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Expressions through a photo montage

Tom Chambers was born and raised on a farm in the Amish country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Tom completed a B.F.A. in 1985 from Ringling School of Art, Sarasota, Florida with an emphasis in graphic design and strong interest in photography. For many years Tom has worked as a graphic designer, including the design of packaging and magazines. Since 1998 Tom has devoted himself to photo montage for sharing the intriguing unspoken stories which reflect his view of the world and elicit feelings in the viewer.

Currently, Tom is represented by a number of galleries in the United States and Europe. His work has been shown nationally and internationally through solo and group exhibitions, as well as in a wide range of print and online publications. Tom has received recognition for his photography through a variety of awards, such as Worldwide Photography Gala Awards, First Place Digital Enhanced; Fotoweek DC, First Place Fine Arts (2009) and Second Place Fine Arts (2008); Critical Mass Top 50 (2008 and 2006); and Texas Photographic Society National Competition Third Place (TPS #18, 2009) and First Place (TPS #15, 2006). Tom has received fellowships from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

What is “magic realism” and how different is it to other genres?

Magic realism is an art genre where magical elements are used in a realistic environment.

The associations you form in your photograph leave a mark for long after. From fragility of childhood to coexistence between man and his environment, how do you come up with such inspirations and their depictions for an image?   

Each photographic series reflects something that matters to me. The issue of man’s impact upon the environment is of great concern to me. Since growing up on a farm and spending time camping and hiking in nature, I have felt a connection to the environment and a desire to protect it. As I experience images created through music, literature, or travel, I use these images to convey my feelings about different issues, including man’s impact on the environment.


Each photographic series reflects something that matters to me. The issue of man’s impact upon the environment is of great concern to me.

Can you explain your entire creative process from you sketching the idea to the photo montage being complete?

I begin with an idea for an image in my head, something that will work with the series I am currently working on.  I’ll start sketching the idea, very roughly in a small  4” square just to work out the shapes and composition. After that I will typically shoot the background, such as an outdoor scene. The background will often be shot in two sections and seamed together in order to have a larger file size for the final image.  After creating the background I shoot the elements, human or animal, usually both.  I have to be very aware of the direction and intensity of light when combining the elements.

Which equipment and software do you use in your workflow? 

I shoot with a Nikon D800 with Nikon lenses.  I use a Mac Mini with extra ram, a 27” monitor and Photoshop software to do the post production work.

What roles do Epson printers have to play in the process?

I use a 7890 24" Epson to print my 14" and 20" prints. I outsource to another printer who uses an Epson to take care of my 30" and 50" sizes.

How do you make sure that the light intensity is similar in each of your shots for an image? 

I mentioned earlier that it is important to have the light direction and intensity similar.  I prefer to shoot on cloudy days, just as most other photographers do.  This way most of my shots of elements are similar. If the direction of light is not correct sometimes the element can be flipped in Photoshop to rectify the problem.  I do occasionally shoot in the studio.  I will use a soft box light from above to mimic an outdoor look.

I prefer to shoot on cloudy days, If, however, the direction of light is not correct sometimes the element can be flipped in Photoshop to rectify the problem.

Among your many influences,  you also have a fondness for Rajput art and then the legendary stallion Chetak. You have helped immortalize Marwari horses by doing a series based on them. Please tell us more about it.   Francesca Kelly from Martha’s Vineyard contacted me to photograph her Marwari horses.  She has been very instrumental in re-establishing the Marwari breed in India. As is well known, the Marwari at one time were considered sacred and used for battle.  After the British colonized India, the noble horses were used as work horses and the breed began to disintegrate. Since the late 1990’s, Francesca and others have successfully provided leadership to protect the Marwari. I admire the bravery  represented  by the Marwari and the legendary Chetak, similar to the resiliency that I see in children.


Which is the most interesting character you have created for/in your photographs?

Prom Gown #3 is part of the Rite of Passage series which portrays the transition from childhood to adolescence and then to adulthood. The young girl lying on the sticks in the American desert is comparable to Native American death and burial.


What according to you makes a perfect photograph and how do you use that in your images? 

The perfect photo montage image is one that will stop the viewer in his tracks with the element of surprise. This is the magic realism. In addition, there must be a beauty in the image which entices the viewer to spend time with the image. These two things must work hand in hand, complementing each other.

There’s a section of audience which doesn’t like photo manipulators per se. They may not always be aware of the hard meticulous work it takes for one image to be prepared. How different is it to usual photography and how long is the process to obtain a single photo montage? 

I feel that there is a place for all types of photography, whether it’s contemporary montage or traditional black and white.  Throughout history all art mediums have evolved. For example, painting has evolved: egg tempera, to oils, to acrylic.  Painters have even combined everyday objects with paint on a canvas. Photography too has evolved. My medium photo montage, created through digital photo manipulation, could possibly be called photo based art instead of photography.


Throughout history all art mediums have evolved. Photography too has evolved.

Do you have any tips for photographers trying to emulate your work and looking for advice?

Find a subject matter and/or style that really excites you. Work with that direction and invest yourself,  but try to add to it, making the style your own.

Which are the latest projects you are working on? Could you brief us on some of them?   

Currently I am working on a series about reclaimed spaces. Animals taking back the territory they were forced to abandon.

Where can we hear more from you or see more of your work?

I update my facebook “fan” page regularly:   http://www.facebook.com/tom.chambers.photography.   Periodically I update my webpage www.tomchambersphoto.com.


QUICK 8
  • Favourite era in photography’s history: Contemporary, of course!
  • Five emotions you want to elicit in your photographs: Surprise, nostalgia, empathy, wonder, and joy.
  • Preferred location, countryside or urban landscape:  The winter countryside
  • Favourite photographer: Graciela Iturbide (Mexican) and Francesca Woodman (American), but I am also influenced by painters, for example, Andrew Wyeth
  • Favourite photography gadget: I have a Nexto eXtreme… a small hard drive that I use to back up my camera\'s memory cards.  Great for travel, it has a battery which can be charged up and hold a charge for a couple weeks. There are slots for different sizes of memory cards which write directly to the hard drive.
  • Favourite photo editing software: Adobe Photoshop CS6
  • Best compliment received on your photographs:  An invitation to participate as an artist and presenter in the 2009 Fotografica Bogota, sponsored for Fotomuseo, the National Museum of Photography in Bogota.
  • Best single advice received on how to edit your work: Always work within a series. As the series evolves, live with each image for a week or two and think about how a particular image works with the rest of the series.  Create a series of 15 to 25 images which all compliment each other and stay closely within parameters you have set.  These parameters could be related to style, or subject matter.