“I’m usually trying to approach an idea that is probably too big to be reasonably handled, and as a result of this my thought has been drifting towards questions about the limitations of photography in expressing ideas.”
Lex Thompson (born in Pensacola, Florida, USA) is a contemporary photographer currently based in Minneapolis. He studied photography at San Francisco Art Institute, California.
Interview with Lex Thompson
Lex, what was your first camera and photographic experience?
That’s hard to say. My father is a photographer, so it’s always been a bit ubiquitous in my life, but I certainly remember working with him as a kid in the darkroom he had built in our garage.
Why did you become a photographer?
I started by making photos for a local music magazine in college, so I could get backstage at rock shows. But, eventually the photographs started to overtake the drawing and painting I was doing at the time. It’s a slippery slope.
What does photography mean to you?
It’s a way of thinking I guess, asking questions and proposing answers.
Which photographer has inspired you most?
Joel Sternfeld. He made a photo of a fireman perusing pumpkins at a farmer’s stand in front of a burning house.
Can I also pick a film? Doug Aitken’s “Migration” – animals taking baths and ransacking the minibar in motel rooms is visually stunning and a truly profound reflection on the state of the American landscape both cultural and natural.
How would you describe your photographic style and creative process?
Well, when I’m photographing, I generally try to get in and get out before anyone sees me. Not that I’m doing anything nefarious, but I do prefer to work in a kind of isolation without the distraction of conversation and explanation.
What’s important in order to develop an own photographic style and how did you achieve it?
I believe it’s a constantly evolving element of any person’s work, determined by a variety of shifting interests and experiences. If the work and style are not always developing, things get stale pretty quickly. Style is grounded in attentiveness and each person will focus that attention in slightly different ways.
What do you consider to be the axis of your work – technically and conceptually?
For me the technical elements just seem to happen the way they are, not that they aren’t important, but I don’t think they are particularly distinctive in any way beyond being sufficient for the task at hand. I’d rather those things disappear. I’m more interested in the ideas of the work. For me that has generally related to questions about American culture as it is expressed in the landscape. I’m usually trying to approach an idea that is probably too big to be reasonably handled, and as a result of this my thought has been drifting towards questions about the limitations of photography in expressing ideas.
What qualities does a good photographer need?
A commitment to your work and a thick skin.
What does a photo need to be a great photo in your eyes?
There’s a lot of range here, photos can be great for lots of different reasons. In the end, I think it is about interest – the photo needs to be interesting, and that can mean many things, but it needs to hold me, or better yet haunt me. I like them best when they haunt me.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your photographic projects?
I find it more often comes from reading or hearing stories. Right now I’m reading a lot about the unraveling of art, religion, and the natural sciences in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century. We’ll see where that takes me. Once I get going, the specific photographs mostly arise from stumbling around places and bumping into stuff.
What kind of photography equipment and photographic supplies do you use?
I use a Mamiya 7II, but I don’t think about it much – it does the job.
What’s your favorite website on photography?
I’m going to go with unlessyouwill.com. It’s a website, an electronic publication. Well designed, beautifully edited and curated.
What photography book would you recommend?
My favorite two recent photo books are Cristina De Middel’s Afronauts and Mishka Henner’s Astronomical.
Which advice would you give someone who wants to become a professional photographer?
The rewards of being an artist come, for most of us, in ways that are not financial.
So, I’d recommend having a lucrative skill to supplement being an art photographer, say being able to do commercial photography, or perhaps lawyering.