Jun 14 2017

Photographer travels the world to capture black-and-white images

Photographer travels the world to capture black-and-white images

Cole Thompson work on display at Lincoln Gallery in June
By Kenneth Jessen
For the Reporter-Herald
POSTED: 06/14/2017 10:04:18 AM MDT


Photographer Cole Thompson enjoys the creative process. His “Moai Sitting for Portraits,” shot on Easter Island, will be on display for the month of June at the Lincoln Gallery. (KENNETH JESSEN / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Read the full article here: 



P.S. My thanks to Ken for such a nice article!

P.P.S. My special thanks for Ken for getting me to smile, I NEVER smile in photographs!


May 18 2017

This Week in Photo – Behind the Shot – The Angel Gabriel

The Angel Gabriel with Cole Thompson – BtS 15

May 3 2017

Alter-View Interview

Over the last couple of weeks I have had the pleasure to speak with Dasha from Alter-View.

The result is this interview:



Mar 6 2014

The Art of Grain Silos

2007-11-26 Silo Detail No 51 - Final 11-26-2007 750Grain Silo Detail No. 51


Lenswork Daily featured a 3 minute audio excerpt from my interview with Brook Jensen regarding this image.


Dec 20 2012

Andrew Gibson Interviews Cole Thompson on Long Exposure Photography

Note: I am publishing this shortly before the clock strikes 12/21/2012.  I do hope you are around to read it!


December 18th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson

This article is part of a series of interviews with long exposure photographers to celebrate the release of my ebook Slow. You can keep track of the interviews by clicking on the Long Exposure Photography Interviews link under Categories in the right-hand sidebar.

Cole Thompson is a fine art photographer based in Colorado in the United States. As part of the interview I asked him how, in a world where it seems that many photographers are producing similar work, it is possible to create original photography? His answer is worth reading, as it brings up one of Cole’s most interesting concepts, ‘photographic celibacy’.



How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look do you try and create in your photos?

I cannot describe my vision because I believe vision is intangible and indescribable. I view vision as the sum total of my life experiences. It is what makes me see the world a bit differently than another, because my experiences have been different.

I do not try to create a look or pursue a certain style in my images, I simply follow my vision. If you pursue a look, style or technique without vision, then those things are mere gimmicks and your images will lack power and conviction. I have been creating images since 1968 and so my skills would allow me to pursue many different styles or looks, but I’m only interested following my vision.

What I’ve learned is that vision must always come first and then techniques and style must flow from it. I’ve also learned that I must only create images that I love, that’s where my passion is and where my best work will come from.

Name three photographers you like and why.

Edward Weston is my photographic hero, not because of his images (although I do love them) but because of his attitudes. In my opinion Weston was a true artist and not a photographer (I draw a distinction between the two). He was independent in thought and did not care what others thought of his work. He created for himself and he had no obligation to explain his work to others.

One of my favourite stories is told by Ansel Adams on his first meeting Weston:

“After dinner, Albert (Bender) asked Edward to show his prints. They were the first work of such serious quality I had ever seen, but surprisingly I did not immediately understand or even like them; I thought them hard and mannered. Edward never gave the impression that he expected anyone to like his work. His prints were what they were. He gave no explanations; in creating them his obligation to the viewer was completed.”

In so many ways Weston has been my mentor. I re-read his Day Books every year and often read them just before I go out to create new images. His independence and obligation to self has inspired me.

Wynn Bullock. As a 14 year old boy I taught myself photography and part of what I did was to sit for hours looking at the work of photographers. Wynn Bullock was one whose work I admired and it wasn’t until years later I realised how much he and I saw alike, with both of us gravitating towards dark and contrasty images.

Ansel Adams. For many years I dreamed of being the next Ansel Adams (like millions of other young photographers). And for years I tried to imitate his look and even specific images. But then something happened to me that changed my attitude and led me on my quest to find my own vision. I was at a portfolio review and a gallery owner quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back towards me and said “It looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I proudly told him that I was because I loved his work! He then said something that really made me mad at the time, but later opened my eyes, he said:

“Ansel has already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him better. What can you create that demonstrates your vision?”

That was the beginning of the search for my vision. I still love Ansel Adam’s work, but I no longer want to be known as the “best Ansel Adams imitator in the world.” In fact, now if someone says to me “your work reminds me of Ansel Adams” I know that I have failed to distinguish myself with my own vision.

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography – what’s the attraction and why do you do it?

