Jason Scott Tilley Artist Talk – The Beautiful People Project

On 11th November 2013, we had guest photographer Jason Scott Tilley come in to talk to us about his 14 year long project and a project that he wants to start in the near future. All of the notes that I took from this lecture can be found below:

Jason Scott Tilley


  • From Coventry
  • Always interested in photography – grandfather loves photography
  • Did darkroom course at the age of 14
  • Left school without any o-levels apart from one in Art – severe dyslexic, but is intelligent
  • In the right place at the right time – Coventry Newspaper reporter
  • Had to go back to school at the age of 20 – had to have an English o-level to be sent to Sheffield to do journalism
  • Like to produce his own material
  • Pushed himself to do other things

Portraits from India – 1999-2009

  • 1799 – pacification of the British in southern India (Anglo Indians)
  • Before 1857 – British soldiers stayed in India and started families
  • 1798 great great great great grandfather came to India
  • Lieutenant James Scott (great great great grandfather)
  • Algernon Scott (great great grandfather)
  • Bert (Bertram) Scott (grandfather) was born in Bangalore in 1915
    • Studied photography in 1930
    • Studied for a year
    • 1936 – The Times of India newspaper in Bombay
    • Moved from Bangalore to Bombay
    • Met wife Dolly in Delhi
    • Photographed Ghandi walking along Juhu beach
    • Became an army officer – intelligence gatherer
    • Allowed to live on Vicregal lodge – lucky enough to photography Lord and Lady Mountbatten symbolizing the end of the Empire
    • Had to leave everything behind – only took clothes and photographs
    • Helped to smuggle people across the boarder – one of them later saved his life
    • Came to Coventry
  • Indian independence in 1947
  • Back to Bangalore in 1999
    • Worked with Channel 4
    • Took him back to places he wanted to go back to
    • Dolly didn’t want to go back because she had lovely memories and didn’t want them to be ruined
    • Found graves and the houses of people within the family



  • The Projects itself
    • Richard Milligan’s project – Raise a Laugh
    • Corinne Day
    • Thought his grandfather had thrown his negatives away – wanted his own negatives of India
    • Liked creating prints
    • Inspired by – Edward Sheriff Curtis, August Sanders, Irving Penn
    • Wanted to get back into street portraiture
    • Went back in 2002
    • Pete James – Birmingham Library
      • Invited him to go to Rhubarb Rhubarb
      • £600 bursary
      • Met book publishers at a portfolio viewing
      • Saw a connection to “The People of India” work – 1868?
        • 460 photographs
        • Sent 12 army officers out and taught them the new technology of photography
        • Where can he take this project to the next level?
        • It was work that he wanted to create, it wasn’t commissioned
        • Started with following the footsteps of his grandfather
        • Adapted idea to follow the footsteps of the 1868 photographers
  • What the exhibition is going to be in the end
    • Three huge archives to work from – “The People of India” work, grandfathers images, his images
    • Booked in for September 2014 – The Herbert Art Gallery
    • Want to try to show the connection between the three archives
    • Want to take it to India





New Project:

  • Photographed transgender community in India – used to earn their money by dancing at ceremonies
  • British made it illegal for these transgender relationships
  • Huge problem – lots of these men now work in prostitution, and Aids is now spreading through families
  • Perhaps use a studio
  • Tell personal stories of the men that he’s photographing
  • Street portraits – always street portraits
  • Possibly sell images from exhibition – wait to build up the publicity
    • Have limited edition prints that he is selling for £100 each – but wants to wait as he think he can sell them for more
    • It isn’t enough just to be a photographer anymore
  • How do we work out the price?
    • Timing
    • Needs to equal the annual salary
    • Most people do not sell all of their images
    • Needs to realize the investment he is making
    • Look at the reality
    • If your work is in a collection, it increases your status but decreases the value
    • Where is the value within your projects?
    • Need to consider value in a range of different ways

Crowd funding – funding organizations