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An Interview with  Steve Thomas:

(Dis)Still Life MMXX

"...(the) exhibit examines active compost, found objects, fugitive encounter and award-winning table settings-presented as still life compositions."
Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas in front of his photograph "LACF Tablescape" 2019.

The Progress Gallery presents (Dis)Still Life MMXX, a solo exhibition for Steve Thomas who is an established photographer and has been making photography for sixty years. This exhibition showcases Steve Thomas's recent series, "Compost Series Grid" and "Parking Lot Series Grid." The idea of decomposition embodies the experience of every living thing. We found his interpretation of his own works is particularly inspiring. In this interview, we asked Steve Thomas about the theme of the show and the ideas behind his works. 

The Progress Gallery: How did you come up with the title, (Dis)Still Life MMXX? 


Steve Thomas: The still life genre has been practiced for centuries. I am distilling the concept by creating broad interpretations. The one artwork that best fits the still life framework is “Democratia Mori.” This composition all of the elements one will find within the still life structure.

How do you connect the decomposition to "life and death?"


Steve: Decomposition is always the chorus playing in the background. It is a permanent force woven into the lifeline. During robust growth, life’s vibrancy is symphonic. As aging occurs, there are dramatic changes in the look and feel  of living things. Finally, the music ends and life returns to compost — ashes to ashes.

Could you talk more about "everything is going to be gone?"


Steve: Indeed, everything on earth is ephemeral. Atoms combine with other atoms to become molecules and eventually the newly created matter breaks down.

Why there are empty spaces among the photos of the Compost Series?


Steve: Basically, the “Compost Series” is presented as a grid. Yawn. I create negative space within otherwise boring grids because the grid-format invites viewers to speed read the composition. In an attempt to hook the viewer into a slow read, I mix in square imagery, rectangular imagery and negative space. I hope that this presentation technique lends to an experience such as one may feel as the listen to jazz or watch free-form dance.

Compost Serirs Grid 2020.jpg

Why the edge of "LACF Bench" is off?

Steve: The sinking edge was a happy accident. I like it because this slip helps break the bounds of the photo-print geometry. It also reflects the type of edge one may see in 19th century photography, especially when produced from wet plate negatives.


"LACF Bench" Steve Thomas

Could you talk about the layers in photo "Democratia Mori 2020" and the relationship among the still lives?

Steve: Still life is an arrangement of objects. Traditional still life often celebrates acts of living fully and/or speaks to the ultimate demise of the brevity of human life. The elements of the composition include man-made objects, alcoholic beverages, rich foods, written word and other things associated with a fleeting moment in time. "Democrattia Mori 2020" fits well within the traditional still life genre. Under its surface, Democracy is portrayed as it truly is: ephemeral.


Democratia Mori 2020, Steve Thomas

What does it mean to you to capture the moment of decomposing?

Steve: Decomposition is a moving target. The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) is 24,000 years. An ice crystal on a comet may last for billions of years. Though, a corn tortilla resting on my compost pile is expected to be visible for about one month. Corn tortillas atop a compost pile have to be photographed within a few weeks otherwise one is never able to see their state of decomposition.

Why is "Found Object, Death Valley NP" displayed on the floor?


Steve: Sometimes I want to control the way in which viewers see my artwork. The 'Found Object' narrative of seems to be from a bird's perspective. It makes sense to see it from above. As a side note, there is an argument that as people ascend from their body, they may see the world from an up-above viewpoint. This happened to me once when blood was cut off from my brain -- I started floating and I had a memorable keyhole view of objects on the street below. 


Found Object, Death Valley NP, Steve Thomas

How do you think the different ways of displaying work will affect the audience? 

Steve: If the artwork is compelling, it will emote without a lot of support materials. It is more difficult to display photographic art with the same loose versatility as other forms of visual arts. Photo-prints that are not matted and framed may come across as gimmicky. My intent with "(Dis) Still Life MMXX" is to present the photo-prints as if they are simply two-dimensional stand-alone objects. Actually, they are spaced off the wall to give the viewer a sense that the paper has depth -- therefore they may be construed as three-dimensional.


What do the quotes/texts do in your show? 

Steve: Art history informs my eye and intellect. It also confirms my intuition. 

Exhibition Statement

Through glimpses of the ephemeral, I study stages of life and its depiction as still life. Traditionally, still life projects a focus on material pleasures via the waxing and waning of human scale. Ubiquitous cell phone photos reflect everyday moments and eclectic views of humanity. Thus, social media is offering new interpretations of the once-stuffy “still life” genre. My cell phone allows me entry into everything from secluded settings to well-traveled environs, often producing fluid photographic images. Therefore, the (Dis)Still Life MMXX exhibit examines active compost, found objects, fugitive encounters and award-winning table settings – presented as still life compositions.

Presented by the Progress Gallery on August 2020.

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