The long exposure is not something I set out to pursue nor is it a marketing strategy I chose to become known as “the guy who uses long exposures.” But rather it’s the outcome from following my vision: it’s what I love, it’s how I feel and it’s how I see the world.

About 90% of my recent work was created using long exposures. I initially started off with water, then moved to clouds and now have been creating images of people with it as well. I suspect I’ll find other areas in which to use it as well.

Why black and white – what is the appeal for you?

That is a very difficult question to answer and perhaps my artist statement says it best:

I am often asked, “Why black and white?”

I think it’s because I grew up in a black-and-white world.

Television, movies and the news were all in black and white.

My childhood heroes were in black and white and even the nation was segregated into black and white.

Perhaps my images are an extension of the world in which I grew up.

I really don’t worry too much about the “why” behind things, I simply accept them as they are. I love black and white and always have. I’ve tried dabbling in colour and I’ve seen a few colour images that I’m drawn to, but in the end I really am just a black and white guy and I’m okay with that.

I can see from your portfolio that you are widely travelled, especially within the United States. How important is the contribution of travel to developing your portfolio from an artistic point of view? How has travel helped you develop as a person?

Travel is not critical for me in terms of subject matter, I can create similar images anywhere. But in terms of concentration and freeing my mind of my daily responsibilities, it is very important to get away. I have a full time job, a large family and many professional responsibilities, and I find that it’s difficult for me to concentrate when I’m on my home turf. However when I get away I’m able to leave all those things behind me. The best thing about being away is that I’m able to focus on just one thing: creating.

So travel has become very important for me. Many of these trips are to visit my children who have been stationed around the world. We visited my Marine Corp son who was stationed in Japan, my Peace Corp son in Ukraine and Poland and next year I’ll visit a son in Russia and Croatia. I am very fortunate to have family in these places because I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to venture there without them. However next year will be a first for me as I visit Iceland by myself.

I do also travel within the United States. I go to Death Valley every January, the Oregon coast every September and I’m looking to add a third location, probably Hawaii. I like going back to the same spot each year because I can continue working on an idea, but once I’ve lost interest in that idea, I find a new location.

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

There are so many photographers working with long exposure photography techniques in black and white that sometimes it is hard to be original. Yet your work is very original. Can you give our readers any tips for finding an original approach to long exposure photography?

One of the side effects of the internet is that everyone quickly knows what everyone else is doing. When someone creates a new look, it seems as if overnight everyone is copying that look. I did that for many years, imitate others look, until I realised that I wanted to be more than an imitator or copycat. I want to create my own unique work and that is what I focus on, ignoring what others are doing.

I have a friend who thinks the key to success is to photograph something that nobody else has photographed before. He once told me that he had discovered something unique: frozen chickens. He said that he would always have a frozen chicken in his images (to this day I’m not certain if he was kidding or not!). In my opinion success is not about finding a subject that’s not been photographed before (I doubt there are many such things) but rather creating something unique, from your own vision.

I never focus what others are doing, I simply go down my own path. I am unaware what others are creating because I practice something that I call Photographic Celibacy. It’s the practice of not looking at or studying the work of other photographers. I do this to reduce the number of images floating about in my head and to reduce their influence on my own work. I find that when I see a great image, my first thought is “how can I do that?” Then I catch myself and remember that I do not want to imitate, but create. I’ve practicing Photographic Celibacy for five years now and it has been very helpful, but I still have some iconic images floating around in my head and when I go to the grocery store I have to admit that I still look at the bell peppers! But I’m doing better at not imitating others.

Most people who hear about this practice think I’m crazy, they believe that imitation is how we build our skills and grow creatively. I disagree, I believe imitation is harmful because it retards the development of our own vision.

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Can you tell us a little about The Lone Man series? What inspired it? What are you trying to express with these images?

Like most of my series, the Lone Man was an idea that I just stumbled upon and spontaneously created. Whenever I get an idea for a new project, I write it down on a long list. However the truth is that I’ve never once used one of those ideas, all of the ideas for my portfolios have been spontaneous and just took off like a wildfire.

That’s what happened with the Lone Man series. I was in North Laguna at one of my favourite dive spots, creating long exposures of the water. It was a pretty crowded day at the beach and so people were out on the rocks looking for creatures in the tide pools. A group of people were in my shot and I was impatiently waiting for them to leave. While waiting I decided to do a test exposure so that I’d be all ready as soon as they left. After the 30 second test exposure, I noticed that one of the people had stood still for the entire 30 seconds and I recognised his body language. It was pensive, thoughtful and you could tell the man was thinking about things larger than himself.

