Kyle Thompson’s photography has, from the very beginning, denoted a very personal, concise and skilled vision for such a young artist. Drawing inspiration from his own emotions, his haunting images transport viewers to personal moments, surreal instants captured with his lens and transformed into a fleeting yet immutable instant. His photography translates abstract feelings into more physical ones, grasping images by mixing fantasy and reality. A lot of his oneiric images portray the inherent beauty in emptiness, and play with concepts like loneliness and self-destruction.
Let’s start with a bit of background on yourself... First of all, where are you from and where do you live?
I grew up right outside of Chicago, and lived there for most of my life. I moved to Portland around two years ago though, and I'm really enjoying it here.
You didn’t always know you wanted to pursue photography, right? When and how did you first get into it? What were you doing before?
I've always been creative, and before I became interested in photography I had moved between a bunch of different mediums. I was into filmmaking for a while, and I drew and I painted for a long time. I even designed and programmed online games throughout high school as a job.
I became interested in photography in 2011, after finding some photographs by Francesca Woodman. The images moved me in a way that I hadn't felt before from photographs. I think I was drawn to photography due to the instant gratification of it. I always come up with a ton of different ideas, and photography is quick enough that I am able to keep them from piling up.
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You haven’t had any formal art education. Did you learn all the technical stuff by yourself? Do you think it has worked in your favor to lack that education?
I am glad I didn't go to school for it, since I think I learn better by myself. When I started, I didn't even look up how to use a camera, and it was all just trial and error. This meant that it took me six months to learn some really basic camera functions. I wish I had spent a week learning the basics at the beginning, but that is long in the past!
When did you start to get noticed? Was it after posting some of your work to reddit? Why did you decide to do that on the first place?
There were a bunch of different bursts, and posting to reddit was the first big one. I'm sure that without posting there initially, I wouldn't have had many other large opportunities, and I'm really appreciative of the support from people there. I just posted because I had not seen anyone else posting similar work there at the time, and was curious to see what would happen. A couple weeks later, I was flown to NYC and did a video piece for Yahoo News after they saw the post, and things spread from there.
Why is it that you focused solely on self-portraits? Have you discovered things about yourself that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?
When I started shooting, I was very solitary, and I had a hard time shooting other people. This anxiety was the initial reason I started taking mainly self-portraits, but I grew to appreciate it for other reasons as well. Shooting alone is so intimate, and calming. It feels very therapeutic. I often feel like I am able to portray my vision and emotions better if I am not only in the image metaphorically, but literally as well.
"I often feel like I am able to portray my vision and emotions better if I am not only in the image metaphorically, but literally as well."
In some of your images you also show some very ambiguous and non-identifiable characters. What’s the purpose behind that?
I started partially because I felt like having so many images of myself would come off as narcissistic and repetitive. I tried hiding any identifiable features, and keep things ambiguous. After that, I began to like the way it altered any potential storyline. It made the ideas less concrete, and more open and relatable. I don't want the images to be set as one specific person, and would rather allow people to inject themselves into the work.
Let’s talk a bit about your creative process. What inspires your work? How do you translate your ideas to the actual picture, do you plan the shoots a lot?
It's hard to dissect my creative process, because it changes so often. Most of my images are a way to capture my emotions and mood into something visual and less abstract. I usually plan things out a bit, but sometimes I will just find an interesting location or object, and create more quickly and on the spot. My best images are almost always planned though, and I try to figure out everything from props, location, angles, to lighting beforehand.
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Lots of your pictures seem to be taken on the woods. Is there a specific reason behind that?
I enjoy shooting in empty places. It fits the mood of my images, but also keeps me relaxed while I shoot. I like locations like forests, abandoned houses, and the desert, because they are so quiet and calm.
Some of your shots seem impossible to achieve. What has been the most challenging picture you can remember?
I think I am good at finding unusual solutions to problems, so I try not to discount any difficult ideas I come up with. I've found safe and easy ways to set myself on fire, go in freezing water, etc.
I wanted to do a series with images in flooded houses, but I didn't want to spend too much money, so I had to figure out a cheap way to do it. I decided to buy a pool, and would build flooded sets in it with furniture I found in the trash and thrift store decorations. It ended up looking exactly as I imagined, and was extremely cheap considering!
What are some of the coolest things that you’ve been able to do thanks to photography?
I've been able to travel all over the world, have exhibitions, and met some of my best friends. I also had some of my images featured in the largest art museum in South America (CCBB) last year! I am so grateful for everything I've been able to do because of it.
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Tell us a bit about your book. What can we find in it?
My book, Somewhere Else, is an alternative travel memoir. I shot all the images while living out of my car for six months and driving around the United States. The images deal with loneliness and the difficulties of living in the unfamiliar. The trip was such a critical period of my life. It felt so shattering to be alone and constantly moving, and over time I found ways to cope and create.
Who are your biggest references?
Not really references, but some photographers I like are Gregory Crewdson, Andrew Moore, and Chen Wei. One of the first photographers whose work I followed was Cari Ann Wayman, and I still love the feeling her work puts out.
Where will we find you next? Any plans or projects for the near future we can keep our eyes out for?
I'm slowly working on another photo book, something a bit different. Kind of a huge pile of instant film and candids in a scrap book format. I'd like to get something else out there by the time I sell out of my first book!
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