Essay, Installation Art, Mixed Media, Photography, Visual Art

A Reason to Shoot People

In this verbal and visual essay, I propose that the best time to photograph people in an art gallery is when they offer a proportional statement between them and the installed work. It’s the optical equivalent of a simile.

By Tommy Tung


At art exhibitions, you see photographers with point-and-shoot cameras and SLR machines sporting 300 mm lenses and Speedlight flashes. They make love through f-stops, apertures, and light meters. They sing in color saturation.

None of these photographers are me though. I don’t bring my camera to galleries. I leave it at home like I do my emotional baggage when attending a job interview. This is not to say that cameras don’t have a place at galleries though, because they do. They document the event, they quantify the attendees, and they mention which celebrity swung by before a Town Car took them to a prix fixe dinner.

But I don’t need the devil in these details.

I need the one in the artwork—that’s my religion—and if I need images, I request the gallery to email the assets. But there are exceptions—times when I arm myself with a camera and snap away—because photography also conveys how an installation succeeds, and that is a capital concern in the case of Surface to Air at LeBasse Projects in Culver City.

This series by New York-based Thomas Doyle is pure physicality with depth and dimension and scale.

The only way to honor these elements is through photography.

And the only way to define these elements is through relativity.

I did that by turning gallery goers into objects of reference—the only time, I insist, it is okay to objectify people. In no other way could I represent the effect of these dioramas. Numerical measurements would have been coldly scientific. Proportion is everything. We crave the palpable. Think of the stories you tell. Think of the descriptions you share. You never say, “I’m so hungry I could eat twelve hundred calories.” That does nothing for the imagination. Instead you speak hyperboles about gobbling up a horse in one sitting.

I invite you now to see Surface to Air the way I did as a mythological giant.

Leave your reality at the door and your emotional baggage, too.

—- the exhibition —-

Surface to Air
a solo exhibition by Thomas Doyle
November 12 – December 17, 2011

LeBasse Projects
6023 Washington Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232


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