Soon I started noticing this effect in a lot of people, they would come to the edge of the world and just stare off into the distance. I began photographing these people and the Lone Man series was born. Here is the artist statement for this series:

Something unusual happens when a person stands on the edge of the world and stares outward. They become very still and you can almost see their thoughts as they ponder things much greater than themselves:

Where did I come from?
What is my purpose?
What does it all mean?
What is beyond, the beyond?
Do I make a difference?
Is there more?

At that moment they are The Lone Man, alone with their questions and thoughts about life, the universe and beyond. People are affected by this time of meditation and they often vow to make changes in their lives. But this moment is short lived as these weighty thoughts are replaced with more immediate concerns:

Should I eat at McDonalds or Burger King and should I try that new green milkshake?

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Normally I do not comment on what my images mean, sometimes because they are just beautiful images and don’t have any deeper meaning, and often because I think it’s the viewer’s job to decide what they mean. But in the case of The Lone Man, I have revealed a bit of what I’m thinking about in my artist statement. When I was creating these images I was impressed at how standing at the edge of the world causes people to ponder their smallness and their purpose in life.

So many people have asked me “how did you get those people to stand still for 30 seconds” and “did you ask them to stand still?” I didn’t have to ask people to stand still because this is just what people do! You could see them deep in thought as they stood there, often for several minutes, and pondering the “bigger questions” of life.

The last part of my artist statement is a little dig, at how little time we spend thinking about those bigger issues and how easily we are brought back to our own petty concerns; my burger wasn’t cooked right, I don’t get a good cell signal at my house, the guy in front of me is driving so slow etc. So much of what we concern ourselves with is so unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Another series I like is Monoliths. What draws you to photographing seascapes? What’s the appeal of the giant rocks that appear in these photos?

I grew up in Southern California and spend my youth at the Huntington Beach pier, bodysurfing at lifeguard tower number 1. I spent countless hours diving Laguna, La Jolla and Catalina. The ocean was a large part of my life until I moved to Colorado in 1993. Truthfully the ocean is the only thing I miss about California and whenever I visit, I am drawn back to it.

Photographing the movement of the ocean with long exposure is just a part of my vision, it’s how I see the ocean. To photograph it with a static image, seems to me a sin!

I have always had a “thing” about Monoliths, first when I was a young boy and read Thor Heyerdahl’s “Aku-Aku, the Secret of Easter Island.” Those stone giants really captured my imagination and I wondered who created them, how and why?

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Next I was fascinated with the Monolith in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” And so when I first saw the beaches of Bandon, Oregon with their statuesque “monoliths” (sea stacks to the locals) all of my past fascinations flooded back and I knew that I would photograph them. I am certain they have been photographed a million times before, but since I don’t look at others work, I am ignorant of how others have portrayed them. Even if I were to find out that I had unknowingly created images similar to others, it would not concern me, as my images are honest creations borne from my vision.

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Perhaps related is your series Ancient Stones. What is the story behind these photos? What is significant about these stones, and where did you get the idea of photographing them?

The Ancient Stones series is related to the Monoliths in sense. I was wandering about in Joshua Tree, waiting for inspiration to hit me, and nothing was happening. In response to those “dry spells” I’ll usually find a nice spot to sit for a while, clearing my mind of clutter and trying to see more clearly. As I sat there looking at those large rocks, I had some thoughts that were similar to what I was thinking when looking at the monoliths in Bandon. How long have these rocks been here, millions of years? How many men have they seen scurrying about, going here and there, building this and that, full of self importance? I wonder if “they” find all of this amusing?

That made me want to photograph “them” in a way that showed their permanence and timelessness. I hoped the long exposure helped do that, contrasting the still stones against the movement in the sky. I’ve only just started this project and so I’m not sure where it will go from here.

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

I believe you earn a living, or at least a part-time living, as a fine art photographer. Do you have any advice for our readers on how they can work towards achieving the same goal? What can they do from an artistic viewpoint to improve their work and a practical viewpoint to selling their work?

I have a full time job and do not earn my living from my art. Many years ago I purposely chose not to pursue photography for my living because I feared it would take the fun out of it, and I’ve never regretted that decision. I create only for the pure love of it and am proud to be an “amateur” in the truest sense: I am self taught, I create for myself and I do not earn my living from my work.

