Interview with Cole Thompson
#1 Please introduce yourself:
I am Cole Thompson, I live in Colorado, USA and am 55 years of age. I started in photography in 1968 and spent most of my years working in a darkroom. In 2004 I because fascinated with digital and converted, and have never looked back.
#2 How did you get interested in photography?
At age 14 my life was forever changed as I hiked through the woods of Rochester, NY and stumbled onto the ruins of a home that George Eastman had once owned. This small discovery piqued my curiosity and I read Eastman’s biography. Before I was done with the book I knew I was destined to be a photographer. I purchased a Sears photographic developing kit, took over the family bathroom and this was the beginning of my lifelong love of photography.
#3 Do you have an artistic/photographic background?
None! When I was growing up there was no art or music in our home, food and clothes came first and such things were luxuries that we could not afford. I went through life believing I had not artistic talent and actually went into photography because I thought it was more of a science and something that I could learn.
I am self taught, I have never taken an art or photography class. I learn by doing and so this has been a great approach for me.
#4 Which artist/photographer inspired your art?
As a child, Ansel Adams was my hero and I spend much of my life trying to imitate his work. However, later in life I came to appreciate Edward Weston more, not only for his photography, but also for his attitudes towards photography and art.
Along the way Immogen Cunningham, Paul Strand, Paul Caponigro and Wynn Bullock were photographer’s work that I studies.
Recently my work has been profoundly affected by Alexey Titarenko.
#5 We can see your photographs only in black and white, why have you chosen to present them in this form?
I was born into a world of Black and White images.
Television and movies were in Black and White. The evening news was in Black and White. The nation was segregated into Black and White. My childhood heroes were in Black and White and that image was an extension of the world, as I knew it.
So I created images in Black & White. For me color records the image, but Black & White captures the feelings that lie beneath the surface.
#6 Is there a particular theme that you enjoy taking photo of?
Not really, I started working primarily in landscapes (the Ansel Adams influence) and now like to work with motion. Most of my images these days are shot with long exposures, 30 seconds typically. I love the look of an image in motion.
#7 Your photographs are conceptual, very consistent in form with a strongly pronounced character. To achieve that you’re focusing on only one series at the same time?
Typically I work on one series at a time. I have a very short attention span and cannot work in years, but prefer to start and finish in months. Sometimes I have a project that requires a longer period of time to complete, like my Harbinger series, simply because the types of clouds I need form in the summer in the Western United States.
I do enjoy working on portfolios, and have been gravitating towards 15 images each. I intend to continue in this way and then compile a group of them and call it “Short Stories.”
#8 Your series The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau approaches this difficult topic in a moving and original way – could you tell us how it was created?
I was visiting my son in Ukraine (he was in the Peace Corps) and we decided to visit Poland, as I am half Polish. I really didn’t want to visit the camps, I find them terribly depressing and I tend to avoid sad and depressing things. But my wife wanted to visit and so off we went.
I had not intended to photograph at the camps, I thought perhaps it would be insensitive or offensive, but I had to bring along my gear as we had checked out of our hotel and I had no where to leave it.
We took a tour and while inside the buildings, the things I saw were so depressing that I felt suffociated. Leaving the tour I went outside and began to walk around. With each step I took I couldn’t help but wonder who had walked in these very same steps before me. I kept thinking about those murdered souls and wondered if their spirits still were there today.
At that moment I knew what I must do, I must photograph the camps and portray those spirits. I wanted people to see the camps, not as dead historical locations, but as a place where many lived and died.
And so I went to work, frantically photographing and running to the next location, for at that point I had 45 minutes left before the tour bus left. That is how these images came about, in a moment of sheer, unplanned inspiration.
#9 Do you work as a professional photographer or do you pursue the art as a passion?
I have a day job that pays the bills, and I do my photography on the side. I prefer it like that because it means that I can do whatever I like, regardless of what the market, galleries or even the public think about my work. It is incredibly liberating.
My reward is my work, and when I find others that appreciate it, I am doubly blessed.
#10 What do you do in your life besides photography?
For work I manage private vocational colleges, I am also a diver and I live on a ranch were we raise llamas. I have 5 children, three grown and 2 still at home. So I am very busy.
#11 How do you prepare your prints? (LAB, darkroom, digital printing, etc.)? What is your favorite kind of paper?
Since 2004 I’m all digital. In 2004 there really wasnt a good digital printing solution, but I knew it would come. It came in the form of the Epson K3 inks and I’m a huge Epson fan for b&w.
I primarily use two papers: Hahnemuehle Photo Rag 308 and Epson Exhibition Fiber. Another paper I find delightful for specific applications is Premier Platinum Luster Rag, it’s a luster paper that you print with matte inks.
#12 What future plans do you have? What projects would you like to accomplish?
I have finially figured out what my defiinition of success is and so I’m busily working on that. For me it’s to find my artistic vision and to produce work that I am proud of, and as I mentioned, if I’m lucky enough to find an audience that appreciates it, wonderful!
I plan on finishing my Harbinger series this year and then I’d like to start work on the Short Stories book.
Cole Thompson Official Website: