Monday, March 17, 2008


I was excited when I first saw these toll booths on my way to Vallejo. How cool would it be to photograph a location like this totally devoid of people?

Apparently not that cool. I was disappointed when I saw the film. When I was there I imagined it would look surreal and mysterious. In reality it looked obvious and uninteresting. The success of the image was overly dependent on the object being photographed. That sounds ridiculous- let me explain.

I think this project (CCTWWWTB) works best when I am pointing the camera at places and spaces that are not inherently interesting. It is the choices that I make when I interact with the locations that adds meaning to the images. This is a double edged sword: On one hand the success of the project is not reliant on finding the most remarkable locations (think Iceland, Cuba, the moon) on the other hand I am always in danger of making images that are incredibly boring. My hope is that I will know how to tell the difference.


Emily N said...

Hey Thomas- This may sound silly to you but I think you need to get closer to your subject matter. You want your viewer to see the interesting thing you are pulling out of the gutter "the transfiguration of the commonplace" as Jake always quotes. But we can't (I can't) quite see your subject.

The bird-case thing looks interesting (and is easier to see in black and white) but you can't really see it and its the star!-- and its not an object that is asking to be cleverly obscured.

It seems that you are wanting to show us the singular beauty you are finding in a subject (even if its a quirky beauty on a grim day) and you are certainly up to the task of showing us the beauty- so do it up!

Beauty can be low contrast and in shades of gray... Wouldn't it be magical if some nice light came through that case in the morning and you were closer to it and we could experience the strange light resting on this object on a dull street on a cold blue morning. You are there at sunrise anyway right?

Anonymous said...

Hear her, hear her!

From the toll booth images, it's not clear that you've *really* dug into the location and found the essentials and the surprises. You may have to go back there again and again, in all sorts of light conditions and moods.

And maybe, if cars and people are still an integral part of this location, you'll have to put up with them being in the shots. Howbeit, in controlled doses.


robert said...

couple things:
you may not have to get closer, this might simply be an issue of scale, the pictures you are making need to be seen printed large to get you closer. small prints will never convey the subtlety of what you are trying to get at. That being said, these pics are not grabbing me either...

digging is good too, I have been photographing my neighbourhood for over two years, the same 12 square blocks and what I see now is a lot better than the easy ideas I saw in the beginning.

you may also have a winograndian problem-he was always interested in dealing with the "theatricality of the subject" and what that does, or does not do. You said in your post the success of the photo depended on the object being photographed-and when it worked best was when the object was not intrinsically interesting-this is sort of what gw was saying, iow, how the hell do you make a picture more interesting that what some things are already-in choosing a "cool" location you had already committed to making a cool photograph, which lead you to not discover anything new about the subject.

hate to say it but the 8x10 may be working against you discovering new things. it really overdetermines what things will look like, has it's own preferences, is a really big hammer in its own way. I think what you liked about the street work, was that the 8x10 suddenly didn't look like 8x10, that was due to the flash being so prominent. Most of what you have posted lately has been straight up 8x10 topographic formalism. Good light. Good colours. Good pictures...maybe good is not good any more.

just saying is all...

good luck.

Russell Kaye said...


I kinda like these. Certainly better than your rocks at the seashore. If anything, I want to see the booths more in context of the planet (pulled back)

While I'm here: Any tips for making blurb books and did you make your own slipcases or get them made?

Hope you are well.

me at

Timothy Archibald said...

Yah, these look like out takes from a Hurricane Katrina project, doesn't fit with CTWWWTB, cuz its like "wow, what happened here?" type of shot.

Darrell Eager said...

I agree wit T.A.. Your other work is with places where no ones around. These shots are of places where no ones there.

SAWblog said...

hey Thomas-

Looks like you shot the booths while the shooting was still good. :-)

report from the filed:
They are demo-ing the the toll booths today.
You snapped ’em just in the nick of time.


p.s. For the record, I like the pics. Maybe because I am surprised at how ravaged and skeletal toll land looks; I knew this passage all too well.

Anonymous said...

"topographic formalism"