Monday, September 17, 2007

Art Space Talk: Remi Thornton

Remi Thornton creates a mysterious atmosphere around the subjects he captures with his camera-- leaving a story that only the viewer can provide. These images are open to interpretation. In my opinion, Remi's work reveals how common objects, scenes, and people can become more than what they appear to be at first glance. They show how light and shadow can be utilized in order to give new meaning to the things we view each day without a second thought.

Brian Sherwin: In 2006 you were involved with an exhibit titled Quiet Chaos- a two-person show with Cathy Bruegger at the Silver Eye Center for Photography. How did that show go for you? Do you have any upcoming exhibits at this time?

Remi Thornton: It was a good experience. I was able to basically curate a show of my own work with another artist that I had never even seen work by. Which seems challenging, but we were able to share photographs in emails and put together a nice show. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in this respect because we pretty much agreed on everything. I wasn’t able to go hang the show, or attend the opening, so that was an unfortunate disconnect, but the nature of out-of-town exhibitions.
My solo exhibition at Gallery Katz was a breakthrough for me. It was the first time I really put my work out there for people to see...I sold prints and got excellent exposure. I have some work in a group show at the Danforth Museum and will be in an auction at the PRC in Boston next month. I don’t have any planned solo exhibitions right now and would kill for some representation outside of Boston. Know anyone?

BS: You have stated that what you are capturing is not complex and not completely conceptual. You have went on to say that your work is pure, simple, and eerily beautiful. Can you go into further detail about your work and the vision behind it? What are you attempting to accomplish? Have you came close to your goal?

RT: I think I’m just a purist. I want people to know that if they don’t want to read into the photographs on a conceptual level, that they don’t have to. I really like art that is both aesthetic and meaningful but if it’s just one or the other, that’s ok too. It doesn’t have to be both. However, I do like knowing that my work may cause an emotional response or feeling. If the photographs doesn’t seem to carry meaning for the viewer, but are appreciated on an aesthetic level, that’s just as good. The "eerily beautiful" thing really just stems from comments I received after my solo show at Gallery Katz. People said the photographs made them uncomfortable, but at the same time, they really liked looking at them. To me, that’s a bonus response. I enjoy taking late night walks, and capturing that awkward silence of a location is what I’m after.

BS: I've read that you only photograph at night...and that you focus on urban spaces that are bustling with life during the day and are absolutely vacant at night. What are the social implications of this manner of photographic work?

RT: Well, firstly, I do not only photograph at night, that was a slight embellishment. I work with a stock photograph agency (a very recent development), and they will take my "other" work in addition to the night photographs. But, I am really only interested in taking the night photography to the "fine art" level. I feel good about them and like sharing this particular work. The rest of the stuff I take to keep myself busy and to feel less guilty about spending so much money on a camera that isn’t used more often. But, at the end of the day, I’m just not interested in shaping those photographs into a body of work to show.

As for the social implications of shooting in these locations...The first thing that comes to my mind is that I’m usually pretty terrified while taking the pictures. Being mugged, hassled by locals or annoyed by police and security. I find it amazing that these places that are so alive during the day can become such strange or seemingly dangerous places once the sun sets. Now, obviously, I’m also just very paranoid, but nonetheless, that’s what the experience is about for me. And, I think that the uncomfortable nature of my own being while taking the picture comes across in the photographs. At least, I think that is the case with the more successful images.
This might sound stupid (if I’m not already), but one of my gauges when I take a photograph is how nervous I am while at the location. If I’m not, then usually I don’t like the end result. So, the more uncomfortable you find the imagery, just know that I found that spot to be 100 times more freaky. On that note, you should see how many pictures I messed up because I was rushing to leave. Early on, I would take one picture and move on. I’ve learned that after MANY blurry or soft shots, that it’s worth the time to take a few extra shots to be safe. I’m such a nervous dork though and usually don’t practice what I preach leaving me very frustrating after returning from a shoot.

BS: Can you tell our readers about the Runaway Reindeer project? The page containing info about the project received over 15,000 visits during a two week span and was the number one most emailed story on the Boston Globe website.

