Art Culture > Exhibition > Photography by Kyle Thompson – Talent in the suburbs of Chicago Date posted: June 7, 2012

Photography by Kyle Thompson – Talent in the suburbs of Chicago

Deeming the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois, as having a sense of constructed reality, Kyle Thompson’s photography has been slowly developing, creating unique, evocative works that read like personal stories. His unique take on his surroundings are hard to forget and Swide wanted to know more.

Counteracting the sense of reality with his own concepts, Kyle has created a, somewhat, private world within an environment that he has grown to love and embrace. Whether it is the shell of an abandoned house, a reaction to an emotion or simply a vacant forest, this young photographer isn’t only taking photographs, he is putting himself into them and not only physically. When you look a photograph by Kyle, it is easy to feel both familiar and distant to what you are seeing as his photography can appear extremely personal at times. His relationship with his beloved Canon 60d, which has used since he started, is under threat as Kyle feels that it is time for him to upgrade… after hearing about the situations that Kyle and his camera have got themselves into, I’m sure the 60d will be happy to retire.


You’re a 20-year-old from Illinois. Without disrespect, your photographs seem to convey experiences and imagery of someone much older than your years. What is it your photography reveals about you?

I am young, and don’t have much life experience, so my photography reveals more about my thoughts and imagination than my actual experiences.   Most of my works are self-portraits, which I think reveal so much about the thought process and emotions that go into an image.  I am able to re-enact a concept exactly as I imagine it.

Kyle Thompson, surreal photographer, Hanging CrowHanging Crow by Kyle Thompson

Could you categorise your style of photography?

I think so. When I describe my style, I always call it surreal conceptual photography.  I try to create a surreal world in order to display concepts.

You work closely with your environment. Tell me about growing up in Illinois, your surroundings and the people. What do they give you? And what’s your relationship with it all?

I’ve lived in the suburbs of Chicago my whole life, and went to a small school where every one knew every one else.  I learned to love the area because it’s close to both the city and the country.   However the suburbs are a fake and constructed reality in a sense.  This influences my work because I create my photos to create a separate reality where dreams and reality mesh together.  Taking surreal photographs can create a new reality that counteracts with the boringness of the suburbs.

Kyle Thompsons Snow StormSnow Storm by Kyle Thompson

What else inspires you?

I like the concept of emptiness.  Since I started photography, I’ve gone to over 40 abandoned homes.  I love the emptiness of them, modern ruins that are now completely vacant and lonely.  Almost all of my photos feature one person alone in their environment: vacant forests, abandoned homes, etc.  I think there’s a beauty in their simplicity.

The locations you use seem so ordinary yet extraordinary.  Do these locations have significance to you?

They do!  I’ve lived in the same area my whole life.  There really isn’t much interesting here, so when I was a kid I would go out and explore.  Photography gives me the same outlook. Illinois is flat and monotonous; it’s definitely is not known for having beautiful landscapes, so I have to find my own. I often enjoy the juxtaposition in abandoned houses; they are both devoid of life but full of memories of past lives.

Looking at your work, you can see a thread of continuity yet each work is startlingly different. What is it that instigates your thought process before the image is put together? Emotion? Reaction? Experimentation? What?

To me, photography is a therapy for anything.  Sometimes I’ll take photos based on emotions, or abstractly try to capture my thoughts in a still image.  Sometimes Ill just play music and draw until I come up with a concept.  Sometimes a concept will suddenly pop into my head, and I will immediately leave to take the image while I can remember it the best. 

Do you have a particular camera that you feel most comfortable with?

I’ve used the same camera since I’ve started (A Canon 60d), but hope to upgrade soon. I’ve tried film before, but am much more interested in digital.

Kyle Thompson one photo every day projectUntitled by Kyle Thompson

I understand that you take a photograph of yourself everyday. What is it that initiated this idea? 

I had been taking photos for around six months and didn’t feel like I was improving fast enough.  I think the only way to improve quickly with something is to consistently practice, so I took up this project to try and stretch my boundaries.  So far I think it’s been helping tremendously; I experiment and learn new things with every photo.

One of your most evocative images is the one where a shawl, wrapped around you head, is burning. Is it safe to say that, while your vision may be a release of painful emotions, you actually incur physical pain in return for its creation? What has been your most physically demanding shot to date?

I rarely am injured while taking photos, but I do often take uncomfortable and somewhat dangerous shots if they fit with emotions I’m trying to express. I think my most uncomfortable shots are some that I did last winter.  I really wanted to push myself, and ended up being miserable in most of my shots.  This included submerging myself in freezing water/ice several times.  The worst though, was when I carried a huge, heavy mirror far into a forest until I reached a lake of freezing mud, while it was starting to snow.  I set up the mirror and went in and out of the mud, while nearly naked, several times.  The mud was like quicksand; the mirror ended up sinking completely in the mud within 5 minutes and I worried that I would too.  I cut the bottom of my foot open and it got full of mud.  It took a couple months to heal.  Worst of all, the shot didn’t turn out right.  Not fun haha.

Kyle Thompson creates surreal situations within realityUntitled by Kyle Thompson

How have those close to you (family, friends etc) reacted to your work? What questions did they ask?

My family and friends are really supportive of my work! I think every one probably thought it was weird at first though.  My concepts are a bit abstract, so they might not have understood my photos, and just thought I was going crazy or something. 

You flit between giving your works titles and leaving them untitled. When is a title appropriate?

I am so awful at titling my work.  I think I am creative visually, but not verbally.  I also sometimes worry that giving every photo a title will cement in the concept.  I like my work to be open to interpretation, so it can mean different things to other people than it does for me.

Kyle Thompsons burning paper bag self-portraitUntitled by Kyle Thompson

How do you feel when you look back at a self-portrait of yourself? Do you still feel the same emotions that were put a particular shot?

Yes, I try to express emotions in a way that others can identify with.  I can look through all of my work and see every detail, and remember my exact thought process behind each piece.

Which photograph from your catalogue do you feel represents you best at this moment in time?

I think my image “Tornado” represents me best because I’m caught in the vortex.  My life has been so hectic lately (in a good way).  I feel like its spinning out of control, but will ride it out and hopefully grow.

To discover more of Kyle Thompson’s work, explore the links below:

Kyle Thompson on 500px

Kyle Thompson and his photo a day project on Flickr 

Interviewed and writter by Ben Taylor 

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