What I dislike about earning a living from your art is that it invariably involves compromises and I never want to create for others. I want to create whatever and however I want, not caring if a single person likes my work. Ironically it is that independence that brings out your best work and may bring about success. I once posted on my blog that the fastest way to earn money from your photography is to sell your equipment. There is truth in that!


Cole Thompson’s website
Cole Thompson’s blog

You can contact Cole by email at Cole@ColeThompsonPhotography.com

Photo Gallery

Here are some more of Cole’s long exposure photos:

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Long exposure photography by Cole Thompson

Apr 19 2012

NEWS de Cordoba Magazine and 121 Clicks Interview

The April edition of NEWS de Cordoba features all sixteen images from The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau portfolio.  This is the official publication for the Photographic Association of Cordoba, Spain.  I was greatly honored that they chose my image for the cover.

Also, I recently completed an interview for 121 Clicks which I really enjoyed because I was asked questions that I’m not normally  asked.  

Interview With Fine Art

Photographer Cole Thompson

By Admin

An Introduction about you

I grew up moving around the United States, my father was in the Air Force and so we never stayed in one place for very long. We finally settled in Southern California and this is where I call home, it was a good life growing up on the beach.

I married and started a family in California, but in 1993 we moved to Northern Colorado and we now live on a small ranch.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

I have a full time job (which is a surprise to most people) where I have worked in private education for the last 31 years. I have five children, three daughter-in-laws and one grandchild. I am 57 years old.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

The loves of my life are: my family, photography, architecture and scuba diving. My life is pretty average and unremarkable.

How did you get into photography?

I was living in Rochester, NY (the home of Kodak) as a 14 year old boy. I was out hiking with a friend when we came across the ruin of an old house. My friend told me that it had once been the home of George Eastman, the founder of Kodak.

This piqued my interest and so I checked out his biography from the school library and read it in just days. I was so fascinated with photography that before I had even finished the book, before I had taken a picture or seen a print come up in the darkroom, I knew that I wanted to be a photographer.

So, like millions of kids before me, I purchased a small developing kit and took over the family bathroom. I am self taught and for the next ten years I read everything there was on photography and if I wasn’t reading about photography, I was out shooting or in the darkroom. I spent a great deal of time studying the works of the great masters: Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Paul Caponigro, Paul Strand, Dorothea Lang, Wynn Bullock and many others.

I have always been drawn to a particular type of photograph; black and white, dark images with high contrast. These images mesmerized me and I wanted to create images just like these. Here is what I consider my first “good” image, created at age 14.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

During these early years I thought of myself a “photographer” and thought that it was a “sin” to modify my images. I thought my duty as a photographer was to portray a scene as realistically as I could. Of course I now understand that everything I do modifies an image, but back then I believed my duty was to portray reality. Here is an image I created at age 17:

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Thinking like a “photographer” was holding me back from developing my artistic abilities, but there also was another barrier that was preventing me from growing. I found myself not just studying the works of the great masters, but also trying to imitate their techniques and sometimes even their shots! Ansel Adams was my photographic hero back then and I remember how proud I would be when someone would look at one of my images and say “this reminds me of Ansel Adams’ work!” But something happened years later that would change how I felt about such a comment.

I was attending Review Santa Fe, this is where selected photographers show their portfolio to experts in the field and receive comments and suggestions. I was showing my work to the last reviewer of the day and he looked at my work, roughly pushed it back to me and said: “it looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.” I replied that I was, that I loved his work.

He then something very profound to me, he said: Ansel’s already done Ansel. What can you do that shows your unique vision?

Ouch! That comment really stung and I was so hurt that I could not hear his message for a very long time. But finally its meaning became clear to me; was my life’s ambition to be the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Was that all that I hoped to achieve with my art?

For years the comment: “your work reminds me of Ansel Adams’” was a huge compliment. Now it was an insult and evidence that I had failed to develop my own vision.

This was a turning point in my artistic life. It was the moment I vowed to stop copying others and the moment when I wanted to be an artist and not a photographer.

But I had doubts about my own vision; did I have one? How would I find it? How would I develop it?

I could find no instructions on how to find your vision and so I developed my own plan. First, I would stop looking at other photographer’s work, something I call “photographic celibacy.” I reasoned that if I was to develop my own vision, I could not continue to immerse myself in other people’s vision because doing that caused me to copy their work, either consciously or subconsciously.

