Tom Chambers is an American photographer who creates surreal photomontages which are deeply symbolical and hint at metaphysical concepts and magical myths. In his series, ‘Animal Visions’ he draws viewers’ attention to the inter-connectedness of human and animal world and spirits. Working in the line of magical realism, Tom makes a very skilled use of digital techniques and creates images that cross the barriers of the limitations of photography. His photomontages are haunting and disturbing a bit but they serve the purpose of revealing our innermost fears and inhibitions.
Creating photomontages always involves risk of over-manipulation and final image becoming inauthentic but Tom is very meticulous in his approaches and works in such a fashion that his images take form of hand-painted creations of 19th century artists. We asked Tom simple questions about his vision and method into art and here he goes:
I grew up on my grandfather’s farm in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We lived in the tenant house across the farm lane from my grandparents who bought the farm in the late 1930’s, where they worked as both farmers and artists. Not only was I lucky enough to have an idyllic childhood romping in the farm fields, but I also was fortunate to have been influenced by the artistic talents of my grandparents. Both my grandparents were classically trained artists from Philadelphia who continued their passions for painting throughout their lives.
My grandfather, Wilson Chambers, made his living illustrating books and magazines, as well as creating grand oil paintings. The illustrative nature of my photomontages clearly was shaped by my grandfather’s artwork. In turn, my grandfather was heavily influenced by the Wyeth family, who lived nearby. The emotionality of Andrew Wyeth’s landscapes, in particular, has influenced my photography.
I graduated from Ringling School of Art in 1985 with a major in graphic design, and a significant interest in photography. Since graduation I have worked as a graphic designer, including the design of flat printed material, packaging, and magazines. Through work as an art director, I have learned a wide range of photographic approaches and the ability of computer software, such as Photoshop, to enhance artistic expression through photography.
I was fortunate to begin using Photoshop professionally when it first became available in the early 1990’s. In addition, I used Photoshop for personal self-expression. Since 1998 I have devoted myself to photomontage for sharing the intriguing unspoken stories reflecting my view of the world.
As with many artists, for me photography serves as form of self-expression. I some cases I am creating an image to make a statement about an idea. In other cases my images are purely aesthetically pleasing to me and perhaps will generate a response from the viewer.
I use a Nikon D800 and two zoom lenses, 14-24, 24-70. After shooting, I regularly use Photoshop, combining various elements and backgrounds to create a montage image.
I think my greatest achievement has been the completion of seven series of images over 15 years. Over time I have created more than 140 images. I feel fortunate that my inspirations have continued to flow and generate a wide range of images.
I initially sketch out a concept or idea I have for an image and then photograph each piece of the image using a Nikon D800. I am careful to make sure the light intensity and direction are similar in each of these shots.
This process may take a month depending on how quickly I am able to get all the shots and sort through them, picking the ones which work best together. “Pieces” of the final image, which might number up to 5 to 20 separate images, may include the landscape or background, as well as the sky, a human figure, an animal, or another object. Then, I use Photoshop software with a Macintosh computer to combine each “piece”, thus creating the final image. Lastly, the image is printed with archival pigment inks on cotton rag paper.
I truly value traditional photographic methods. However, I am very excited that contemporary photography now embraces a wide range of non-traditional methods.
Writers, such as Cormac McCarthy, and film directors, such as Guillermo del Toro, have inspired my imagery through their use of magic realism. And, I clearly believe that my photomontage fits well within the genre of “magic realism”. Magic realism is a term used in art and literature referring to a situation or setting in which all seems true and believable, except for one or more elements which lend an air of improbability. Many of my inspirations for photography come from musings or dreams, which I refer to as improbable dreams.
I continue to be inspired through literature, music, travel, and especially by studying all forms of art, sculpture, and crafts. I think it is key to remain open to a wide range of art forms and ideas from various cultures.
What would you say to aspiring photographers?
I encourage photographers to shoot often and without imposing any expectations on themselves.