Samuel R. J. Gillilan is an artist, photographer, author, educator, and explorer. He views photography as a form of mediation that helps him connect to his surroundings creatively. Samuel’s most recent photography series, ‘Muse’ was highly inspired by stories of mythology from cultures all around the world, mostly presented in portrait form with a focus on women throughout the ages.
What inspired you to do a series on muses?
I am highly inspired by stories of mythology from cultures all around the world. They show us roots, traditions, ideas, and ways of living a life well-lived. This series comes
from my studies and love for mythology and art through the ages. Truthfully, the amazing people in this series have been the greatest inspiration for this body of work.
What inspires you generally?
The people close to me in my life are definitely the most inspiring. I am truly grateful for each and every one of them. Ancient philosophy and newer ideas on quantum physics also inspire my work. When I turn inward for inspiration, I find it most often in meditation; this translates to art or ideas that are useful in my creative work.
How do you like to work?
Quickly and accurately. I love to show up with a solid plan. This makes a project flow with so much ease for everyone on set. I will often flow with ideas from the crew involved in a project; collaborative improvisation creates pure magic.
What themes do you pursue?
I shoot a lot of fashion editorials and documentary work overall. This is ideal for me; I love the realism of documentary work around the world, and I love the creative freedom within fashion editorial imagery. People, objects and nature that express the spirit of life are common themes. Reverence and geometry are also themes in my work but on a more subtle level.
What makes a good picture stand out from the average?
Composition. It can be a photograph of nearly anything; with the right components in the composition, an image can convey a far greater story.
What type of cameras do you shoot with?
I shoot Leica M systems. The rangefinder helps me think differently when composing a photograph. I have lovingly used many over the years.
I had three Leica M9 models over time. But in 2018, I eventually traded these both in and found an M-P (Typ 240) from the amazing photographer, Matthew Nordman (founder of These Streets Magazine) based in Los Angeles. The M-P traveled around the globe with me and using the M-P began a turning point in my work towards symbolic themes in my documentary and fashion photography.
When Leica released the M10-D, I understood the possibilities of enhancing my meditation through photography with this camera. It is completely digital with modern wireless capabilities through the Leica FOTOS app. It behaves like a film camera with no screen and only an EV compensation on the back, allowing me to fully trust myself to capture the moment accurately.
Which is your favourite lens? And why?
I shot with the Leica Summicron-M 35mm for nearly two years exclusively. If I had to choose, it would be that lens. I learned to see in 35mm frame lines with extensive use of that lens.
I have a wide portfolio of M lenses, and the APO-Summicron-M 50mm is perhaps equally my favourite. This lens is considered the crown lens of Leica, and I would totally agree! The way the APO renders colour and contrast tones is incredible. I used this lens for all the images in my book ‘Asana: Into the Himalayas’ on an expedition to Mt. Everest in March 2020.
What kind of tools do you use for post-processing?
In 2018, my entire workflow moved to mobile platforms. I started this experiment with an M-P (Typ 240) and an iPhone. With this workflow, I can output high-quality imagery to clients, media, and other outlets quickly. I currently am using the Leica FOTOS app with an Apple iPad Pro to Adobe Lightroom for post-processing images.
How has your practice changed over time?
I am far more observant of life as a result of my art and chosen tools to capture a moment in time. I have cultivated a patient approach to bringing the right moment to light. My Leica M10-D behaves similarly to a traditional film camera with the advantages of digital output. And as a result, I make more precise photographs.
Explore more of Samuel’s work on Instagram.
Or discover his book ‘Muse’ here.