The compositional photographs of Thomas Jackson combine reality and fiction

From the intersection of landscape photography, sculpture and kinetic art, Thomas Jackson creates works to draw the attention of the audience towards the ordinary object.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Nov 03, 2022

The meditative natural landscapes underscored by hues of pure white and pristine blue when translated onto the prints of the photographs exude rarely found beauty. Cognizant of the lesser recurrent phenomenon, the US-based photographer Thomas Jackson punctuates the landscape with deep coloured free flowing fabric and plastic – represented in the form of art installation of cups, cheese balls, hula hoops, and straws to name a few. From the intersection of landscape photography, sculpture art and kinetic art, the self-taught artist brings to light his artistic practice. The photographs unflinchingly suggest that excess production, unhealthy consumption and unsustainable decomposition have disrupted the harmony once bestowed on nature.

Hula Hoops no. 1, Lee Vining, California, 2015, archival pigment print, Thomas Jackson  | Thomas Jackson | STIRworld
Hula Hoops no. 1, Lee Vining, California, 2015, Archival Pigment Print Image: Thomas Jackson

In an interview with STIR, Jackson walks us through his journey as a photographer, “Before I was both a photographer and installation artist, I was just a photographer. I started with New York scenes and barren western landscapes, then moved on to found objects with sculptural qualities. I spent a lot of time walking along the East River in lower Manhattan, photographing driftwood and waves crashing through the pilings of old piers.” During this period of exploration and experimentation, the artists like Gregory Crewdson and Andy Goldsworthy inspired Jackson. “I started to manufacture the subjects of my images. In the woods of upstate New York, I made and photographed installations from sticks and trees and leaves, and animated them with smoke bombs and fireworks.”

Tulle no. 34_v1, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, 2021, Archival Pigment Print, Thomas Jackson  | Thomas Jackson | STIRworld
Tulle no. 34_v1, Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, 2021, Archival Pigment Print Image: Thomas Jackson

Given the scale of the installations and photographs, it raises the curiosity around the making of the works, which is dependent on weather conditions, besides the photographic skills. Jackson, who now sees himself more as an installation artist and less of a photographer, even when photography remains integral to his art practice, confesses the “only thing predetermined about his shoots is the location and which material I am going to use. After that, it is all about adapting to the landscape and the weather conditions. I will orient my installation based on both the direction of the prevailing winds and where I know the sun will be setting later in the day. The manner in which I suspend the materials is dependent mostly on the wind, whether it is blowing in one direction or variably, and how strongly. If I am in a landscape other than the beach, the counters of the land determine the shape of the installation. When I am satisfied with the configuration of the piece I step behind the camera and let the wind, light and other natural forces do the rest. It is just the kind of collaboration I like, where I set the parameters, but nature makes all the important creative decisions”.

Thomas Jackson’s video about his practice Video: Thomas Jackson

For many people, the past two years, ridden with the pandemic, have been about isolation and loss. Yet the dawn of the new reality cajoled the human tribe to pause in an effort to gauge the scale of environmental damage – in the face of hurricanes, wildfire and global warming. Simultaneously, the guarded access to the material during this period had put forth what Jackson succinctly puts it in an artist statement, “The 2020 was proof of the adage that creativity thrives under constraints.” With a limited set of resources, he made nylon tulle his regular prop, which found a space in his photographs. It serves as the most mutable of all his sculptural materials. Animated by wind and photographed with a long exposure, it can transform from a solid to a liquid, to smoke to fire. In terms of logistical support, Jackson swapped heavy tripods with driftwood. This created a seamless thread of connection between installation and environment. Most of the shoots done in the parts of Northern California directly turned the strong breezes into an affirmative collaborator. The photographs, such as Linen no. 4 and Tulle no. 11, amongst many others, composed during this time showcase, “Under the right circumstances, any object, no matter how fixed in its meaning, can mutate into something new,” mentions the artist.

Cheese Balls, Napanoch, New York, 2012, Archival Pigment Print, Thomas Jackson  | Thomas Jackson | STIRworld
Cheese Balls, Napanoch, New York, 2012, Archival Pigment Print Image: Thomas Jackson

The installations hovering in the photographs, from the ongoing series Emergent Behavior, are rooted in the ‘emergent’ systems in nature including the termite mounds, swarming locusts, schooling fish and flocking birds. For instance, in the photograph Cups no. 3, Jackson says, “By itself, a plastic cup is just a plastic cup. But arranged in a landscape with dozens of other plastic cups and animated by wind and other natural forces, it becomes something weird and inscrutable.” Like many of his photographs, the photograph Cheese Balls play with the idea of “fear and fascination”.

Thomas Jackson’s Portrait | Thomas Jackson | STIRworld
Artist Thomas Jackson Image: Kevin Cooley

When the photographic composition makes the viewer encounter an unexpected ordinary object, culled out of everyday life, entangled in the isolated piece of land it blurs the lines between fiction and reality. With the orchestrated setting and photographic experiments, Jackson has rightfully extended the definition of the “visual vocabulary” and offers an opportune moment to draw new readings of regular things. “I work from a desire to transform everyday reality into immersive surreality. I want to make images I have never seen before,” adds Jackson.

Linen no. 4, Assateague Island, Maryland, 2022, Archival Pigment Print, Thomas Jackson | Thomas Jackson | STIRworld
Linen no. 4, Assateague Island, Maryland, 2022, Archival Pigment Print Image: Thomas Jackson

In recent times, the advent of technology has compelled artists to bend their creative minds to complement the web of machines. Antithetical to such binding, for the artist his work is a meditation on creativity. “If there is one lesson I have learned about the creative process, it is that letting go is much more important than being in control,” infers Jackson.

Tulle no. 11, Stinson Beach, California, 2020, Archival Pigment Print, Thomas Jackson  | Thomas Jackson | STIRworld
Tulle no. 11, Stinson Beach, California, 2020, Archival Pigment Print Image: Thomas Jackson

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