“I have always had a love for the complexity, diversity and beauty within humanity,” says John Boaz. Originally hailing from Northampton, the recent Birmingham City University graduate is a documentary and portrait photographer working mainly with medium format film, aiming to capture the complexity and beauty of humanity. His most recent project, Our Father, captures the members of monastic communities that are still active in Britain today, mixing both visual observation and meditation.
It seems like John is constantly gripped by moments of beauty and poetry, creating contemplative work that perhaps seems closer to the practice of painting than the networked form of photography that has become ubiquitous today. In a sublime, almost pastoral moment, his photographic eye was awakened. “I was originally captivated by photography on a beautiful evening with the golden hour-light streaming through rolling fields whilst deer were grazing on the field,” John tells It’s Nice That. “I asked one of my friends if I could use their camera. I was so captivated by the beautiful light.”
“I mainly photograph work that is based on groups, communities, faith and religion, but also concepts and subjects that helps me understand and reflect on things,” John says. “I try to take an approach that is sensitive and respectful to the subject,” he continues. His shift to medium format is therefore complementary to the fragile moments that he tries to document. “It completely changed the way I approached making images. I began to slow right down as I really had to concentrate. I began to engage more with my subjects and reflect more on what it was I was trying to represent.”
Both John’s work and life seem to be peppered with these classical relationships, between humans and nature – and humans and God. “As a child, I was brought up in a modern Christian community. My family lived a shared lifestyle with other people and families in a huge house where faith was expressed and lived out daily,” John says. In his teenage years, he drifted away from the belief, but returned at the cusp of adulthood, prompting a deeper exploration into spirituality and theology.
After a visit to a Buddhist nunnery in Kathmandu, he began reflecting on his own upbringing. “I decided that I wanted to photograph traditional Christian monastic communities. I wanted to see how they expressed and lived out their spirituality,” he notes. “I took a documentary approach, but with a more sensitive, poetic and creative style to documentation. I wanted to capture this sense of mystery, beauty and spirituality,” he adds.
That marked the genesis of Our Father, which was shot for John’s final major study of his degree. John’s adept control of composition and lighting evokes the reflective mood of monastic life. The gentle wrapping of diffused light around his subject’s faces, along with his preference for cooler tones makes for a gentle, contemplative mood. His still life photographs are more mysterious, capturing a sort of mysticism within otherwise utilitarian objects. A plate, a thermometer, and a shrouded altar somehow become more enchanted than usual. Hopefully, as he plans to take the project “outside the shores of Britain eventually,” we get to see more iterations of these lived expressions of faith rendered by his lens.