Review – John Hilliard

Brief:- Images in Sequence. What defines a sequence, as opposed to a series, is the connectivity of the images in time or concept. Make sure that you are clear about the difference between a series and sequence. Photographers have used sequences of images in many different ways.

John Hilliard (1945)

Sixty Seconds of Light 1970 by John Hilliard born 1945Fig. 1. Sixty Seconds of Light (1970)

Initial thoughts – This is a hard sequence for me to get to grips with. There are 12 photos, displayed in a line on a gallery wall. Each image shows a clock, and after looking very closely I can see that there is a time progression that flows through the series, in five-minute intervals from 12.05 through to 12.00. The images start off dark and then becoming increasingly lighter with the passing of time. This suggests that the exposure also gets progressively longer with each passing five minute passage of time. There is an obvious time and light sequence, is there a perceptual one. What springs to mind is moving from night to day, from death to life, or from life to death with the ethereal ghosting effect that increases with the exposure. I am more inclined to go along with the second, because the symbology feels more accurate. The lack of colour or warmth, do not suggest to me that it’s about the day or even progression of seasons. There has to be a metaphorical meaning though. The sequence is too dull and non distinct to purely be about the passing of time.

Sixty Seconds of Light was the foundation for Hilliard’s future works “Camera Recording its Own Condition” (1971) and “The Twelve Representations of White” (1973). The Tate catalogue Entry (1975) Reports that Hilliard had used a dark room clock as the subject of the photos, and whilst developing the negatives he increased the time of exposure to the developer in five second increments (the clock hand that moves in the sequence is the second hand, not the minute hand), as well as increasing the exposure time by five seconds (shutter speed) whilst taking the photos. Hilliard believed that the camera does lie, and that any photo that is taken is not a representation of “Truth”One factor that led to Hilliard’s concern with this theme was his consciousness, beginning when he was still a sculptor, of the extreme inadequacy of the often single photograph by which a sculpture was better known than it was in three dimensions, to convey the reality of the work’s appearance, despite the strong impression of reality given by each photograph.” (The Tate Catalogue Entry, 1975)

Jennifer Quick writes “The work of John Hilliard (b1945), like that of many conceptual artists, problematizes photography’s relationship to fact. Hilliard’s photographs, such as Cause of Death? (1974), point towards a future that has become a reality in which digitally altered imagery is the dominant mode”  (Hacking, J; 2014; 413)

The ideas that relate to photography as a representation of truth, photography as a distortion of truth, photography as art, conceptual photography, and the modern-day compulsion to film or photograph every event and therefore miss the experience, are relatively new to me. Reading, studying, following the blogs of OCA degree students (many of their blog posts explore these themes) are opening my eyes and mind to what photography is or is not, depending upon your perspective. However I have to say that this intrigue is an intellectual one at the moment, and I don’t find the sequences of Hilliard as being something that I wish to photographically explore or emulate.



Figure 1; Hilliard, J; 1970; Sixty Second of Light [Gelatin silver prints on paper]; AT: (accessed on 23/02/2018)

Feature Image; Hilliard, J; March 2016 – May 2016; John Hilliard “Town and Country”; AT: Brescia: Massimo Mini; AT:


Hacking, J; 2014; Photography the Whole Story; London; Thames and Hudson

Tate Catalogue Entry; 1975; John Hilliard, Sixty Seconds of Light 1970; Online AT: (accessed on 23/02/2018)

4 Replies to “Review – John Hilliard”

  1. Yes, I agree, there is definitely a more metaphorical meaning to this sequence. I believe that the very fact it raises so many questions and lends different meanings that your mind starts to wonder what is it that the artist wants to convey. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, especially since I have been so out of touch that it’s both wonderful and refreshing to read about it again. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As always a thorough, personal and thought provoking review. In my professional life we used to say “…pain is what the patient says it is… not what the practitioner thinks it ought to be..” and treated accordingly.
    As I too explore photography I think I could adapt this idea …….
    Thank you, and to Archna for these ideas and thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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