Photographer of the Month – Cole Thompson

I first became aware of Cole Thompson’s work from an image I saw published in Photo Life magazine in 2006 (the first image below). I was blown away by the creativity and mood in the photo. That image has stuck with my to this day. In the meantime I have seen Cole’s fine art B+W work in numerous publications including B+W magazine, American Photo and LensWork to name a few. I wanted to share with you Cole’s work just in case he is not known to you. I asked Cole a few questions about his work and here are his responses:

Darwin: Why do you think B+W captures “the feelings that lie beneath the surface” where colour photography can not?  Further to this why does fine art photography almost always take the form of B+W? Can colour photography ever seriously be considered art?

Cole: Why B&W? That’s a question I often ask myself and others. I think there a lot of “answers” but I only know what I “feel.”. Even as a boy, I would look at the b&w images of the great masters (Adams, Weston, Capinigro, Bullock, Cunningham and others) and I would experience a physical reaction. It’s something I don’t have the capability to put into words, but I’m not sure that’s important; I just love black and white.

I think that it’s simply a matter of preference with some appreciating black and white while others love color. Is color photography considered serious art? I would never judge what art is and what is not, I wouldn’t even try to define what art is!

Darwin: Can you talk about what project you are currently working on? Is it a portfolio with a theme? Do you enjoy working more as a grazer (your words) or under the constraints of producing themed work in a portfolio?

Cole: I’m currently working on two projects, Harbinger and The Fountainhead.

The Harbinger series was started by accident when I created Harbinger No. 1 in 2008. I had been photographing the hills in Utah and was heading back to the car when I saw this solitary cloud moving rapidly over the hills. I instantly knew that in a few seconds it was going to be perfectly placed over the hill I was just photographing. I ran back up the hill, quickly unpacked my gear and just barely had time to create this one perfect image. When I name a series the name is usually my instinctive first choice and for me this cloud was a harbinger.

Initially I never thought that I’d have much chance to find other Harbingers, but the more I became aware of them , the more I began to find. I have a small collection of them and am hoping to finish them in the short term.

I’m often asked what does Harbinger mean? I’m not one to tell others what my images mean and so simply give this definition:

Harbinger: \ˈhär-bən-jər\ noun

1. one that goes ahead and makes known the approach of another; herald.

2. anything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign.

The other series I’m actively working on is The Fountainhead, the title inspired by the novel of the same name by Ayn Rand. It is the story of a rogue architect, an individualist named Howard Roarke who refuses to conform to the ideas of society. My favorite lines and currently my artist statement for the series is:

Ellsworth M. Tooey: My dear fellow, who will let you?

Howard Roarke: That’s not the point. The point is, who will stop me?

This series combines two of the loves in my life; architecture and photography. It is a modern and abstract interpretation of architecture with the affects created in-camera using “old school” techniques. For now my techniques are a closely guarded secret!

You asked if I still enjoyed “photographic grazing” which is the name I gave to my wanderings as I searched for “one-hit wonders.” No, I no longer create this way. Once I started working on portfolios or cohesive bodies of work, I find it difficult to work in any other manner. Portfolios give me purpose and focus.

I’ve also worked a great deal with long exposures, initially creating “fluid water” images and then moving onto people after seeing the work of Alexey Titarenko. His influence led me a once in a lifetime opportunity to photograph the death camps in a very different way that I had seen them portrayed before. The series “The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau” is perhaps the work I am most proud of.

Darwin: From a practical point-of view, how do you do your long exposures, with filters, waiting for dim light, a combination of both?

Cole: My long exposures are created using 13 stops of neutral density filters. I use a fixed 5 stop ND filter and then stack a second filter on that, a Singh-Ray Vari-ND variable filter which gives me up to an additional 8 stops of neutral density. Using these two filters I am able to obtain 30 second exposures in full daylight. Most all of my long exposures are created in daylight even though many have the appearance of being created at night.

I have used the long exposure most recently in my series “The Lone Man” which combines my love of water with people. It explores the contemplative nature that overcome people as they ponder the enormity of the sea and the smallness of self.

Darwin: Finally, do you shoot with a digital camera in colour and then change to B+W in post-production, or do you capture your images in monochrome in camera?

Cole: I create in digital using monochrome mode and in RAW. This does two things; first it displays the image on the preview screen in B&W and second it keeps the digital file in color so that I can convert it to B&W myself. I don’t want the camera converting the image for me and I use the Photoshop supplied B&W converter, often tweaking the color channels drastically.

My workflow is simple and my digital techniques often mimic my darkroom techniques, making extensive use of dodging and burning. My primary philosophy is to use simple procedures that do not distract from my primary purpose of creating a visual expression of my vision.

To see more of Cole Thompson’s work go to his website and also be sure to stop by his blog

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson

©Cole Thompson


8 Responses to “Photographer of the Month – Cole Thompson”

  1. Those images stun me. I’ve not heard of Mr Thompson but you can be sure I’ll start following along on his journey. Thank you for the interview. Words fail me except that’s not totally true: I did blurt some emotive words that would be filtered by spam sieves 🙂

    To me, B&W can simplify an image that would otherwise have a distracting colour aspect. I do find it much harder to create in as I feel I don’t have a solid grasp of tones.

  2. Wow, a stunning body of work! I remember the first image as well… just read the story behind it which makes it even more memorable. I plan to come back to Cole’s site for inspiration. Thanks for bringing his work to the attention of us who where not aware– he truly deserves to be recognized.


  3. Truly a master of b&w. Really gorgeous work!

  4. I was not familiar with this man but now I stand enthralled with his artistry. Thank you Darwin for making him known.

  5. Wow! Stunning work! Very inspiring!

  6. […] à la lecture d’un article , découvrant le photographe Cole Tompson , que j’ai eu l’idée de convertir […]

  7. Wow! Thanks so much for introducing me to this photographer. His images are amazing and make me want to try b+w.

  8. In regards to your quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, it was the dean of the architectural school that poses the question “who will let you?” to Howard Roark.

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