A visit with Cole Thompson

Private Property. Downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2013
Private Property. Downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2013

This weekend was Open Studios weekend in Ft. Collins, so we took advantage of the occasion and zipped up north to visit Cole Thompson at his ranch studio. I like his work because I am quite partial to high contrast, monochrome images with simple yet strong compositional elements, and that describes much of what Cole’s art is about. And, although he comes from a landscape photography background, his work is not limited to that genre. To see for yourself what he does, check out his galleries HERE.

Interestingly, Cole is off in a side eddy as opposed to floating tranquilly down the mainstream in terms of his philosophy of photography, so I thought I’d address that in today’s post. You may not agree with some of his thoughts, but you may learn something from them. His work is pretty powerful–especially when you see the actual finished prints on the wall–so may he stay forever in that very creative side eddy of his.

Here are a few of his key ideas (in my own words):

1) Everything starts from a personal vision. No unique vision = no unique images. All the King’s expensive cameras and lenses stacked on the shelves at B&H Photo won’t help you put together the pieces of an obra maestra unless you have a personal vision of where you want to go with your work.

2) There is no need to know Photoshop like a Scott Kelby clone. All you need to know are those post-processing tools necessary to bring your vision from the camera to the print. In Cole’s case, that amounts to only about a half dozen Photoshop steps and he is finished.

3) Cole doesn’t believe in critiquing the images of others. To him, it is tantamount to saying: “If you want to make your images look more like what I do, then you should do this…”, which he thinks is absurd. You should be free to follow your own personal path without well-meaning critiques interrupting your journey. Also, in many clubs, universities, photo workshops, and photography courses, the common scene is one of photo critique sessions and portfolio reviews which can have the very unproductive effect of motivating you to produce work to please others and not necessarily to please yourself, the latter being what you really need to do to create honest art.

4) He believes in what he terms “photographic celibacy”…that is, not spending hours poring over the works of others. In fact, he has gone seven years now without deliberately studying the photographs of other image makers. He feels this too easily leads to the temptation of IMITATION–and too much of the work being done these days is merely imitation. Again, he stresses the importance of finding your own personal voice with your photography.

To read Cole’s own words on the above themes, read his article, “Never Ask Others About Your Work” and the “Imitation vs. Inspiration” article that immediately follows it.

These ideas could be seen as heretical in some circles. But I say screw “some circles” as long as he creates what he wants! I may not agree 100% with the above points, but I certainly see their merits, I see that they work for him, and I will likely incorporate at least some of those attitudes into my way of doing things, too.

All-in-all, a great visit…and we look forward to his presentation at the Colorado Nature Camera Club in Boulder in November.

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