Visual Storytelling

Through the regular visits of successful, working artists, Middlesex students have many opportunities to take in novel ways of seeing and creating, as well as to learn about the discipline and ingenuity that such a career demands.  Offering to “talk about things you can’t find in a Google search,” visiting artist David Hilliard was generous in sharing not only his inspirations and personal journey but also the practical side of making a living as a fine arts photographer. “I am living proof that you can live a full, exciting life in a creative field,” he assured Middlesex students during his talk on March 5, 2019. “I’m always making, failing, and succeeding.”

Born into a working class family in nearby Lowell, Mr. Hilliard reflected that he was “always drawn to people making visual things.” The local theater initially captured his imagination and became his first creative community – a formative place where, he said, “I found myself as a person. Who we are as people is a huge part of what we make as artists.” Later studying at the Massachusetts College of Art, Mr. Hilliard became a film major and fan of Hitchcock’s style, yet his own “very static” productions led to suggestions that he should check out the photography department. He did – and there, his love of theater, cinematography, and storytelling merged, resulting in his triptych-style photographs that have since been exhibited all over the world, most recently at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

By taking pictures moments apart of his subjects, or by moving the camera’s focal point across a scene, Mr. Hilliard produces series of photos – primarily in groups of three – that “express time or motion or other issues.” As he explained, “Photography gives you the ability to stare. It’s eternal, but it’s mute. The reason I weave the images together is that it tells a story.”

A central subject that Mr. Hilliard continues to explore is his relationship with his divorced parents, particularly his father, whom he described as “a Navy guy and factory worker, yet also a creative force and Renaissance man who embraced his gay son.” While his images are often personal and intimate, they are also respectful. “I think about ethics,” he noted. “When you make something and put it out into the world, you should think about it.”

And while encouraging students to pursue the ideas that they have for pictures, he also urged them to embrace the unexpected. “Sometimes the best things happen when you are surprised,” he said. “Be open to that.”