Woman Crush Wednesday: Caroline Tompkins
Interview by Hallie Neely
Caroline Tompkins is a working photographer based between New York and Ohio. The images shown are from her series Barracudas and Ohio. She holds a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts; you can check out more of her work here.
You show a noticeable amount of pride and love for where you’re from: Cincinnati, Ohio. How have you adapted to living in such a vast city as New York?
My love for Cincinnati is my adaptation to living in New York. It takes leaving where you’re from to understand why people would want to live there in the first place. It’s good you’re asking me this now - Currently, I live alone in an apartment I really love, I’m very happy and fullfilled with the work that I do, I have cool sex, I have a car, I travel, I’ve surrounded myself with people I love and am continually inspired by, things are good. It only took 7 years of New York regularly ruining my life to get there.
What other aspects of the competitive swim culture do you want to investigate?
That project feels like some sort of excavation of self. Dissecting something that I can’t remember not doing. I’m still figuring it out. More than anything, it’s a reason to make pictures - to take a banal idea and add personal investment. I feel like I’m just starting to play with photography - a real you gotta learn the rules before you can break them kind of deal. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m less interested in giving the viewer some sort of inside look into the world of swimming and more interested in making interesting pictures.
I know the conversation about film vs digital is useless, but I read that you thought Barracudas should be shot in film because "the images are made from water." Did you consider this concept ahead of time, or did it open itself up while you were working?
It’s something I had always considered, but certainly isn’t a pillar of the work. Shooting this way feels like a collaboration, the malfunction of the film or practitioner could change the way you think about your work entirely, and that’s very exciting to me. There’s a really good Torbjorn Rodland interview with Lucas Blalock where he says it better than I could, “I still prefer the originals I produce to be physical pieces of plastic coming out of a bath, rather than digital files backed up on two hard drives. There’s something beautiful about life rising from liquids.”
Your series Hey Baby is obviously a whole other conversation, but it’s so interesting to see work you’ve made in New York alongside work you make outside of New York. The colors, subject matter, aesthetics, and concepts are drastically different. How do you find inspiration to create work about other places while residing and working in a city you don’t find as much visual inspiration in?
I’ve always felt like I leave New York to make pictures and come back to think about them. A reason to love it here is that everyone you meet is hustling, making things, dipping their toes in. For lack of a better word, it’s intoxicating. I’ve been in New York long enough that it’s hard for me to distinguish if working on things 12-16 hours a day is who I am or who this city makes me. That motivation breeds inspiration. Also, in general I think it’s important to always listen to yourself - what’s bothering you, exciting you, making you uncomfortable, what are you googling at 3am - and then go out and make work about it.
Do you have any upcoming trips planned to make more work?
I try to go on 2-3 trips per month to make pictures and generally get out of the city. I just got back from two weeks in California with all of my closest friends. Before that, I spent a weekend in a town called Caroline in Tompkins County, NY. Next month, I’d like to open up a little photo studio at flea market in Ohio. In April, I think I’ll go to Louisiana to work on something at a prison rodeo. In June, I’m going to Montana to sleep in a fire lookout tower for a few nights. In September, I’m hoping to see South Africa. On my lunch breaks, I’m trying to photograph men in financial districts of New York. I’d like to go to some love hotels in the Poconos, the top of Mt. Washington by cog train, Niagara Falls. I have a whole list. The short answer is yes.
How would you describe your creative process in one word?
If you could teach one, one-hour class on anything, what would it be?
I’d teach a class to men about the proverbial girl’s bathroom. The things women are trained not to reveal. A few things - Women can get pregnant when they’re on their period, women will not die if they sleep with a tampon in, women watch porn, some of us care how big your dick is, but probably not in the ways that you think.
What is the last book you read or film you saw that inspired you?
For films, it’s An Unmarried Woman. I love that the main character’s strengths are subtle and often revealed when she’s being stereotypically weak. It all feels so current even though it was made 40 years ago. She’s real. I’m reading Coercion by Douglas Rushkoff right now - it’s about life’s various forms of manipulation. It’s been a good tool for unlearning.
What is the most played song in your music library?
I’ll Be Here In The Morning - Townes Van Zandt
How do you take your coffee?
Never touch the stuff!