RT: My friend Hargo ( ) is a really talented conceptual artist (and also a great photographer). Coincidentally, he also created The Somerville Gates, which was a parody on Christo’s gates in Central Park. That project was written up in the New York Times and I think he was even on CNN or something like that. It was so popular online that it crashed his site (and I think his Internet provider). He has several successful projects under his belt, but the Somerville Gates is his most popular to date. The reindeer site was all his idea, and his hard work. He took care of the conceptual elements (because he also knows that ain’t for me) and asked me to do the photography, and I was more than willing.
Anyway, it’s a modern and somewhat creepy take on a book called The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. Honestly, I never read the book as a child, so I’m not that familiar with it. But it was the foundation of the project’s story, so I’m told by Hargo. From what I’ve learned about it online, it is pretty strange to begin with.
Anyway, we were excited about the success of the site and story and hope to do more this coming winter. Oh, your readers should know that we were removed from the number one top ten emailed stories on the Boston Globe website after about 10 minutes...There was a stomach bug in Tewksberry, MA, that was apparently more interesting than the runaway reindeer site (

BS: The practice of digital manipulation in regards to photography has been increasing in recent years. Photographers are using computers as a tool to alter their works. I've read that you try to stay away from altering your images. Why is that?

RT: Given the nature of the digital photography process, literally speaking, almost everyone manipulates their photographs. Even your point-and-shoot cameras help you manipulate an image There is software in the camera that allows you to add contrast, saturation, and other goodies. For the more advanced, the computer is a powerful tool that has replaced darkrooms altogether. Don’t forget that even with film, going back many years, photographers have manipulated their work in the darkroom. Dodging, burning, enlarging...So, in that sense, I think most photographers finesse their work before going to print, which isn’t much different than before the digital era.
I mention that I don’t alter the images (beyond any necessary adjustments to correct exposure or color) because people always ask me if what they’re seeing is "real" or "fake." I don’t think the process matters one way or the other, but I think it’s important in my work that the viewer knows that what they’re looking at really exists and I did not add or take away from the scene in order to achieve my desired effect.

BS: Do you think that some photographers are relying to much on digital manipulation? Would you say that an unaltered photo can reveal more about the human condition than one that has been digitally manipulated?

RT: Ugh. What a loaded question... I think I’m guilty of relying on digital manipulation in the sense that if I mess up an exposure, I know I will be able to correct it on my computer (to an extent). I imagine that being able to rely on manipulation in that sense applies to many photographers out there. But I think you’re hinting upon a different type of manipulation. And, it is a fine line between digital photography and digital art. I think that if you start changing reality, you cross that line into the realm of digital art. That can be an intentional transition or inadvertent, but there is a distinction.

Listen, I mentioned I’m a purist, so I feel like if I can take a strong photograph, there is no need to go messing with it. If the photograph isn’t working, I’m not talented enough as a digital artist, to make it work conceptually or otherwise. But, if another photographer has something else in mind with their work other than taking a straight photograph, by all means...I think what you’re trying to do is to get me to say that photographers that digitally manipulate their photographs are cool or lame. Well, like with many other mediums, it all depends on the situation and the intentions of the artist, so I won’t say one way or the other. Nice try!

BS: What equipment do you use? Do you have any suggestions for photographers who are just starting out?

RT: I just bought a Canon 5D but was using a 20D for a long time. After printing larger and larger, I finally decided it was time to get a camera that might be better equipped to make
larger prints. I use a totally digital process...I shoot using Camera RAW which is an amazing piece of technology and I recommend any amateur photographer to start using it if they don’t already. Also, know your computer as well as you know your camera. It’s literally a digital darkroom and perhaps the most important part of the process. It’s like framing a piece of artwork...A bad frame can destroy the look of the work. Likewise, bad computer processing can totally ruin a good photograph.

BS: Finally, what are your planning at this time?

RT: While the weather is still nice, it’s the time for me to be shooting. It gets cold out there at night during the Winter and is totally unpleasant to out there. I’m dedicated, but only so dedicated. Dedicated, but not insane.
You can learn more about Remi Thornton and his work by visiting his website: You can view more of my interviews by visiting the following page:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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