Next I started using different words; I started to refer to myself as an artist and I stopped using the phrase “taking pictures” and would start saying “creating images.” It was a small thing, to change my words, but it served to remind me of my goals and what I wanted to achieve.

I also discarded my old belief that it was wrong to modify my images. It seemed to me that the entire purpose of an artist is to portray what they see through their vision, not with their eyes. So now when someone asks if I “manipulate” my images, I say “Yes!” and explain.

I also decided that I’d start ignoring what others thought of my work and focus only on what I thought of it. In the past I’d show people my images, ask them which ones they liked, and then I’d find myself going off in that direction. The problem with this approach is twofold: first you can never please everyone and so one day I was off in this direction and the next day I was off in another. Secondly, art should be about passion and that means I needed to pursue the images that I was passionate about.

After I stopped listening to others I stopped producing work that I did not love, no matter how much others liked it. If you have to choose between pleasing yourself and pleasing others, always choose to please yourself. At least when it comes to art!

So that was my program to find and develop my own vision. It was a very difficult and frustrating process and it took me several years, but gradually I started to recognize my vision. The first image that I created with this new outlook and philosophy was The Angel Gabriel:

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

This was the first time that I had purposefully created something from my vision, and it was the first time I modified the image to bring the shot into compliance with that vision.

It’s been about five years now, since I made that determination to find my own vision. It’s not a destination and I’m still working on it, trying to see uniquely and to further develop my vision.

Have you ever felt like “I’m not able to convey my inner most thoughts to my subjects completely”?

I never consider the viewer when creating my art. I create for myself, not the viewer and my only obligation is to myself.

Nor do I explain my images to the viewer, they are what they are and each person is free to find their own meaning in them.

Does my art have meaning?

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Sometimes my work has obvious meaning, such as “The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau.”

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Or my series “Linnie, A Portrait of Breast Cancer.”

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

But often I’m simply creating beautiful images which may or may not have a deeper meaning. When people ask me what my images mean, or what was I trying to convey to the viewer, I think of these words from the song “With A Little Help From My Friends” by the Beatles: I can’t tell you, but I know it’s mine.

So no, I don’t have a problem conveying my inner thoughts to the viewer, simply because I’m not trying to convey anything. My images are what they are.

In your words what makes Fine Art Photography so special?

I look at great fine art images and I think; isn’t it obvious why these are so special? Can paltry words improve upon what these images convey?

I do not think words are adequate or needed. If a person cannot see the beauty in great images, words will not help.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

When I am seeing your work, you have traveled a lot. Which country you like and why?

Most of my travel has been inside the US and even then I’ve only seen a small part of my country. I have done some international travel: I visited Japan when my son who was in the military was stationed there, we went to Ukraine to visit another son who was serving in the Peace Corps, and then to England where we took a family vacation. I loved all three locations for different reasons.

The Japanese are so very polite and considerate and all I had to do was raise my camera on the street and hundreds of people would come to a stop rather than walk in front of me and ruin the shot. The Ukrainians are generous to a fault, and would give you their last bit of food and the shirt off of their backs. I love the quiet resolution of the British and the depth of history that is always visible to the eye. All three trips were incredible experiences that produced some wonderful images and memories for me.

But my favorite country would have to be the US and for obvious reasons; this is my home. The wide range of geography is just amazing from our wonderful coasts to Death Valley, from the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains. It is so vast that I doubt I’ll be able to see it all in my lifetime.

And then there is the American spirit, we are a very young country compared to the rest of the world, but we have such an independent “can do” spirit that makes all things possible.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Most of your pictures are in Black & White any reason behind that?

I have always been drawn to black and white, even as a boy. But why? I think my artist statement sums it up best:

“I am often asked, “Why black and white?” I think it’s because I grew up in a black-and-white world.Television, movies and the news were all in black and white. My heroes were in black and white and even the nation was segregated into black and white. My images are an extension of the world in which I grew up.

The truth is that while color catches my eye, black and white holds my attention.

I’ve only exhibited (2) color images in my life, and both somewhat recently.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

My color attempts were feeble and my heart just wasn’t in it. I’m a black and white guy, through and through, and I always will be.

For me color records the image, but black and white captures the feelings that lie beneath the surface.

In your language what it takes to make a Good Photograph?

