Kwerfeldein
16. Juli 2010 Lesezeit: ~13 Minuten

Cole Thompson im Gespräch

Auf das Blog von Cole Thompson und dessen großartiges Portfolio bin ich vor ein paar Wochen über einen Link bei Olaf aufmerksam geworden. So mancher Leser wird sich daran erinnern, dass ich beides auch in den browserFruits erwähnt hatte.

Jedenfalls hab ich bei Cole immer wieder hineingespickt, mal einen Kommentar hinterlassen und über diesen Weg und so manche Email den netten Herrn kennengelernt. Wir haben uns sofort gut verstanden und weil ich sowieso viele Fragen an ihn hatte, habe ich ihn zu einem Interview eingeladen.

So haben Cole und ich eine lange Zeit Emails hin-und-her geschickt und nun folgt das Ergebnis dieser Konversation, die mir persönlich sehr viel bedeutet…

Hey Cole. Thanks for participation in the interview! Would you just tell our readers who you are and what you are doing?

Who am I and what am I doing; I love how you phrased that question! I am one of billions who have been born on this planet; how insignificant is that? And yet, I was born with a talent which I seek to explore and a gift I feel a responsibility to develop.

Some ask to what purpose? Will you highlight a cause, change attitudes or somehow make a contribution to one of the world’s problems? I do not know to what purpose, it may be something as simple as improving myself so that I fulfill my potential.

From the age of 14 when I first discovered photography, I’ve always had this compelling feeling that I was destined to create art with photography. It went far beyond a „love“ of photography, it was and is my destiny I believe.

14! One cannot begin too early, right? Did your parents teach you stuff about photography or where did the „fire begin to burn“?

My family did not have a background in photography, they owned a Brownie and occasionally took a family picture, but that was it. My „fire“ came about from reading a book strangely enough. We lived in Rochester, NY which is the home of Kodak, and I was out hiking when I came across the ruins of a home once owned by George Eastman. This caused me to read his biography and before I was done with book, before I had taken my first picture and before I had seen my first image develop in a darkroom; I knew that photography was going to be my life.

After reading that book, my brother and I purchased small darkroom kit, commandeered the family bathroom and just did it! If I ran into something I couldn’t do, I would read and experiment until I got it right. People learn in different ways, and I’ve always been a „learn by doing“ person; I try, I make a mistake and then I figure it out. I have never taken a course in photography, I am self taught.

So – when did it all start with black & white? Right from the beginning or was there a time of chance for that? Would you tell me about that, because black & white is something that fascinates me (and probably many readers), too!

It was always b&w, I never had an eye for color or had any interest in it. Even as a boy, I would spend hours and hours looking at the b&w work of the masters of photography; Adams, Weston, Cunningham, Bullock and many others. Even at that early age I was drawn to a certain type of image; dark and contrasty. These images would cause a physical reaction in me, a shudder would go down my spine when I saw a great b&w image.

People often ask me „why black and white.“ I’ve never really been able to put the answer into words, it’s just something I feel. Sometimes I think it’s a product of the world I grew up in and so wrote this artist statement:

„I am often asked, “Why black and white?” I think it’s because I grew up in a black-and-white world. Television, movies and the news were all in black and white. My heroes were in black and white and even the nation was segregated into black and white. My images are an extension of the world in which I grew up.“

But it’s more than just a nostalgic tie to the past. For me color records the image, but black and white captures the feelings that lie beneath the surface.

And that is perfectly put into words, Cole. Could you mangage to make a living photography or – if not – was that never goal for you?

When I was seventeen I entertained the thought of going to the Rochester Institute of Photography. But at the last minute something caused me to pause and ask myself if I would enjoy photography as much if I did it for a living. My answer was no, and I did not pursue it as a career. I think everyone has to ask themselves that question and the answer might be different for each of us.

Could I earn a living from my photography now? Not a very good one!

But that’s okay because I prefer the freedom of working independently and doing my work, my way. I do not answer to anyone when it comes to my art; not the galleries, the critics or even buyers.

… and that is a big advantage, Cole. What kind of visions (or goals) do you have for the future? Any plans, projects, stuff you’d dream to do with your photograhs?

Over the past few years, my goals have switched from career goals, to personal goals. I guess as you get older, what’s important changes and now I seek to find my own vision and explore new paths.

I still enjoy having my work published in LensWork, B&W, Silvershotz and other publications, and perhaps I’ll pursue publishing my work. I’ve had this idea for sometime now for a book entitled “Short Stories” which will consist of (15) image portfolios, each telling a different short story.

I am also excited to explore new ideas, I love trying new things. In the past I might have been characterized as a landscape photographer, but in recent years I have done many different things and not a lot of landscape work. In the past I’ve tended to avoid people in my work, but increasingly I’m shooting people and have some new ideas in that direction.

Bottom line, my goal is follow my heart and creative vision.


To follow your heart – and in a practical way – how often do you practice? Do you have some routine to – say, shoot daily or weekly? How did that rhythm develop over the last years?

