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Tom Chambers: Tales of Heroines – New Portfolio & Interview

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Tom Chambers: Tales of Heroines
New Portfolio & Interview
In this new interview with Tom Chambers, Galley Associate Julian Worthington askes the artist about his process and the new series Tales of Heroines.

Tom Chambers, Tea for Two, 2018, Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image, Edition of 20, $950
Sally Chambers, Gallery Associate Juliane
Worthington, Tom Chambers
photo-eye Gallery is so proud to be exhibiting Tom Chambers' work in the Hearts and Bones exhibition currently on view through February 16, 2019. I had the opportunity to meet Tom and his beautiful wife Sally the week of the opening. Not only is Tom an extremely talented artist, but he and his wife are very salt-of-the-earth people. It's been a pleasure to represent Tom over the last ten years and watch his career bloom and grow. If you're visiting Santa Fe we hope to see you in the gallery! Chambers' entire portfolio collection, including the brand new series Tales of Heroines, is available to view and purchase online through the photo-eye website.

--Juliane Worthington, Gallery

Tom Chambers, Victory At Sea, 2018 Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image, Edition of 20, $950

Juliane Worthington:     You’ve said in past interviews that your process usually begins with a sketch of a vision or idea from which you build the piece. When creating an entirely new series like Tales of Heroines, does your process mimic the individual print composition process or do you have another strategy for birthing a new body of work?

Tom Chambers, Moat Float, 2018 
Archival Pigment Print, 28x29" Image, 
Edition of 10, $2300
Tom Chambers:      I have used my daughter in many of my images and decided that this series would pay homage to strong young women. This latest series, however, evolved a little differently from the rest.  I wanted to take my work in a new direction.  Until recently most of my imagery has been a square format often with the faces hidden.  I had to shake things up in order to keep it interesting, so I established guidelines for myself.  For some time I have been interested in creating a portrait series which would continue to include a storytelling element. I decided to do full-bodied portraits with the subject gazing directly at the camera.  These figures would need to be similar in height within the frame.  The horizon line would be somewhat close to knee level and the overall color muted.  I did not want to give up the narrative aspect of my imagery, so something happens in each image which sparks or initiates a story.

Once I established these parameters, I developed these images in a similar way to my older series.  First, I make a thumbnail sketch of an idea that might pop into my head.  I shoot separately the different elements, including the background, animals or props that appear in the image.  The children are photgraphed outdoors in clothing that supports the story.  I find any clothes or props I need on Etsy or in my overcrowded basement.  After I completed several images, I experimented with adding the arch at the top.  This gave the images a medieval iconic look or a nod to the imagery of the pre-Renaissance period.  It also gives the viewer a feeling that they are looking through a portal into another reality.

Tom Chambers, Lightning in a Jar, 2018, 
Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image, 
Edition of 20, $950

JW:      When visitors come to see your work in the gallery often there’s a strong reaction to the background scenery you use. Even though your work is fictional, your fans are always excited when they recognize a part of the scene. How do you go about finding the location that makes the backdrop for your surreal montages?

TC:      I plan my travel around places that provide great backgrounds for images such as Iceland, Italy or the American West.  However, I don't shoot your typical travel shots. Instead, I look for landscapes, structures, or objects that I can use in my imagery.  These would be shots to which I can add a figure or elements to tell a story.  I love overcast days and places like Iceland are quick to supply those cloudy days.

In advance, I typically research an area so that I have some ideas about where I might find photographic material. I don’t enjoy organized tours when traveling and will usually go the car rental route. This requires jumping from the car at a moment’s notice after spotting an interesting scene.

Tom Chambers, Now, Now, 2018 
Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image, 
Edition of 20, $950

JW:      What advice would you give to other photographers or students looking to pursue a career in photography?

TC:     I've always felt that having a day job with a guaranteed income is insurance against starvation.  In the field of photography, there are lots of options to find work related to being behind the camera. For many years I worked as a graphic designer and art director. Because I didn't have to rely on photo sales, I was able to create my personal photography without the thought of what might sell.  Although the positive reinforcement of a sale is great, there are other ways to see if your work is viable, including juried art shows. This gives an artist the chance for feedback on his work.

Also, as an artist and photographer, I think it's critical to stay current with what is happening in the different visual arts fields. Looking at other people’s art on the internet, through social media, in magazines and at museums and galleries gets me cranked. Without that kind of input, I would feel stale.

JW:     Where do you get your inspiration from? Are there certain artists or films, musicians or daily practices that keep you motivated to create?

