learned that a lot of what one sees in the world has to be viewed along a continuum.”



That more expansive way of observing his environment and finding ambiguity in it may well be reflected in the mysterious, imprecise, curious photographic images Brill creates. Often ghostly or enveloped in light-saturated mists or shape-shifting clouds of light, the vaguely recognisable human faces or bodies that appear in his pictures are the most fleeting of subjects.


This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #88

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