Initially from Santa Barbara, Laura Thompson moved to Scotland to study International Relations and Business before realising she needed to do something more creative. Thus, she returned to photography and studied it as a postgraduate. At the Glasgow School of Art, she developed her own creative perspective. We spoke with her about her vision and projects, in particular, Senseless, which documents the mythological and the androgynous in vast landscapes. This aims to create more awareness on how people now are too greatly attached to technology.
Could you please introduce yourself?
Yes, I’m Laura Thompson. I graduated from the Glasgow School of Art a little over a year ago and I’m currently living in Scotland. My recent work has focused on constructed, surreal characters influenced by mythology and the social sciences.
When did you decide to become a photographer?
I’ve always had an interest; my father is an avid amateur photographer and collector of old cameras, so I was always surrounded by photography. I really got into it halfway through high school when I received my first digital camera to use on a family holiday. I was obsessed and just couldn’t stop taking photos. The idea that I could capture whatever I wanted and not have to worry about how many rolls of film I was carrying was liberating. I later found it a bit of a curse, as you can get overwhelmed by the amount of photos you have to wade through to get a good shot, and you can become a lot more careless when composing an image. This is one of the reasons why I’ve gone back to film in recent years.
To get back to your question, however, although there began my love for photography, I ended up studying International Relations and Business at university to get a ‘practical degree’. It wasn’t until I began interning that I realised it wasn’t for me and that I needed to do something more creative. Shortly after that, I went back to university to study photography as a postgraduate.
What does being a photographer mean to you?
Being a photographer is a way to convey concepts that words can’t fully express. It’s an amazing power to be able to construct and preserve an idea or a moment in time that you can then share with others. For me, being a photographer is the only way to get all the ideas out of my head and into the physical world.
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Do you think that moving to the United Kingdom has been a triggering factor for your photography?
I think I would have found my way back to photography if I was still living in the United States. However, the projects and stylistic choices I’ve since made would probably be different. I think travelling is a great way to broaden your perspective. The people surrounding you and researching while you create have a big influence on the work you end up producing.
Why did you choose to go to United Kingdom to study? How have these studies influenced your work?
I love to travel and wanted to go somewhere different for university. At the time I wanted to study International Relations so figured it made sense to go abroad. It was also about the same price for me to study in the United Kingdom as it was to study at an in-state public school – and much cheaper than going to an out-of-state or private school –, so it seemed like a no-brainer. My studies both at London College of Communication, where I initially came up with the project Senseless, and at Glasgow School of Art, where I fleshed out the backstory and created all the images that finally made the project, definitely influenced my work.
I had a really difficult time putting all the pieces together conceptually and creating images that made sense and that I was happy with. My tutors’ and classmates’ suggestions and encouragement helped me make my project what it ended up being.
We’re glad they encouraged you to make it then. Tell us more about your photographic series, Senseless.
The main concept behind it comes from studies that have shown that as technology advances and people become more detached from nature, we become more and more desensitised. To express this idea, I’ve constructed creatures out of various disposable, human-made objects relating to each of the senses. They’ve become these mythical creatures that have been consumed by these objects to the point that they can no longer sense anything at all. This series shows them trying to go back into the natural world and interact with it, only to find out that it’s too late.
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Where did you find the locations?
Location scouting is tough! Fortunately I both live and am from areas with diverse and incredible landscapes. For some of them, I had vague ideas of what I wanted, so I did Google searches of potential areas that were close enough to travel to, along with asking friends if they knew any good locations. Others I had travelled through in the past and had already been wanting to photograph. I found out the hard way that it’s always good to plan ahead and know at least vaguely what you’re getting yourself into before lugging along a bunch of camera equipment and costumes!
What do these characters stand for and who is hidden beneath the costumes? 
One of the reasons I liked the idea of faceless, androgynous characters was that they could be representative of anyone. Everyone has the potential to become one of these creatures if they’re not careful. In my research, I found that many cultures use masks and costumes as a way to transform themselves into another character or creature and can commune on different planes. I like to think of these creatures as going through a similar process, but taking it too far and being consumed by these items to the point that they have lost themselves.
I also looked at Bigfoot and these urban legends that feel so creepy and mysterious because they’re not human or animal but instead stuck in between, not belonging to either. These creatures are definitely in this lonesome category. As for who’s actually in these costumes, it was whomever I could get at the time and would fit! It ranges from my mum to my husband to various people on my course. Each creature is a different person, which I think helps propel this idea that it could be anybody.
By highlighting our increasing isolation in this hyper connected world, what kind of reaction do you expect from people?
I think it’s a mixture of humour and sadness. Humour coming from the absurdity of the situation – such as seeing someone covered in air fresheners in the middle of the forest, and sadness coming soon after, once the understanding of the situation is realised. The same can be said for, as you put it, isolation in this hyper connected world – the humour in the irony of it, followed by the sadness of its reality and the fact that you can relate to it. It’s that whole funny/sad because it’s a true sort of thing.
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Are you scared of how technology is evolving and, more importantly, how we are using it?
I’m a big proponent of progress, but I think we need to take a look at how we are using technology and be aware of how it can affect society, the world, and us as individuals. Technology can create these bubbles that can be tempting to live in and experience everything through. We need to remember there’s a whole world outside that we are a part of before we get too disconnected.
Are you planning to go back to Santa Barbara in the future?
I don’t have any definitive plans, but I definitely will at some point! It’s a lovely city, and knowing that I can always go home comforts me. California is also a great place to be a photographer, as the landscapes are varied and spectacular. I try to make the most of it every time I visit!
What are your dreams and goals (both in the short term and long term future)?
Wow, getting deep! Short term: I’ve been trying to put together some new projects – I have a lot of different ideas, I just have to figure out how to make sense of them all, and see if I can make something cohesive. That’s always the toughest part! Long term I’m still trying to figure out, but I’d love to make a living creating all the various ideas that are in my head.
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