EK Interview: Kyle Thompson

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Kyle Thompson is a photographer with an entirely unique approach to his art.  With himself as the main subject, he depict scenes that are diligently constructed and fantastically executed.  He is surely doing awesome and novel things.  Check out his interview:

Please introduce yourself.  How do you think lacking a formal art education has benefited you as an artist?
Hi, I’m Kyle Thompson and I take photos.  I’m from Chicago, but am living in my car right now and wandering around.  I think lacking a formal art education has benefited me because it kept me creating what I wanted to create.  Not getting bogged down in school work, and finding ways to interpret things for myself.  You can’t teach creativity, and conceptual thinking comes naturally, so I felt it was simpler to just read some books and teach myself the technical side of photography and keep consistently creating work.
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What moves you to self-portraiture?  What sides of yourself have you discovered through self-portraits that you may not have encountered otherwise?
I initially started self portraiture because I had no one to take photos of.  Just being alone in the middle of nowhere and creating art is so refreshing.  And art is so personal.  If I am trying to express myself through my work, it would feel odd to have others model for it.  I prefer to use other models for more story-based work, and myself for more introspective work.
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You describe some of your work as ‘fine art’, what’s your definition for ‘fine art’?  What makes a piece ‘fine art’?
It just means art.  I suppose the term “fine art” can come off as a bit pretentious.  I just use the term to separate my work from documentary or commercial photography
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Some of your photos show pieces of bodies, what are you trying to capture focusing on extremities as opposed to faces, bodies?  We’re connected to the Earth by our feet, we’re connected to everything else through our hands.  What emotionally do you associate with hands?  What about feet?
I love the mystery.  The idea of simplifying the human form and focusing just on details.  I just love the ambiguity in it; you don’t know who the limbs are attached to.  I love being able to tell a story in an image without creating an identifiable character.  Any one could relate since there aren’t any characteristic to distinguish them.
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What kind of camera do you work with?  What interesting  techniques have you experimented with that you could tell aspiring photographers about?  How could a new photographer push their own work to the next level?  How have you tested of your comfort zones?
I’m using a 5D Mark II right now.  I’m always trying out new techniques, I’m pretty much always in a constant state of experimentation.  Just look around for interesting items or materials and think about what you could do with them that hasn’t been done.  Shoot through a broken mirror, cover people in flour and make them look like stone, mess with filters and do crazy things with light and smoke or anything.  I think just constantly trying new things is the only way to improve.  I’m always leaving my comfort zone if it will help the shot.  Setting myself on fire or swimming in freezing water.  Recently I started sleeping in abandoned houses to feel such vulnerability that I can reinterpret in my work.  In a month, I plan on living alone in an abandoned house in the forest for a week and putting together a very personal series.  Getting out of your comfort zone is so important and its always when I create my best work.
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Most of your photographs are self-portraits but they’re also in large part action shots, how do you get them?  How do you come up with the idea for the actions you’re carrying out your work? 
Yeah, I will usually draw everything out, and plan the details completely before hand.  I use a remote timer, which is basically like an advanced version of the 10 second timer to my camera.  I program it to wait as long as I want and shoot photos in intervals.  I repeat an action sometime over 100 times to get it right.
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Tell us about what you had to do to take the photograph of your head covered by a bag on fire.  What about the photograph of you in the air with sheets looking like wings?  It looks like you’re in the woods, where did you shoot those?
For most work I do with fire I use spray paint as the fuel, and wear an extra layer.  However with that specific shot, I had to light that bag when it was off of my face and composite.  It wasn’t possible to do safely and practically.  For cloth images I experiment with how I throw the fabric, tying pieces together, and weighing areas down.  I used to shoot most of my work in a forest near me in Chicago, but I am never in one area for very long any more, so I’ve been shooting all over the US and Canada.
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What are you working on right now?  What’s next for you?  What was the most challenging photo you’ve taken and what made it such a trial?
I am working on a photo book, and a few exhibitions overseas.  I am just wandering and creating work and seeing where it all takes me. The most challenging photo I did recently was one I shot a couple weeks ago in Tennessee with my friend Marissa Bolen.  We turned these girls into ghostly statues, and had to build a dam, and cut a path through the forest, and cut out roots, and fill a hole with water and milk and flour and it was a long process but I was very happy with the result.
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What is the coolest thing you’ve done this month?
This month I climbed up a water tower, and walked through sewers, and laid under the stars at the Grand Canyon and got in a car crash.
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