Interview With Tom Turner
Tom is a photographic artist from Texas.
"My research examines the importance of time to our perception of the landscape, while also considering the relationship of people to their environments. My video and photographic series, “The Color of Memory,” observes the elasticity of time and color, constructing a more arbitrary relationship between the two. The rearranging of color channels in multiple layered images illustrate the fracturing of our perception of color as a fixed entity and how time alters our understanding of the landscape. "
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your work
I am a photographic artist and educator who recently arrived in Alaska from Texas. I have an MFA from Texas Tech University, where I studied Photography and Sculpture. I am interested in the fracturing of vision and expectation. I work primarily within the genera of landscape with subjects ranging from national parks to appropriated scientific illustrations and videos. I seek new ways of understanding the world through abstracting photographic imagery. Before turning towards a more artistic pursuit of image making, I was a photojournalist in Texas, California, and Michigan.
What first got you interested in photography?
Like many, I took a summer photography class at a small university in West Texas and fell in love with it. Once I graduated, I pursued photojournalism for the next 8 or 9 years. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I wasn’t making any images I truly felt were mine and spoke to how I saw the work I went back to get my MFA. After twenty years of being in various parts of the photo world, I know I am happiest when holding a camera.
How would you describe your approach to photography?
I am interested in fracturing the expectation of photography. Photography has been around for almost 200 years (since 1826), and we have created a vernacular or visual language built up around it. Some of this was found in and appropriated from painting, but some of it is a language built up around technology. For instance, I began to notice that back in the mid-2000’s we all had the same digital camera systems and could look at the images as we created them. We stopped trusting our eyes and began making images that look like what had won the last month’s or last year’s clip contests. Every contest we would see all of the winning photos looked the same; tight focus on the action, shallow depth of field, high contrast. Over and over. For a time, these visual tropes became how to win these contests.
Tell us about the themes you pursue in your work
I am interested in looking at the cracks of how we see the world. The major themes in my work revolve around the importance of time to our perception of the landscape, while also considering the relationship of people to their environments. Photography has the ability to observe the elasticity of time. In my recently completed body of work, “The Color of Memory,” I use color to construct a more arbitrary relationship within time (past and present). I use the photograph as source material and rearrange color channels from multiple images to illustrate the fracturing of our perception of color as a fixed entity and how time alters our understanding of the land. Misaligning the color plates within the images perform the same function as a prism when refracting white light into the component colors, creating colorful ghosting where movement occurs.
Some of the other major themes in my work have to do with the language of landscape photography and with how memory is shaped by and reshapes how we see the photographic image. Repeated exposures to awe-inspiring vistas stimulate a more layered experience. Generic or too often photographed landscapes allusively invoke equivalent memories in the viewer overlaying the present with the past. I strive to summon the viewer’s romanticized memory of their time in the nature, as well as challenge them to understand the environments in which they live.
What do you feel is the most challenging thing about being a photographer?
Photography itself isn’t difficult. The hardest part is knowing why. Why are you interested in making this image? Why is it different than the thousands of other images that have been made before it? Why should anyone else care about it? Why do I care about it? Why am I doing this? Answering the why questions are the hardest part of what artists do. There is this myth that an artist is the expert on their own work; I think this is a misconception; the artist is the most dedicated member of the audience. I continually come to questions that don’t have answers in my work and sometimes we don’t have the answer, and that’s ok too.
What style of work do you most identify with? any specific influences or research areas?
Some of the major influences on my work are ideas of the Sublime first developed by Edmond Burk. I also love landscape work with art historical reference points such as John Pfahl, Mark Kellett, and Bryan Wolf, and of course Idris Kahn.
Tell us what gear you use, what is your favorite equipment to use?
I try not to get too hung up on the equipment; after all, it’s just a means to an end. But that said, I have recently upgraded to a Phase One IQ3 50, and it is an incredible machine. The quality of images that come out of the medium format back is just astounding. Other than that I use a Canon 5D Mark III and a Gitzo tripod.
What advice would you have for other photographers?
Don’t get hung up on the gear. Learn to use what you have, learn it’s limitations and its advantages. Develop your ideas! Work out your photographic muscles every day. Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! Don’t be afraid to take chances with your art. Abandon the idea that your work is precious! MAKE WORK! Let the last idea lead you to the next idea. Your vision is what will set your images apart from everyone else’s.