Thomas Shillea received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
During his graduate studies at RIT from 1977-1980, he had an opportunity to learn museum practices in the Exhibition Department at the George Eastman Museum. It was this experience that introduced him to the platinum photographs of Alfred Stieglitz and the Photo-Session photographers. Shillea’s professors, Charles Arnold and Owen Butler, were protégées of Minor White and followed in the tradition of Paul Caponigro, Paul Strand and Alfred Stieglitz in their photographic aesthetic. Shillea carries on that classic tradition in his work today. As part of his graduate thesis Shillea co-authored, with John Hafey, the History of the Platinotype, published in 1979, by the Graphics Arts Research Center at R.I.T.
During his extensive career as a photographer, Mr. Shillea collaborated with scientist from the Johnson-Matthey Company, London, England. This is the company that was instrumental in the development of the original Platinotype process invented in 1873 by William Willis. The company continues to manufacturer the platinum metal compounds necessary to make platinum prints. This collaboration lead to the publication in 1986 of Shillea’s Instruction Manual For The Platinum
Printing Process, as well as the Johnson-Matthey Platinum Print Photography Collection, now located in England.
Shillea also worked 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, Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti, US Olympic cycling medalist Davis Phinney and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. A collection of some of these photographs now resides in the Smithsonian Museum’s National Portrait Gallery. His photographs are also in the collections of major art museums and universities such as the George Eastman Museum, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The National Museum of African American History and Culture (The Smithsonian), the Baltimore Museum of Art, The Rochester Institute of Technology, The James A. Michener Museum of Art, The Johnson-Matthey Collection (London, England) and Lehigh University, to name a few. He has presented his photographs in numerous museum, university and art gallery exhibitions.
Shillea was a professor in the Applied Photography Program at RIT and has conducted a series of lectures and workshops on the Platinotype process throughout the country, a complete list is available on his website. Today, he continues his work as a fine art photographer, and an educator, as the Director of Art Programs at Northampton Community College, in Bethlehem, PA.
Recently, he made two visits to Japan to study the culture and art of Ukiyo-e prints and Kabuki Theater, and presented a lecture and printing demonstration of the Platinum Printing Process at Dianji University in Shanghai, China.
His photography is represented by The Santa Bannon Fine Art, Bethlehem, PA.