Interview: TJ Thorne

If I am to be completely honest, I do not remember exactly how I came across the work of TJ Thorne. I believe I was searching along Instagram where his feed came up as being recommended to me. I’m pretty sure I have found many of my favorite artists by doing this same thing…

TJ Thorne

Nature/Landscape Photography

Tell us a little about yourself (who you are, where you are based, what you shoot, etc.)

My name is TJ Thorne and I’m based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Since 2001 I have lived in Portland, OR. The abundance, accessibility, and diversity of the natural areas around here led me into nature/landscape photography. While I have always enjoyed using a camera and have shot a variety of subjects for as long as I can remember, I’ve been photographing landscapes seriously and exclusively since early 2013.

Where did you grow up? Has your childhood affected your photography at all?

I grew up in a rural area about 20 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, PA. I rarely watched television and spent most of my youth roaming the forest behind my house, climbing trees, swinging on vines, snowboarding, and riding my dirtbike. Having nature be such a huge part of my childhood has certainly impacted how I interact and relate to it in my current days. It feels like home to me. It’s where I feel equal with the world. It’s where everything makes sense and the stress of the world washes away in the creeks, blows away in the wind, and drips off with the rain. I’m fortunate to have forged that relationship in the forests of SW Pennsylvania and now get to hone it in one of the most beautiful areas of the country.

How did you get into landscape/film photography?

I think it was a natural progression for me to end up doing landscape photography. Having the relationship with nature that I’ve always had and having an interest in photography, I would always take my camera with me on hikes.. if only to document the pretty things I saw and the adventures I went on. Eventually the hikes became more about the photos and less about the mileage and destination. At the same time I felt like I wanted to do more with photography but wasn’t sure exactly what. Soon enough I discovered that there was a whole genre of photography out there that was exactly what I was looking for and I thrusted myself into the deep end. It’s been quite the artistic journey and through photography I’ve been led to places in my heart and mind that I didn’t know existed. It's been a pursuit like no other, and also the most rewarding one I've taken on.

What is it about landscape/film photography that you enjoy so much?

It allows me to experience nature in a different way.. a more profound way. It helps me to connect more to my environment and I get to seem some pretty amazing things. It’s the perfect marriage of two of my passions: nature and photography. It just makes sense.

What do you value most in a photo? (emotion, composition, light, etc.)

I want to say emotion but I feel that is communicated via composition and the use of the light. I’m not interested in pretty pictures. It’s relatively easy to take a pretty photo of something with a colorful sky. But when the photographer is truly connected to their subject and puts careful consideration into their composition and the way they use the light, that’s when the emotion comes through. That’s when it’s art. There are photographers who take photos of landscapes and then there are artists use photography and nature as their medium. So I’ll answer that it’s emotion communicated via composition.

What inspires you to keep shooting?

I think it’s less about being inspired to shoot and more that it’s an urge to create. With the way that I connect with nature, recording the scene and producing something meaningful to me just feels like something that I need to do. It closes the loop of that relationship and enables me to connect with the experience on a more profound level. I still struggle with ways to communicate with words the way it makes me feel and what I get out of that relationship and I use my images to help get that out. Most of my images are accompanied by writing that gives some insight into what I was thinking, feeling, or experiencing at the time the photo was taken.. or even after the photo was taken. I use my experiences with nature to help me through my challenges and to supplement the good times.

Do you feel social media has a positive or negative effect on (new) photographers? Please elaborate.

I certainly think it’s a double edged sword. While social media introduces people to the genre and helps people discover others who inspire them, I also feel like it promotes a pack mentality of ‘follow the leader’ where certain spots or compositions are chased and regurgitated with little input into the scene from the soul of the photographer capturing it and even that causes the enveloped to be pushed farther by people who are frustrated with that situation. I understand that it might be hard to find your voice at the beginning and most people start off emulating the ones they respect, but I feel it's important to always keep yourself and your reasons you photograph in mind. Even if you don't know the answer, I feel that having the thought around it will eventually deliver that reason to you. So by all mean, chase those spots and those compositions if you desire. But learn from them instead of resting on them.

What do you wish to convey with your imagery? (any specific mood/feeling)

I picked this question because I thought it would be easy to answer but it turns out that it's not. I guess my intentions aren't as concrete as I originally thought. I think it comes down to it not being about conveying something, but first and foremost it's about connecting and, as I said earlier, closing the loop on my experience. If I had to pick something to convey, I guess it would like my photography to convey some thoughts and feelings that I'm going through at the given time that a photo was taken or processed. When I look at my portfolio I can see my life. I see the dark times and the bright times. It's just all in imagery.

Tell us about your photography techniques and the post processing of your photos.

My creative process is a long one. While I don't do anything crazy, a lot of time is unnecessarily spent agonizing over the smallest details. It usually takes several hours of processing for me to finish a photo and that is spent over the course of days.. or a week. Usually a week. I touch and go and only process when I feel into it. I never force it. I'll process, let it rest, look, process, rest, etc. I don't release work that I don't feel is perfect and exactly what I want at that given time, though usually I find something about the final released shot that bugs me to no end that I'd change in hindsight. The techniques themselves aren't anything mind blowing. Luminosity masks, color dodging, localized adjustments of saturation, contrast, sharpness, and color all with the end goal to be drawing the eye through the frame to the focal point. I only use photoshop and adobe camera raw to process my photos.

What does photography mean to you?

I have a tendency to think too big and easily get overwhelmed by the different aspects of life. My mind wanders, dreams, calculates the what-if’s and the maybe-i-should-have’s. I trip on the future and often think about how, thanks to the nanoseconds it takes for signals to reach the brain, the moment that I’m experiencing has already happened. It’s gone. We never really get to live in the present. I think the reason I fell in love with photography is because it simplifies things for me. I look through a viewfinder and have to fit the world, the story, and my thoughts in this little 3:2 frame. It stops me in my tracks. It causes me to concentrate deeply on my subject. It wrestles my mind to the ground, pins down my imagination, and calms me. It’s a moment where I feel most in tune to the world around me. I notice things more. The temperature of the water permeating my clothing when I stand in creeks, the way the light plays off the foliage and the shadows dance across the scene, the mist of waterfalls on my cheeks, the sun on my neck, the smells.. the sounds.. and the gratitude in my heart that I get to experience that moment. I click the shutter and that moment in time is suspended… captured in a bottle for me to relive whenever I like. That’s what photography means to me.

If you could only take one more picture, what do you think it would be of? How would you begin to make that decision?

It would be of my son genuinely enjoying himself in nature on a meaningful trip that he and I are on. One that shows the grandeur of both the natural world, my love for him, and his soul. I don't think I'd ever be able to say ‘That’s the one.’ because this journey has no final destination. There's no end to the creative pursuit. And I love that.