Rfotofolio is pleased to share the work of photographer Caroline Thompson. Our guest juror Catherine Couturier of the Catherine Couturier Gallery chose Caroline’s work in her top three selections in our call INPrint. Thank you Catherine for your time.
We are pleased to announce we will be sharing the work from INPrint in 2017 at Photo Méthode Gallery in Austin, TX. Thank you Tina.
Would you please tell us a little about yourself?
I am a visual storyteller currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. I have always been inspired by the power of story. My earliest memories are sitting in the kitchen (the heart of our home) listening to my grandmother weave stories that conjured up exciting journeys and strange places. Spending my early childhood in Tennessee and South Carolina where story is how history is passed down is the driving force behind my work.
Originally, I thought about becoming a writer, but I just couldn’t get the words out fast enough. Pictures captured so much more for me emotionally and allowed further exploration of real moments happening around me. I spent a lot time traveling around the country taking pictures while going to school and working at different jobs. After landing in Florida, I fully committed to the process and started working full-time as a photographer.
After 10 years working in different areas in photography, I have been evolving as an established artist working on solo exhibitions and creating new bodies of work. I am a “big picture” kind of girl. I am interested in how everything relates to each other. Life may be in the details, but to understand the unique and wonderful relationships between things you have to see the totality of the whole. This is where the magic happens.
In addition, I am drawn to duality. My career reflects this. Much of my work is split between documentary and fine art, doors and windows so to speak. My documentary work deals with how I see the world while my fine art deals with my own internal struggles and relationships.
How did you get started photography?
Really, I just started taking pictures for people. I shot some images for an alligator farm, shot some family portraits for people and went on to shoot boxing for Angelo Dundee’s Norwegian boxers. I was going to school and working three jobs during this time. I wanted to apply for the Associated Press, but it was just a stringer position and money to finish school was my big motivator. After seeing an ad for a full-time photographer, I applied and got the job. There is a funny story behind this job. The employer narrowed it down to two people. When asked what unique skills I possessed for the job, I told them I started juggling. I had just learned how to juggle and it was the only thing I could think of at the time. It got me the job. So, I guess you could say I got my start in photography by juggling.
Where did you get your photographic training?
After my mother’s husband became terminally ill, I moved to California to help her care for him. This is where I finally finished my BA in photojournalism at California State University Hayward (CSUH) in 1998. After graduation, I worked at a photo studio, then as a photographer for University California Davis until state budget cuts forced the University to disband the department and lay off everyone. After that, I decided to freelance for the news media, corporations and publications. My career path got off track focusing more on commercial and income driven work so in 2011 I decided to get back to my artistic roots and work on a MFA from the Academy of Art University (AAU) in San Francisco. I received my MFA in Fine Art Photography in 2015.
Did you have a mentor?
A mentor relationship evolved while I was shooting for an installation artist, Dolph Gotelli. Dolph’s work deals with fairy tale, wonder and magic and feeds my own interest in story. He has been supportive of my work and encouraged me to use my own creative voice. When I started creating montage images, I was daunted by the blank space. Dolph, being a design artist, helped me to see the relationship between characters and how placement is key to the narrative. He also is interested in religious and historical artifacts, which have both inspired me and some have even ended up in my images. Being able to learn and grow with another artist is invaluable. Most of all I admire Dolph and have built a lasting friendship. I believe the artist’s flame glows brighter when exposed to other artists.
If you could spend a day with any other photographer or artist living or passed who would it be?
This is a tough question. There are so many inspirational and fantastic artists both living and dead that it would be hard to narrow it down to just one. I am always finding more and more inspirational artists every day. It is what makes my day. I would have to say for the past, I choose an artistic period. I would love to spend a day in France with the Modernists. Surrealism was flourishing and this is really where my work lives. I love the idea of the magic moment.
What hangs on your own walls?
The biggest portion of my walls is covered with an ever-changing display of my new projects. In my undergrad days, there was a motley group of us that hung out together throughout the program. Before graduation, we exchanged images we liked from each other’s portfolios. I have some of these up around my home. The last little bit of space I have is devoted to artists I collect. I have also saved some space for a few images I hope to buy in the future from amazing photographers/artists.
Would you share with us an image (not your own) that has stayed with you over time and why?
ThreeDiane Arbus images have stuck with me over time, “A Window in Her Bedroom,” “Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents” and an untitled image from her work with children. Being drawn to the story, I am naturally attracted to Arbus’s work. The surreal elements in her images captivated me initially. There is this sense of opposites within her work along with the idea of human connection. Arbus’s work shows just how powerful visual stories can be. She got close to people and they allowed her into their private worlds and her images have this duality of both privacy and exposure. We are invited into these private places through the lens of Arbus. Each of her images draws us into this strange psychological world that invites exploration. I can’t just glance at one of her pictures, instead I engage with the image and begin to study the different elements trying to discover the story behind the people. Sometimes, I end up making up my own story of what I think is happening. It is almost like a pictorial inkblot that way. Francesca Woodman’s images strike me this way also.
What image of yours would you say taught you an important lesson?
“Dream 61, Labyrinth”, is about tough life lessons, but necessary ones to move forward. I wasn’t sure if people would understand or if they may feel it had a darker message. It surprised me how many people connected with this image and the message. I learned that an artist must stay true to their inner voice and not focus on whether the audience will understand. Otherwise, you start to censure your work and really are creating for others instead of creating out of an inner drive.
What equipment have you found essential in the making of your work?
Since I do a lot of alternate printing and creating, I find the list of equipment necessary continually growing. I shoot traditional images, create montage images and like using alternative printing techniques. The body of work really defines which set of equipment will be necessary. I have everything from plastic cameras to large format pinholes. I shoot both film and digital so I have darkroom stuff (technical term) as well as a lot of imaging applications. Printing equipment is equally important as capture equipment. For me, printing is part of the whole process of creation, really half the process, so having excellent fine art printers is a must. Recently, I fell in love with the encaustic process so I have resin, beeswax and all the other implements of destruction necessary to create in wax. Also, I have found tinfoil an excellent medium that is both inexpensive and easily accessible. Unfortunately, I fear this list will grow as I do.
Is there one thing that you wish people would stop doing when it comes to the creative process or the photographic world?
Really, the only thing I can think of in answer to this question is that I don’t want to be defined by the tool. I am an artist and I choose the camera as my paintbrush. Photography, as with all art, is an ever-evolving medium and should be continually altered, adapted and explored to fit the intent of the artist.
Whats on the horizon?
Currently, I have a couple of new projects I am working on that deal with dreams and mythic elements. I got the bug to combine film and digital after falling in love with the pinhole camera. The interaction between light and time allows me to explore time instead of just capturing a small slice of it. Learning more about alternative printing methods is also on my list.
My big push next year is to travel to Bulgaria and Israel. I have never been to the ancient world and am excited to experience what is there. I believe place colors how we see and want to dig into these countries through the lens. Beyond that, I am exploring lyrical documentaries for non-profit organizations and basically keeping busy with exhibitions and creating new work.
Thank you Caroline
To learn more about the work of Caroline Thompson visit her site at,Caroline Thompson.
You can read more about Diane Arbus by visiting The New Yorker.
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