Caroline Tompkins



  1. Photo

Written by Elena García


Hi Caroline, where are you from?

I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, but I currently live in Brooklyn, New York.


How would you describe the series Ohio?

In the making of this work, I was very interested in the tourism industry of places with no geological pleasures – no mountains, oceans, canyons, etc – and what these places, places like Ohio, did to entice sightseers. This could be ‘Largest Loaf of Bread’ or the Living Bible Wax Museum or a field of cement corn sculptures. While it may appear that I’m poking fun, my intention was to laugh with rather than at. It became very important to me to make work about the sincerity of a geographical location.

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If you would have to choose, which you think is the best photo in this series and why?

The photograph of the real beach chairs sitting in front of the fake beach mural has always been a favorite of mine. Ohio doesn’t have the beach, but it settles for the chairs. It goes along with what I said earlier about sincerity – it shows that a human cared enough about other human experiences to buy the fake palm tree and buy the beach chairs while being hundreds of miles from an actual beach. I also feel that the image exists on a line of sorts, allowing the viewer to question reality at first glance.

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Are you the kind of person that shoots with not much thinking about it or do you like to have everything planned before pressing the bottom?

Most of my photographic career, I have shot film which forces you to slow down. Even at my fastest, I’m not one of those sharp shooters. I think no matter how much you shoot ‘without thinking’, photography has a way of telling you things you don’t know about yourself yet. That’s the magic of it, you look at photos you took years earlier and they’re totally relevant to what you’re thinking about now. I’ve never been a planner either, as the saying goes, no surprise for the maker means no surprise for the viewer. I like to have all the pieces with me, but not know how they’re going to fit on the table.

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In your pictures we can see objects, people, animals… Do you have any preference for any of them?

This question is so funny. I certainly go through phases of what I like to look at. I have a hard time doing just one thing, in my life in general, I can’t even only do photography. I’ve always felt that the best things were approached at many different angles, so no, I don’t have a preference.

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Lots of photographers made of photography their way of life, what photography means to you?

I’m very fortunate to have found my thing in life and to have found lots of other people with that same thing. I always have my feet in lots of different pools, but somehow my eggs are consistently in the photography basket. I think a lot about people who say, “I want to be better at cooking” or “I want to take better pictures” etc etc, but the thing is, if you truly want to, it happens to you without you talking about it. That’s how I feel about photography, it happens to me.

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What music band would make you cut your veins?

I am very unsure if this means what music is so bad that I would literally end my life to never hear it again, or what music is so intense that I would cut my veins to experience something even close to as powerful. I’m going to go with the latter because it seems slightly more positive. As I said, 60s girl groups and Doo Wop, Patsy Cline, Ricky Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Jonathan Richman, Carole King, Nina Simone, Bill Callahan, Fats Waller, Thin Lizzy, Mos Def, Neil Young, Sam Cooke, Harry Nilsson, The Beach Boys – this isn’t a complete list but it’ll have to do for now.


Professional aims?

I work as a photo editor currently, which pays my bills and allows me to learn about photographs in completely new ways everyday. Once I feel like I’m not learning anymore, I want to go to grad school somewhere other than the US. I’d like to become a better practitioner of photography, be someone who builds communities, and truly participate in the photographic forum. A nice thing about being a woman is that most women don’t become known for their work until much later in life, so I’ve got time make things happen. I can own a small farm and start a band and get really good at ceramics and make a few weavings and then maybe in my 50s or 60s, I can have an art career.

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Describe your perfect day off?

As I said, I work an office job, so time off is about making personal work or doing freelance work. I’m one of those people that will be at a bar with friends thinking about photos I could be working on at home. True perfect days off involve going outside, wearing all the right clothes, photographing things you’re in love with, wrestling around with dogs, being around people who get your jokes, dancing to 60s girl groups, smelling campfires while driving through different towns, eating lots of fruit, not being on your phone unless it’s to send a picture of the sunset to your mom.



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