Opossums In the Backyard
Caroline Tompkins is a photographer based in NYC, originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. She has graduated from the BFA School of Visual Arts and for the last 5 years had been a Photo Editor at Bloomberg Businessweek. Recently, Caroline has decided to leave her daily job and pursue a career as a photographer. Though the artistic sphere of photography is not a new one for Caroline, the decision brings about an enormous shift to her personal and professional life.
Photography always carries a certain personal approach and values to the frame. The creator’s voice is never left outside, instead, it echoes in a distance and reaches the perception of those exposed to the creation. Evoking the feeling of being an insider to someone else’s life from the angle close enough to start to understand the other is what Caroline incessantly successfully achieves.
Wül has courted caroline to discuss her photography and learn about her visual perspective but not until those changes took place the interview was made possible. We talk with caroline about her decision to switch to photography as a full-time job, the challenges the profession bring about, her recent exhibition with molly matalon at micamera in milan, and the project shot for kodak.
‘I KEEP TELLING PEOPLE I’M LIKE A TIGHTLY WOUND BALL THAT’S GETTING TO SLOWLY UNRAVEL. IT’S BEEN REALLY NICE TO UNCLENCH MY FISTS’
Hey Caroline, how is it going? What’s new on your horizon?
Hello! Things are very good right now. You’ve caught me on a good day. I’ve recently left my Photo Editor position of 5 years to pursue photography full time, so everything is new at the moment. Mostly, I have years and years of backlogged pictures to sort through. I keep telling people I’m like a tightly wound ball that’s getting to slowly unravel. It’s been really nice to unclench my fists.
Let’s talk about your photography, and what is the most challenging aspect for you in this profession?
With the personal work, it’s all of the internal stuff really. The self-doubt. Comparing yourself. I’ve had enough therapy to have tools to deal with it, so I can usually power through it quickly. You have to point out the thing and separate the reality from the anxiety. You don’t have a book published right now because you haven’t pursued it, not because you’re not good enough. That would be a totally random example lol.
With the commissioned work, every shoot is a new puzzle to solve. It’s running a business, which requires strategy, innovation, administrative work, etc. I tend to worry less about this stuff because I’ve been a photo editor for long enough to know how random it all can be sometimes.
‘I STILL HAVE A LOT OF THOSE DIGITAL PICTURES. IT’S OPOSSUMS IN THE BACKYARD’
Do you remember the camera you used to have as a kid? What types of pictures were you taking back then?
I remember having a small yellow 35mm Kodak point and shoot when I was 11 or so, and a 5-megapixel digital camera not long after that. I still have a lot of those digital pictures. It’s opossums in the backyard. My dogs, who have since died, as puppies. My brothers making silly faces. I’ve always had lots of interests, but photography is the one I can’t seem to tire from.
Name the most important achievement you had in the past years from what matters the most to you?
I have an exhibition up right now with Molly Matalon at Micamera in Milan, Italy. Jamie Shaw of Enlarge Your Memories curated it, and I just feel so grateful to Jamie, Molly, and Guilia Zorzi of Micamera for all their work on it. It’s one of those things where you’re saying to your friends, “I’m sorry I can’t come to the Fondazione Prada with you because I have to do an interview with Vogue.”
What are you most excited about, or what inspires you to create?
Photographically, I’m most excited about the things I detest. I’m interested in tension points, like how I date/have sex with men, but I also fear they will kill me. I have little folders everywhere of things that catch my eye. Recently, that’s been Time-Life archives, porn screenshots, Pen15 stills when the girls are laying together, gay porn archives, Facebook pictures of people I’m friends with but do not know. That kind of thing.
What’s the last book you read, what was it about?
I’ve had this sort of love affair with the library for the last year or so, which has caused me to read more in the last 12 months than I have in the last few years. I’ve been really enjoying Annie Baker, Chloe Caldwell, Joan Didion, Henry Miller, Anna Tsing, and Cookie Mueller.
Your work ‘So It Goes - The Kodak Factory’ is saturated this invisible movement, catching a moment and freezing the motion. Tell about the series.
This was a commission for So It Goes magazine based in the UK. I was very excited because I feel women rarely get assigned to shoot factories, and this factory obviously has personal resonance for me. I also wrote the article to accompany it, so it was exhilarating to have so much control editorially. Oftentimes with assignments, editors have to pick images that best represent the story, even if it’s not in the interest of the best pictures. In this case, I was able to make sure both things could serve each other.
Your works tell a story, the frameset looks like a part of a film, and models are caught in between what was and what will be. How do you plan the frame?
I used to be more of a silent observer, always waiting for ‘the picture’ to happen to me. As I get older, I want more control. So often I’m recreating things that I’ve already seen or on the lookout for something I want to see. I have lists of pictures to make on my phone. I try to keep myself very sensitive to what’s keeping me up at night. With that said, I want to keep room in my pictures for things to surprise me – for the models to contribute. So many pictures of mine that I deem successful have been the ones where the model does something to make me think, “I can’t believe I get to take this picture.”
Some of your works are what society might label as provocative. What is important in voicing your opinion in a visualization?
The fact that it’s provocative in a society is what I think makes the work important. Of course, it’s not my intention to be gratuitous about it, but I’m looking to be surprised because how else will you be surprised?
The burning house photograph from ‘Fantasy Bond’ was it a setup or an unexpected happening that you decided to shoot?
It was completely serendipitous! I had been contacting local fire departments in the NY/NJ area to see if I could photograph a test burn for the last few months with no luck. I didn’t really have much of a why, but some sort of magnetic pull to photographing fire. I was traveling around Montana as a sort of photographic vacation and happened upon this test burn of an abandoned trailer. God is good lol.
I’m making tiny adjustments every day. Giving myself permission to go for a swim at 2pm. Trying to ride the wave of work/non-work as kindly to myself as I can. Getting to make all of those pictures that I have on the to-do lists. It feels like everything is just beginning.