Here is what I mean to follow my heart: I create what pleases me; not galleries, not buyers, not critics or magazine editors. I create for myself and not for others.

When you try to please others, you will always fail and your work will lack conviction. You must have the confidence to proceed with your vision and be happy even if you never achieve fame or fortune. Better to respect yourself than to win the approval of others, which is always fleeting and temporary.

I see so many trying to become rich and famous. I find that rarely does one becomes rich and famous from setting that as a goal. Rather, fame and fortune come to those to pursue their heart and have conviction in their work, and because that is their focus the fame and fortune often means little to them. How ironic, seek it and you’ll not get it, don’t seek it and you may get it but not care!

Wise words, wise words. And I agree with you – if fame is ones only goal everything else falls underneath it. So let’s talk about daily routines, Cole. How often do you shoot (take photographs)? What kind of rhythm do you have in going out, photographing stuff?

I have followed two shooting patterns, depending on what I’m working on. When I’m looking for a new project I will photograph every day, as I have found that the more I photograph, the more I am able to “see.” I think that the more you do something, the better you become with it, even with creative skills.

Once I have a new project, I tend to photograph the subject for 1-2 days at a time, process that work and digest it and then go back and shoot some more. I need a large block of time to work, not just a few hours, to really get into the project. Coming back multiple times allows conditions to change, such as the light and weather, and it also allows me to pre-visualize new ideas and see the project with fresh eyes.

Sometimes I’m able to create an entire portfolio in a single short session, but I have also taken months to complete other projects. For example, I photographed The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau in just a few hours, because I had to. However my project, “Harbinger” will probably take me years to complete simply because it’s difficult to find lone clouds.

And sometimes you are in a creative funk and nothing happens. You look and you look and you just cannot see. I think everyone goes through these periods and they are usually accompanied with self-doubt. Having been through those a few times, I’ve found the best approach is to keep shooting and to have faith that you will see again. In other words, don’t worry about it and just enjoy the different experience.


That is an important statement I think we cannot here often enough. Tell us a little bit about your technical workflow. How much are you into processing your images – ? In the context of a project – how much time and energy do you put in working on a single image to get the best out of it?

It is easy to get caught up in the technology of photography, both in the darkroom days and certainly now with digital. I am inclined to be distracted this way; to lose sight of my objective and get caught up in the gadgets.

So a few years ago, when I made a conscious decision to become and artist rather than a photographer, I decided to put the creative process in first place and technology in second place. As a consequence I do not use Photoshop to its full ability, in fact I have been called the Photoshop Heretic by Popular Photography because of the crude manner in which I use it.

My Photoshop techniques are very similar to what I did in the darkroom, most of my processing is in the form of dodging and burning. I do not use layers, plug ins, profiles, calibrators, RIP’s or most anything else. My workflow is a very simple „darkroom“ like process.

Here is my workflow:

  • Shoot in B&W mode, RAW
  • I bracket +1 and -1 and usually use the -1 exposure
  • I convert using Photoshop’s Channel Mixer or the Black and White converter
  • Apply a very small amount of global contrast
  • Use Levels to ensure I have a true black and a true white
  • Dodge and burn to create the look I want
  • Use the histogram all along the way to ensure a true black and true white
  • Test print
  • Re-work the image until the print pops!

My workflow is very simple, for me; simpler is better.

Allright, Cole! Last question: What kind of music do you listen to while working on your images?

To get inspired before creating new images, I always listen to the Beatles. I marvel at how they grew and their style changed, they were not afraid to offend some fans by morphing into something new. They inspire me to grow and change as an artist, to follow my vision even if that’s completely different than my past.

While editing my images I listen to:

Camaron – La Leyenda Del Tiempo

Herbie Hancock – Possibilities

Dire Straights – Sultans of Swing

Thomas Newman – Scent of a Woman soundtrack

John Coltrane – Blue Train

Holst – The Planets

Yo Yo Ma – Vivaldi’s Cello

Elton John – Blue Moves

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà Vu

Cool! Thank you very much, Cole, for participating in the interview and for answering my questions!

Martin, this was fun and I think you asked some great questions!

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  1. Das nenne ich mal „geniale S/W Bilder“
    Der Stil hat wirklich was… TOP!

    Ich bin normal nicht so ein s/w Fan, mMn gibt es nur wenige BIlder die in s/w wirklich besser als in Farbe wirken. Und hier finde ich, sieht man das in Perfektion.
    Toller Artikel – Toller Künstler!

  2. Hallo Martin,

    ein super Interview, mit einem tollen Fotografen. Vielen Dank. Hier lauern neue Inspirationen. Die Seite des Autors wurde von mir direkt „gebookmarkt“.

    Herzlichen Dank und einen schönen Sonntag.
    Sebastian

  3. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you so much, However I am encountering difficulties
    with your RSS. I don’t know why I am unable to join it.
    Is there anybody having identical RSS problems? Anyone who knows the solution
    will you kindly respond? Thanks!!