I have a rule that describes the process of making a great image, it’s called “Cole’s Rule of Thirds” and it is: A great image is comprised of:

  • 1/3 vision
  • 1/3 the shot
  • 1/3 processing

A great image begins and ends with your vision. Vision is the sum total of our life’s experiences that make us see things uniquely. When we look at a scene, it’s the way we instinctively see it in our minds eye. Our job as an artist is to bring that scene into compliance with our vision.

When we pursue an image with vision, then equipment and process becomes the servant and the creative process the master. It’s only then that great images can occur.

Vision is everything.

Looking back at your work, which of your pictures or stories make the strongest impression on you?

Each of my images has a story behind them. Sometimes the story is significant and everyone can relate to it, such as The Angel Gabriel, and other times the story is a simple and personal one and the image forever reminds me of it.

It would be impossible to choose just one, but here are several that I guess you could say are my “favorites.”

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Harbinger : The story behind this image is one of a father and son, and one of fleeting opportunity that quick action captured. Full Story here

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Windmill in Moonlight: This image will forever remind me to “Always Stop” when you seen an opportunity, for that opportunity will never repeat itself. Full Story here

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Old Car Interior: This image caused me to stretch my Photoshop capabilities beyond what I had done before. My Photoshop skills are so very primitive that Popular Photography called me “The Photoshop Heretic.” Full Story here

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Skeleton: This is one of my favorite images, but rarely appreciated by others. It reminds me to always be looking for photographic opportunities; they are all around you, even at your feet.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

The Angel Gabriel: I generally do not believe that the story should be necessary to make an image great, but this is a memorable story that everyone loves and remembers. Full Story here

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Lone Man: This is a series that actually has some meaning behind it, here is my artist statement. Full Story here. In this blog post I describe how I created it. Click here

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Monolith: Every September I go to Bandon Beach in Oregon. These Monoliths dominate the beaches there and they remind me of my childhood days reading Thor Heyerdahl’s book “Aku Aku ” which tells the story are the giant stone statues on Easter Island. Here is a video of my Monolith series.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Ceiling Lamp, Mourning Dove Ranch: This is my favorite image from my “Ceiling Lamp” series that reminds me that art does not need to be serious or herald a cause. Sometimes it can be frivolous and fun. Entire Portfolio here.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Auschwitz No.13: I think this is the most poignant image from my series “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau” because it represents spirits leaving the gas chamber at Auschwitz.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

But this is my favorite image from the series. See the complete series

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

This was another experience that reminds me to “always stop.” The family had just returned from a 2 week trip to Japan and we had been on the plane and the road for a very long time. As we approached home, just 5 minutes away, I saw this cloud structure and wanted to stop. But I knew I would incur the wrath of the family who were tired, hungry, jet-lagged and cranky.

I debated and decided not to stop. Then I remembered my past experience with Windmill in Moonlight and my resolve to “always stop.” I stopped and endured the yelling and screaming from the family, and in 5 minutes was on my way home and one of my most loved images was captured. Click here for large image

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Swimming Towards the Light: This is one of my all-time favorite images, it’s my daughter in a swimming pool. I love it for the simplicity in the image and the message.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

This will forever remind me of the blizzard I was caught in one Spring day on the DC Mall and my attempt to avoid frostbite by entering the International Monetary Fund building just off the mall. I had about 3 minutes reprieve before a large female security guard threw me out of the building!

But it this image made it worth it!

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Windsurfing: This was a spontaneous moment, photographed while driving and hoping I could get the shot before my daughter became aware of the camera. I think most people can relate to this image.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Dunes of Nude: I’ve become attracted to sand dunes and their abstract resemblance to the human nude. This is my favorite from the series “The Dunes of Nude.” More Images

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Fountainhead: This is my favorite image from the series “The Fountainhead.”  I’ll always remember how much our rights as photographers have been limited by 911.  I shot these images in about 15 cities and was molested about as many times. Full Story here

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Flaming Dahlia: A simple and beautiful image of a Dahlia that was thrown away in a green house. One man’s trash is another’s treasure?. Full Story here

The best achievement/compliment you received so far and what is your intake about Awards and Compliments?

I used to meticulously maintain my resume, listing all of my awards, publications and achievements. But at a certain point it became clear to me that none of that mattered, and that the only thing that really matters is how I felt about my work.

For that reason I have retired my traditional resume and now say this:

My art has appeared in many exhibitions, publications and has received numerous awards. And yet my resume does not list those accomplishments, why?

