Deanna Phoenix Selene: In much of your work faith, in particular religious faith, plays a central role. We feel great tension between religion’s request that one suspends disbelief versus resistance from the rational self. Where does Tom Chambers fall on this continuum? Which is more helpful a perspective to have as an artist ~ to approach the world as an idealist or to remain cautiously wary?
Tom Chambers: I view myself as a spiritual person, but not a religious person. My upbringing was in the Amish country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where religion pervaded the culture and daily living. This experience impacted my thinking by making me both curious about different religion traditions and uncomfortable with the restrictiveness of formal religion. Although uncomfortable with the dogma of strict religious traditions, I have always appreciated the mystery of art objects connected with religious tradition. In addition, the experience of growing up in rural Pennsylvania helped me to feel connected with nature in a very spiritual way. As an artist, my spiritual connection with nature has been at the heart of my work. Perhaps I am a blend of the religious skeptic with the idealist who revels in the beauty of the natural world.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Can you tell me about Annunciation? What Truth does she not wish to receive?
Tom Chambers: This image is my interpretation of the religious art from the Renaissance period. The art at that time interpreted the stories from the Bible. In my interpretation, an announcement is being made. Whether the news is good or bad is left up to the viewer. We know how the story in the Bible turned out.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: And Impossible Intentions?
Tom Chambers: All of my photomontages are intended to create a mood in the viewer through illustrating an unfinished story. When I created Impossible Intentions, I was focused on the light from the burning candles, soothing sunset, and reflections of light on the houses along the river in order to create the sense of deep spiritual moment. The image is meant to be ambiguous… is she planning to jump, why are the candles lit, why a bridge?
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Pieta who is being held in her motherly arms?
Tom Chambers: Over time a range of artists have created their interpretation of the Pieta. It was tempting to create my version of the Pieta as an expression of love between mother and son, a powerful bond. The models shot in my version are married, but I had to shoot them separately. “Jesus” was too large for “Mary,” and I had to reduce him in size to make the composition work.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Ursal Minor your adolescent girls glow. Do you think we do young girls justice by asking them to represent innocence and magic? Or do we not protect this enough in them and in children in general? Has the period of innocence become too short? If so, what can be done about it?
Tom Chambers: I think it is important to treat children according to their chronological age and, as much as possible, to preserve the innocence of childhood. In our fast moving, ever changing, culture, dominated by technology, it is a huge challenge to protect children and childhood.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: In Unfamiliar Melody what are you inviting us to investigate?
Tom Chambers: I am a lover of music of all genres, and music inspires my work. In Unfamiliar Melody, music is an inspiration for creativity. Ideas, images, and deep emotion are generated through music.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Should art be a reflection of what is? Or a glimpse of what could be? Or a combination of both?
Tom Chambers: In my life art plays both roles. A work of my art might reflect my experience but also opens doors to new possibilities. My intention with my photomontage is allow the viewer to dream and muse about possibilities.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: There is a recurring theme of predator throughout much of your works. Is The Wild something to be feared? Or learned from? In modern day times, what predators do we most need to be protected from?
Tom Chambers: In much of my work I am expressing the tension that exists between two competing interests. In some cases it is the struggle between man’s self-centered existence and the natural world or in the tension moving from childhood to adolescence or even preserving the richness of culture against competing economic interests. Perhaps that tension creates the feeling of the presence of the predator.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Is there a greater need for magic now than ever before? What is the artist’s role in this?
Tom Chambers: The juxtaposition of the probable with the improbable creates a sense of magic. The artist’s role perhaps is to create those moments of wonder which open doors to possibilities.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: If I asked you to pick a favorite of all of your works, which would you choose? Is this also the piece that most resonates with your viewers?
Tom Chambers: When I create a new series there are always 2 or 3 images that stand out above the rest in popularity. One of my favorites is Prom Gown #3 from the early Rite of Passage series. This one received some national attention and helped to open a few doors in the gallery world. In fact it is the only one of my photomontages hung in my home. This image is also important to me, because it combines my love for the West and high dessert with Native American religion, as well as my connection with my daughter who at the time was making her transition from childhood to adolescence.
Entropic Kingdom By Tom Chambers with Introduction by Aline Smithson. Hard-bound, 11 x 11 inches, 58 four-color plates, 112 pages. Regular Edition 1,000 copies $75. April 2012 Publication Release. Also available as a limited edition box set.
Visit tomchambersphotography.com to see more of Tom’s photographs.