Tempe Photographer Thomas Locke Hobbs on Uncanny Nature, Phoenix's Urban Landscape
Thomas Locke Hobbs contemplating a portrait displayed in his thesis show, "I know at a glance."
What happens in the studio, shouldn’t always stay in the studio. Studio Visit Q+A is a weekly series that profiles artists in their studios. We ask them questions, they provide answers, and then we have a nice discussion about their work. This week: Tempe photographer Thomas Locke Hobbs.
Thomas Locke Hobbs has had a busy couple of weeks. He just recently completed his studies in the MFA Photography program at ASU and has been packing up his studio, gearing up for the possibilities of what could be coming next. His thesis exhibition, “I know at a glance,” happened earlier this year, but since then he’s been continuing to make pictures and experimenting with photo books.
Prior to coming to Tempe, Hobbs lived in Argentina for several years. There, he studied under several photographers without having a formal background in visual art. The work that he produced there and applied to ASU with dealt with the landscape of the city, documenting the phenomena of the everyday. Walking around the city, Hobbs noticed that many apartment buildings in the city had a certain architecture that casted a triangular shadow at a certain time of day, depending on its location. He traveled around the city for nearly two years, documenting this mundane phenomenon.
The work that Hobbs has produced here in Arizona surfaces from that same affinity to the everyday, but metro Phoenix is an entirely different place. Upon coming here in 2012, Hobbs was waiting for the big idea to come. He started making the pictures that would eventually become his thesis work, and that big idea just never came. In the end, the big idea simply became a series of smaller ideas. "Fairly early on I was interested in this idea of navigating everyday space and finding these kind of mystical elements in the mundane," says Hobbs. "In some ways reconciling myself to the Phoenix urban landscape and maybe in some ways trying to exalt it for my own benefit."
Hobbs's work on display in his former space at Grant Street Studios during open studios.
Hobbs’ work here is directly influenced by the New Topographics photographers, a group whose work depicted the man-altered landscape, but he’s adding something new to the dialogue. The photos that comprise the larger body of “I know at a glance” oftentimes depict the tension between the man-made and the natural, but Hobbs is ultimately queering this photographic canon. He mixes intimate portraits with the macho landscape of the wild west, transforming this tension into something poetic and personal.
Without being able to really walk around the city, Hobbs’s mode of transportation here became his car. There’s a magic to walking through the city, but there’s also something compelling about living in the desert. The landscape of Metro Phoenix is so spread out and at times, bizarre. We have our spaces of the everyday, but there’s also this expansive desert landscape surrounding us. Hobbs’s work navigates between these two spaces, drawing connections between them through photographic language.
Hobbs’ work has a humorous layer to it, one that simultaneously pokes fun at and embraces the history of photography. It’s a sort of subtle sass that’s clever and queer. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of a drag queen giving a sly read, but Hobbs does so with the language of photography.
Two test books that Hobbs is currently working on.
Tell us about your work in haiku format.
black and white pictures
of the world with a certain
What artist(s) are you really into right now?
Marc Ferrez, Taiji Matsue, Hugo Brehme, Thomas Struth, Humberto Rivas, Edward Weston
What are you reading?
I'm about 200 pages into My Struggle Vol. 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
What's the last TV show, film, or video you watched?
Unnatural Histories, a BBC series about the constructed nature of so-called wilderness places like Yellowstone and the Amazon.
If you could collaborate with any artist, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I would like to spend a day sitting in Caravaggio's studio.
A stack of Hobbs's test prints, cleverly topped with a picture of the stack itself.
What was the last exhibition you saw and what did you think of it?
"unBecoming" by Ashley Czajkowski, one of my grad-school colleagues. It was a really fantastic show of mostly videos exploring in a very raw and visceral way the animal nature of existence.
Jeff Koons or Marina Abramovic — and why?
What's the best advice you've ever received?
Go Big or Go Home. That sounds really trite, but doesn't all advice sound trite? Isn't that the point? I think good advice, generally speaking, is someone giving you permission to go ahead and do whatever the fuck it is you want to do anyway. It's only good advice in retrospect and that's only if things turn out good.
What are you currently working on?
I'm always taking pictures of this or that according to my visual interests. There's no project at the moment but the photos might someday be part of something I haven't thought of yet.
What's your most valued tool as an artist?
I haven't checked the Blue Book value of my car recently, but I think it's still worth more than my camera. I think it's fair to say I rely on both equally.