The photography of Ben Thomas makes our world look like a model set. In the most extreme, this can be an exercise in humility, forcing one to consider how infinitesimal we are as human beings, and how tiny our race is in the scope of our planet, and in the greater context of the universe. On another end they provide a window into the beauty and achievement of our species, the monuments we have constructed to ourselves and the world we have wrought together. Check out his interview:
What was the first camera you ever shot with?
First stills camera was a 5mp Fuji finepix.
What do you use now?
I’m shooting on a Canon 5d mark 3.
What do you miss about the old camera?
Not a lot to be honest, it did its job pretty well but was limited in what it could do (it was pretty much an entry level camera).
What do you love about the new one?
I’ve been on Canon setups for nearly 10 years now, they’ve been rock solid.
Tell us about ‘Cityshrinker’, it was almost a decade ago but when you did the series, it was internationally acclaimed, how have you evolved since then? What about the tilt-shift technique appealed and appeals to you? How has it influenced your shooting?
Well it all really started with Cityshrinker. I remember seeing some Olivo Barbieri tilt shift images at the National Gallery of Victoria and I was just blown away with what a still image could say with some manipulation. From there I had to discover what was going on and explore how far you could go with it. The technique was a major influence on my work and how I shot for around 6 to 7 years, it was pretty much all that I was doing. Since then I have moved onto new bodies of work, still with an urban/city landscape subject but utilising different techniques to deconstruct them (Accession, 2011, Water 2013 and Chroma, 2015).
How has your photography affected your perception of the world around you? You’ve taken photos of vast urban megalopolis’, where millions of people live, how does it feel to be faced with a subject that puts into perspective how finite you are personally? Has it humbled you? Empowered you?
Its been something that’s evolved over time. Cityshrinker was always about scale, getting above massive cities and shifting what would be an ordinary perspective into something that is somewhat different. Today I am more astute about the smaller details that can sometimes be missed. Architecture and color are major subjects of my work today. So to answer your question, I think overall the process in hugely empowering. Gaining new perspectives on the places that surround you is really important.
The tilt-shift has a penchant for making photos look almost like dioramas, like little train sets but for cities. When shooting Water, how did you feel, looking at people through this lens? Do you feel connected to your subjects? Do you try and give them names and histories? What are they to you?
I don’t really feel a connection to the people in the images, they are more a point of reference that help build scale. There are a couple of images that are an exception to this and they were deliberately shot to illustrate Australian beach culture at scale.
Accession plays with mirrors, to a degree where almost all of the images are only half unique, would you agree or disagree? Where do you see the meaning if half of an image is the same as the other half? What do you hope the viewer to take away from the duplication?
Well I don’t know if there is a right or wrong way to look at the Accession series, while yes the images are mostly mirrored, the point of interconnect of these images produces new shapes and patterns that are individual in their own right.
How did your perspective, your framing, and your approach change from Cityshrinker to Accession? What does each series mean to you as a moment in your evolution? Do they connect? Do they inform one another?
It’s been a evolution. No doubt Accession benefited from my experience in shooting Cityshrinker, a lot of my finer perspective study happened through the development of Accession. Both of these series have had a great influence on how I ended up with the Chroma too. Its been a great journey so far.
What are you working on at the moment? What was the last photo you took that you were proud of?
I’m working on a new series called Chroma. I developed the concept while in residency at the Villa Lena Foundation in Italy, the series is hyper-real, flat and almost illustrative in its structure. The last image I was really happy with was a particular one named ‘Receiving”.