Combining Images Across Time and Place to Tell a Single Story

The Photo Blog
July 25 2014 11:22 AM

Combining Images Across Time and Place to Tell a Single Story

Mary Remembering.
Mary Remembering (2008).

David Hilliard

This post contains nudity.

David Hilliard’s vibrant, multipanel images find a delicate and unique balance between fact and fiction. Combining frames from his four-by-five view camera shot at different times, Hilliard creates composite panoramic images that are seemingly fluid, but instead form a narrative that shifts between time and place. These escapist photographs focus on the ideas of masculinity, identity, and personal relationships through a cinematic style of portraiture.

“Photography, with all of its mechanical dumbness, is believable, right? But when you piece [images] together, there is a lot happening between the moments that you just don’t know. It could be a day or a second. That was amazing to me when I first started to figure it out,” Hilliard said. “[This style] seemed to be the best of everything. It could be cinematic, it could be photographic, it could be fiction, and it could be performance.”

Rock Bottom.
Rock Bottom (2008).

David Hilliard

Daybooks (2009).

David Hilliard

Game of Go.
Game of Go (2002).

David Hilliard


Although both his father and grandfather were hobbyist photographers—his father even cut and pasted photos together in a similar style—he wasn’t always interested in photography. Hilliard was inspired by an attempt to rise out of the boredom of his lower-middle-class suburban childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, and he originally attended Massachusetts College of Art and Design in the late ’80s as a film student.

“My films were very static. I realized my favorite parts were the most mundane, when I would linger on an object, because I liked to stare at something rather than move through it,” Hilliard said. “It was politely suggested that I was in the wrong department.”

Thus Hilliard came to photography and the multipanel style. Later, while getting his MFA at Yale, he studied with photographers who shot in the panoramic style, and he gradually honed the technical aspect of the medium. The growth of his personal connection, which has kept him shooting in the medium, began around the same time with one of his first three-panel images.

“When I was in college I made a triptych of my parents, the three of us having dinner together. But my parents had been divorced for years and they would never be in the same room,” Hilliard said.

It shows Hilliard in the center with his mother and father in separate panels on either side.

And So It Goes.
And So It Goes (2009).

David Hilliard

Buried Hatchet.
Buried Hatchet (2011).

David Hilliard

“I loved it. It was so empowering for me to create this theater. And in the end it was a truth, in that I wish it could’ve been that way, but it wasn’t,” Hilliard said. “It was almost like I created this therapeutic photograph that acted as closure.”

Hilliard’s intimate association with this style of work is still very present. The vague, elusive narratives are a careful look at the human condition in which viewers can project their own experience.

“If you break [my photographs] down, yes, they are different moments in time. But I don’t know if I think that much about it. It’s just about delivering an identity. It’s about leaving the viewer with a feeling,” Hilliard said. “My work, I hope, at its best, strikes a balance between a truth and fiction. In the end it’s a truth, but there is an element of theater that leads to that truth.”

Minor Matters Books will publish Hilliard’s newest monograph, What Could Be, in November. The semi-autobiographical book looks at different pockets of his work focusing specifically on family, personal discovery, and the nuances of masculinity.

Home, Office, Evening, Day.
Home, Office, Evening, Day (2006).

David Hilliard

A selection of his photographs will also be on display at the Schoolhouse Gallery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 17.

No More Tears.
No More Tears (2012).

David Hilliard



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.