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A Breath of Light: The Contemporary Platinum Print Paperback – January 1, 1986


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Thomas Shillea - American 1947

A native Pennsylvanian, Thomas John Shillea began drawing at the age of two. Throughout his childhood he made thousands of photorealistic drawings and thus eventually earned a BS in Art Ed. from Kutztown University. Talented in a variety of media from painting to design he taught high school art until he finally decided to earn an MFA at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

During his graduate work at RIT he studied museum practices in the Exhibition Department at the George Eastman House. This experience introduced him to the platinum photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Session photographers. Once aware of the power and beauty of the platinum print, Shillea began a journey of mastering this exquisite photographic process, which he has continued to pursue for over three decades.

While interning at the Eastman House he researched some long-forgotten chemical formulas for platinotypes that were no longer taught in the RIT curricula. At that time he also began using a classic 8x10" view camera and printing exclusively in platinum for his fine art.

After earning his MFA in Photography, Shillea continued to pursue his scholarly research. He was granted access to the laboratories of the British company Johnson-Matthey, purveyors and refiners of platinum metals, and collaborated with their scientist for a period of a year and a half. It was this company that was instrumental in the development of the original Platinotype process supplying William Willis the platinum metal compounds necessary to make his patented paper in 1873.
Shillea's extensive research lead to the publication of his two books: The History of the Platinum Print and The Instruction Manual For The Platinum Printing Process. These books have been cited hundreds of times in reference texts on the history of photography as well as photographic processes and were likely instrumental in the resurgence of the process in the 1980s.

During his extensive career, Shillea was invited to work with the United States Information Agency in Washington, D.C. on a project titled "Gallery of Famous Americans" during which he photographed President Ronald Reagan, civil-rights leader Coretta Scott King, Academy Award winning actor Sissy Spacek and American publisher, Malcolm Forbes. He has photographed other celebrities, including legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, US Olympic cycling medalist Davis Phinney and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. His photographs are included in over a dozen major fine art museums and universities including the George Eastman House, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The National Portrait Gallery, The National Museum of African American History and Culture (The Smithsonian), The Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and The Rochester Institute of Technology among others.

He was actively involved in advertising photography and design during his career, and served as president of both an advertising photography business and an advertising design company, both located in Philadelphia. Pa. Some of his clients included Mellon Bank, GlaxoSmith-Kline, Pfizer pharmaceuticals, The Pennsylvania Ballet, Wawa Foods, The Franklin Mint, and Vanguard Mutual Funds. He also worked as a creative consultant with Applied Graphics Technology, Inc. in New York City.

Shillea was a professor in the Applied Photography Program at RIT and has extensively conducted lectures and workshops on the Platinotype process throughout the country. He has exhibited in over 40 exhibitions including a 2010 retrospective highlighting masters of the process at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "The Platinum Process-Photographs From the 19th and 20th Centuries". He continues his work as a fine art photographer, educator, art historian, professor and administrator. In the last 15 years his philosophy of giving back has resulted in his role as the Director of Art Programs at Northampton Community College, in Bethlehem, PA. He has made a major impact by building robust art programs with over 30 faculty instructing almost 500 students enrolled in communication design, fine art and web development curricula per semester. He also supervises the art gallery exhibits at the college, which present the artwork of local, regional and nationally recognized artists. In addition, he serves on the InVision Photo Festival committee, which brings nationally recognized photographers into Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley for the purpose of education and exhibition.

Artists whom have had the most influence on Shillea's art: Delacroix, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Stieglitz and Steichen. The majority of his archive focuses on portraits, still life, and figure studies. His work of the last 3 years concentrates on photomontage incorporating use of his 100-year-old 8x10" view camera, a 35mm camera, and flat bed scanner. The result is printed in large scale ink prints and some in platinum as well.

Shillea is a strict vegetarian, an animal rights activist and resides with his 4 Italian Greyhound rescues and wife, fine art dealer, Santa Bannon. Bannon represents Shillea's work at her gallery, SANTA BANNON / Fine Art, located in Bethlehem, PA about 90 minutes outside of New York City. Shillea's work can be viewed at www.thomasshilleaphotography.com or www.santafineart.com .

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