Tom Reaume contacted me a while back with an e-mail message. He said that I covered most bases, which I took to refer to an article I wrote on abstract photography. It turned out to be correct.
If you take photographs outside-the-box, then your images must be experimental.
I did not know Tom, and still don’t know him. But I visited his Web site (not accessible as of 10/18/2021) which consisted of pages from his book on pure abstract photography and had many photographs in it. I searched and found his work on LensCulture and viewed them there as well. After that, I wrote him a message and said “Your collections on LensCulture are easier to view, they are larger than those in the book. … You are lucky that you have found your way in art, the element, as Sir Ken Robinson calls it.”
Recently, Tom was kind enough to write to me and attach a copy of the new version of his book which had larger images to view and more pages. I read some parts, especially the introduction which I will share below. He explains lens-based pure abstract photography which is decidedly his style of work. He says in the opening pages:
This is a book on lens-based, pure abstract photography. The title may suggest photographs taken inside buildings versus in a landscape. This is one possibility.
The correct interpretation, however, involves the BOX, you know the one we usually think inside of, or rarely outside of. In fact, this book presents how innovative, outside-the-box thinking in photography looks.
Let’s begin by defining what a photograph is. A still photograph (usually richly-detailed) shows a variety of flora, fauna, and things captured by holding a camera very still and letting the lenses absorb reflected light (daylight or studio) to make an image. It is the industry’s standard (habit). Everybody takes still photographs, including me. If you watch photographers at work, they are always standing still and looking through a still viewfinder to compose a picture before pressing the button. Stills are collected and shown in art museums and commercial galleries. Online, watch the 12-minute Ted Talk by Paul Rulkens on why the majority is usually unexceptional when it comes to high-performance photography (i.e. fine art)
If you take photographs outside-the-box, then your images must be experimental. This too is worn out, in-the-box thinking. I don’t regard my pure abstractions as experimental. For 40 years I have considered them to be FINE ART.
Drawing with a camera quickly became my new habit in the early 1980s. So how did I manage to break the old-fashioned, still photographic habit? In my 30s, I realized the movement was important to me, in a way I can’t really explain. Using a camera (like a pencil) as a tool for drawing was a natural progression in my personal ecology and evolution. FIRST—A still camera was replaced by a moving camera. A hand-held camera is an extension of my arms, less so my eyes. SECOND—I began taking photographs at night using photons emanating from colored, stationary lights along the boulevard. The sacred 3 – Lights, Darkness, and Movements were woven into challenging pictorial fabrics.
This fundamental shift in how a lens-based photograph looks (abstract) and acts (always as art), is the expected result from someone who changes the still habit. The question (what does a photograph represent?) remains intact; the answer, however, has changed.
Some members of the still community have to start developing this new habit. Gallery walls showing abstract photographs among abstract paintings have to become widespread. When it comes to practical imagery, the documentary majority remains obligatory, but not quite so forceful in the fine art category.
Still photography has hit a wall. It is repetitive, and the largest form of visual pollution on the planet. Viewfinder vision is rampant throughout the medium. Cultural and economic boundaries and daily habits prevent curators from showing anything truly outside the box. And the box they think and operate in is quite small, about the size of a camera. Curators are copycats. They, along with institutional standards, control the habits of a still photographic community with millions of participants.
This is a 16″ x 12″ free ebook on my Pure Abstract Photography (PAP). In 1981 I began this alternative style to still photography while maintaining the basic framework of using light and a camera to create images. Through the abandonment of reflected light, I was able to eliminate much of the visually repetitive information that burdens richly-detailed still photographs. The documentation style, in all its many flavors, was jettisoned in favor of Art. Is pure abstract photography the artistic limit of lens-based photography? Time and your consideration will tell. My style of image-making is NOT experimental. It reveals my vision of nature and myself. Everything is moving, including my camera.
His work is probably very close to the original name given to our medium, writing with light from Greek photos graphos. Below are some sample photographs from his book. You can download the book in PDF format if you like to read in greater detail and see more photographs. Before you reach a judgment on his style and art, envision many abstract painters, especially abstract expressionists, and their work. Tom seems to be continuing the tradition with light and camera as his brush and canvas. Give it a try. You might have done what he does with his camera but probably not as daringly.
View a sample of his work and download a copy of his book if you like (10.5MB download,) or visit his site (9/9/2021: link no longer worked, removed) which consists of his book pages. This is all I know about Tom Reaume. But I get the sensation that he has found his element.
The quote from his book, the photographs, and his book, are all published with his permission. All the photographs and the quoted text in this article Copyright © 2020, Tom Reaume. Click and view larger images to get the full idea from each frame.