TOM Van de Ven’s photographic career began in the Pacific Northwest in 1972 and has taken him literally all around the world.
"Entropical Paradise," his current show at In Vino Veritas, celebrates Van de Ven’s illustrious career.
A graduate of Gonzaga, Van de Ven also worked as an acoustic engineer at Boeing and Gulfstream. That career informed the title of the exhibition—“Entropical Paradise” is also the name of a Douglas Leedy LP from 1971.
We spoke with Van de Ven last week.1.Tell me about the work in “Entropical Paradise.”
It was all captured on film. Three large pieces are digitally printed just because I don’t have the capability of printing that large—I don’t have a great big printer.
I was invited to have a show by Sulfur Art Services and people have seen some of my color work previously. Having worked kind of most my photographic life in black and white, I wanted to expose—ha!—Savannah to that other side very specifically.2.What are the challenges of shooting black and white as opposed to color?
It’s understanding the tonality of what you’re looking at, but that’s not really something I think about. It’s pretty instinctive. The moment I saw that I could see was the moment I said, “I could become a photographer.” I think the essence of photography is to involve yourself in your work. That’s really what makes us all individuals, why this one photographer is different from me.3.Do you primarily shoot in digital or in film?
I’ve been doing a little bit of digital, film mainly for events where you pump out a bunch of photos. I’ve been supporting A-Town Get Down and events like that where you want to turn it over quickly. But for any kind of serious work, I love film.
Digital has its needs, too—you can’t take a photo and expect it to stand on its own. It is a different sort of interaction. For me it’s a meditative experience to work in the darkroom. I could do it all day if I didn’t have to wash and do all the other stuff.4.You traveled to Europe for some of these photos. What is it like to travel and shoot?
People say Prague is a magical city, and they don’t really understand—it is a magical city. It takes a long time to be there to get under the surface, all the architecture.
I traveled over to Paris with the model and her mother—well, they were going and I tagged along—for photo documentary. It really makes for a unique body of work because you’re transforming something to an environment. The hard part of what I have historically said about my work is that there’s this interplay between subject and environment. I like for the image of the subject to be strong enough to stand on its own, and the image of the environment to be equally as strong.
But now, after so many years, you get the other dimension too. When we talk about environment, you’re not just talking about a physical space, you’re talking about time and the events that surround it. And for me, I can’t divorce it from my personal experience. I’m sort of romanticized by memory. We get to pick the pearls out of those events that monumentalize what’s going on. That’s where I have to be careful. It’s like, okay, this means a lot to me personally because of this person.5.You’ve had a long career in photography. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
The thing about photography is that it’s unique in terms of what it is, which is an abstraction of reality. But what you have to realize is that you have a forced point of view and that’s your photographer’s selection of the images they’re shooting. We are, in a way, representing reality in something that reflects our own world view, our own concepts.
If you really wanna mess with your head, you can read critical art theory. But is that going to make me a better photographer? I don’t think so. But it does affect the way I think about what photography is.