TC:     I have been very influenced by painters and writers.  Having grown up in Southeastern Pennsylvania, I connect with the emotionality of Andrew Wyeth’s imagery and especially his color palette.  Also from the Northeast, Winslow Homer’s pastoral landscapes and Maine coastline images inspire me. The magic realism of Frida Kahlo and photographer Graciela Iturbide have impacted my work.  A more contemporary painter, Odd Nerdrum creates a complex narrative about man’s struggle for survival through his figurative painting set in landscapes. I love the imagery of the painter Andrea Kowich, whose narrative paintings also depict human experiences with the natural world. In the literary world, I have been inspired by the magic realism of Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Music is very important to me and I listen to it constantly as a way to relax, as well as for artistic inspiration. Although I grew up listening to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, now I listen to mostly contemporary music. Some favorites include Neko Case, Laura Veirs, Phosphorescent, Alejandro Escovedo, Bon Iver, and a wide variety of singer-songwriters.

JW:     Many of your compositions take at least a month to make from start to finish, with upwards of
Tom Chambers, Water Is Life, 2019, 
Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image,
 Edition of 20, $950
20 photographs pieced together with great care and precision. How do you know when an image is ready? And, how do you feel releasing it after spending so much time with it?

TC:     When I feel like an image is close to completion I will typically sit on it for a week or two.  I’ll continually go back and look at it and maybe make small changes until it feels right.  I'm not anxious realizing new images; I love to have my work out there receiving feedback from the public.  After working as a graphic designer for 35 years I've developed a pretty thick skin.  I love any feedback, whether positive or negative.

JW:     One of the questions gallery visitors ask the most is where you live. My standard answer is that you were born and raised in Lancaster, PA, but now live in Richmond, VA with your wife and daughter. How do you feel your geographical location, now or during your childhood, has influenced your work? And in all your travels have you ever been tempted to live outside of the US?

TC:     My environment during my childhood definitely influenced my work. Until my twenties, I lived on our family farm. My grandparents who also lived on the farm and worked as artists had a major influence on me. My grandfather was a painter and illustrator for magazines, and my grandmother painted watercolors of rural life. On the farm, I spent hours in the woods or fields, caught up in my own imagination.  Like most of the artists who have inspired me, the landscape has always played an important part in my imagery. Currently living in Richmond, I enjoy access to the mountains, rivers, and coastline, where I can hike, kayak, and canoe.

In my early years, I had opportunities to live outside the United States. I spent four years in the Navy traveling to over twenty countries and later I lived in the US Virgin Islands where I met my wife. Currently, I would love to spend a month or two in Portugal or Southern Italy to photograph and soak up the culture. Perhaps that will happen.

Tom Chambers, Nesting With Scissors, 2018Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image, Edition of 20, $950

JW:     In the current exhibition of work here in the gallery, which includes pieces you’ve created over the last two decades, there are almost exclusively female subjects. In our current political climate, and considering the historical struggle women have faced, is there an overall theme or message you wish to convey through these young women and girls in your images? And is there any significance most of them are barefoot?

TC:     Great question. My wife and I have a daughter, and as she was growing up I became aware of the many developmental transitions that she experienced. Out of that, I created my Rite of Passage series. My daughter was and still is an animal lover, and as she grew up I noticed the special connection that she shared with domestic and wild animals. Both my daughter and the animals possessed a sense of vulnerability and resilience, and so many of my images contain both girls and animals. And now in my latest series Tales of Heroines that theme of resiliency continues. Each of the girls in this series squarely faces you and directly looks at you.  I hope that I am conveying that strength that I see in girls and women as they face and conquer challenges.

Tom Chambers, Half-noise, 2018 
Archival Pigment Print, 22x13" Image, 
Edition of 20, $950
As far as the shoe question, I have made the decision to reinforce the timeless nature of my images. Shoes and haircuts often give away the time period.

JW:     How have the women in your life contributed to the visions, ideas, and execution of your creative career?

TC:     My life has been filled with strong women, including my paternal grandmother who was a painter and corralled me from the fields on our farm to teach me how to paint. My 92-year-old mother raised five boys all born within a ten year period, and still has deep admiration from all my brothers. My wife and I enjoy traveling together to explore new cultures and learn about their art which also inspires my photography. We both enjoy going to artistic events, museums, and galleries. And when I slow down to construct a photomontage, my wife helps me with some of the administrative aspects of running a photography business. And finally, my daughter has been a joy and inspiration for twenty-nine years.

JW:     Thank you so much, Tom, for sharing your thoughts with us, and we wish you great success with this inspiring new series, Tales of Heroines!

• • • • •

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published. 
Prices will increase as the print editions sell.

For more information, and to purchase prints, please contact Gallery Staff at 
505-988-5152 x202 or

Tom Chambers:
Hearts and Bones
On view through February 16th, 2019

» View Hearts and Bones

» View Tales of Heroines

» See our Favorites from Hearts and Bones

» Purchase the Monograph 

photo-eye Gallery
541 S. Guadalupe Street
Santa Fe, Nm 87501
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