Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Contemporary Photographer Series - Thomas Jackson

 Glow Sticks #1 © Thomas Jackson

American photographer Thomas Jackson, a Rhode Island native, spent much of his early career in New York working in the magazine industry after he earned a BA in History at the College of Wooster. Jackson decided to turn to photography eight years ago and so far has engaged in street photography, landscapes and is currently making staged photographs which to date have included three bodies of work - Emergent Behavior, Robot Coda and Nebulae. Jackson's work has been shown in several galleries and earned him a spot in 2012's Critical Mass Top 50. He was recently interviewed by Lurah Lowery for our Contemporary Photographer Series (CPS).

In your current body of work, Emergent Behavior, it seems like your goal is to create an artificial environment where manmade things are placed in a natural setting and are somehow floating in the air. You have described the work as an attempt "to tap into the fear of and fascination that self-organizing, 'emergent' systems in nature tend to evoke." What inspired you to create these seemingly unreal photographs?

I'm interested in our complicated relationship with the natural world, especially as it exists on a subconscious level. As much as we claim to revere nature, I think that beneath the surface it scares us. Maybe not for the same reasons it did our distant ancestors, who had to worry about being gobbled up by predators, but because it's an affront to our sense order. Nature is chaotic, messy and unpredictable, and that makes us feel anxious. Swarms, which can be so beautiful, yet disconcertingly weird, seem like an apt representation of that subconscious fear. I chose to create the swarms from cups, cheese balls, marshmallows, etc. as a way of inverting the viewer's perspective on these natural phenomena. In my alternate reality, nature imposes its sense of order on man, instead of the other way around.

How do you create these photographs? Is this kind of process a component of all of your work?

All the images depict actual installations photographed on location. Most are a one-day affair. I'll spend the afternoon building the installation, setting up lights, etc. then take my shot shortly after sunset. A lot of the Robot images involved smoke bombs, roman candles and other pyrotechnics, which meant there was a lot of running around while my camera's shutter was open. I have utilized Photoshop to varying degrees, but usually just to remove the ropes, monofilaments and stands that hold the installations up. Over the past 5 or 6 images, I have made a concerted effort to shoot my images in such a way that little to no retouching is required. I'm getting there, but let's just say it's a process.

Cheese Balls © Thomas Jackson

You've written that Robot Coda is "meant as a meditation on the roles of boring work and abstract anxiety in our hi-tech, hyper-connected world." Can you explain more about this and why you decided to explore this idea?

The Robot series started out as a bit of an anti-technology rant. I'm one of those luddites who thinks that despite that 20th century dream that technology would liberate us from the tedium of everyday life, free us up to think deep thoughts, etc. instead it's made us busier - and more anxious - than ever. The robot was meant as a stand-in for us: always working, but not really knowing why and to what end. As the project progressed, however, the theme morphed a bit.  His toil found more of a purpose: to hold nature at bay. But as the pictures make clear, he was not successful.

from the series Robot Coda © Thomas Jackson

The photographs in Nebulae look like something that would be seen in space. Although, at the same time, they look manmade like multi-colored lights shining on an explosion of some kind of substance. How did you create these nebulas? How did you come to the idea to create these photographs?

One day I was gawking at some Hubble images of distant nebulae, and it occurred to me that it might be fun to attempt to capture something similar - without the billion dollar telescope. In particular, I was excited about the challenge of tricking the eye's perception of scale, making a little puff of smoke look like a vast cloud of gas and debris light years away. After the elaborate setups I'd been doing for the Robot series, the nebula images were refreshingly simple to make. Basically I hit smoke from smoke bombs with strobes, sometimes with colored gels attached.

from the series Nebulae © Thomas Jackson

Is there a particular body of work that you feel best represents your artistic practice?

Definitely the Emergent Behavior work. It is the refinement of all the work that preceded it. both technically and thematically.

Do you feel that there is a relationship between all of your projects? If so, what is that relationship?

Yes. In all of my projects, things float.

Marshmallows © Thomas Jackson