In the past I’ve considered those accolades as the evidence of my success, but I now think differently. My success is no longer measured by the length of my resume, but rather by how I feel about the art that I create. While I do enjoy exhibiting, seeing my work published and meeting people who appreciate my art, this is an extra benefit of creating, but this is not success itself.

I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally.

So what honors do I value? The honors of a friend who loves my work enough to hang it in their home. Or the appreciative comments I receive from Holocaust survivors who see my work from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those are the honors I value most.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

“I believe that the best success is achieved internally, not externally” – I feel it is a Saint like saying, any words for It?

When we are young, we sometimes pursue fame and fortune. As you get older, you realize that these are not the keys to happiness. There is nothing wrong with achieving fame and fortune, when they are the by-products of sincere and honest work. But when a person seeks after these things, my experience has taught me that they will be a hollow achievement.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Which photographers have inspired you?

When I was young, Adams was the photographer I most admired but I also closely followed Weston, Caponigro, Strand and Bullock. Later in life I was amazed by the long exposure work of Alexy Titarenko and he was one of the main reasons I pursued long exposures.

But the man whose attitudes I admire the most is Edward Weston. I have read his Day Books many times and they never cease to inspire me. It was his independent attitude that has shaped much of my thinking about my art.

My favorite story that illustrates Weston’s attitude is told by Ansel Adams upon seeing his work for the first time:

“After dinner, Albert (Bender) asked Edward to show his prints. They were the first work of such serious quality I had ever seen, but surprisingly I did not immediately understand or even like them; I thought them hard and mannered. Edward never gave the impression that he expected anyone to like his work. His prints were what they were. He gave no explanations; in creating them his obligation to the viewer was completed.”

From Weston I have learned that it doesn’t matter who likes or doesn’t like your work, your opinion is the only one that matters.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

What Tips or Advice do you have for other aspiring photographers?

I always hesitate to give advice, because it comes from my perspective, but here are a few tips:

  1. Ignore the rules, and better yet, never learn them! They are restrictive and will only lead you to mediocre work that will look like everyone else’s that follow the rules.
  2. Develop your own vision and style and resist copying others. Don’t become an imitator, but a creator!
  3. Find projects that you have a burning passion for. If you don’t feel that way about your current project, change it!
  4. Do not accept the standard definition of success (fame, fortune, big name gallery representation and a published book) Define for yourself what success is and then purposely pursue it.
  5. Seek only to please yourself, because pleasing others is never success and is unfulfilling.
  6. Be a good person, this will help you be a good artist.

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Quick Questions:

  • What is your idea of happiness?
    Having my family around me, some spare time to pursue my art and a few dollars in my pocket.
  • What is your greatest fear?
    That I will hurt another person.
  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
    Raising five children who are good and successful.
  • Where would you like to live?
    La Jolla in California, but only after about 5 million people move away first!
  • What is your most marked characteristic?
    I have strong opinions and always think that I’m right.
  • What do you most appreciate in your friends?
    That they see past my failings.
  • Who are your heroes in real life?
    People who have suffered great tragedies and yet have chosen to have a great attitude about life.
  • What is your present state of mind?
  • Who are your favorite authors?
    Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)
  • What is your favorite motto?
    Have I done any good in the world today?

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

Thanks again for providing 121 Clicks with this opportunity to interview you. Any final thoughts for our readers?

I’ve enjoyed this interview, you have asked me some very good questions and it’s caused me to reflect on my work and motives. Thank you for this opportunity!

Interview with Fine Art Photographer Cole Thompson

You can find Cole Thompson on the Web :

Jan 23 2012

LENSCRATCH, the Desert and Irony

You just have to love Irony.

Yesterday my interview with Aline Smithson of LENSCRATCH was published and on the same day I created this image in Joshua Tree.

To understand the irony, read the interview and please do not say “this reminds me of an Ansel Adams photograph!”


I’m still wandering in the desert and having a wonderful time with no cell or internet service.  It’s been a great time of reflection and seeking out creativity, and I’m coming home with a real smorgasbord of images.

Back to seeing!


Jun 1 2011

BWVision Interview

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Joel Tjintjelaar, but he’s a good friend of mine from the Netherlands.  He’s also an amazing B&W photographer AND owns and runs BWVision.com.  Joel is really busy!

Joel just interviewed me for his blog and you can read it here: BWVision Interview with Cole Thompson

You’ll want to keep an eye on BWVision.com over the next several weeks.


P.S.  This is an image from my trip to Hawaii last week.  A few more to come in my next newsletter.