These Surreal Images Are Even More Incredible When You Know The Story Behind Them
Photographer Kyle Thompson is no stranger to ViralNova. The artist”s latest photo series, Ghost Town, is yet another personal project blending reality with a topic very close to Thompson. The surreal series was inspired by Thompson”s turbulent childhood and struggle with depression. We sat down with Thompson earlier this week to learn more about him, his work, and what he hopes for the future.
For our readers who aren”t familiar with you, can you tell us a little about your background and the work you do?
My name is Kyle Thompson, and I am a photographer living in Portland, Oregon. A lot of my work is composed of self-portraits and conceptual images. I try to create work that is a bit of a metaphor of my own life.
Was there a defining moment in your life when you realized that you were a photographer?
It”s weird, because I was always involved in art as a kid. I tried basically every medium before photography. I kind of found it by accident. I actually started by exploring abandoned houses by myself, looking for weird markings in the forest on Google Maps, and exploring. I didn”t know who to take photos of, so I bought a tripod and took self portraits. I basically instantly knew it was what I wanted to do. It felt so therapeutic and really calmed me. It became a way for me to express myself and connect with people.
Your latest photo series, Ghost Town, is absolutely amazing. What was the inspiration behind it?
The whole series ties into my childhood. I wanted to create these lonely, vacant landscapes that are based on my childhood depression. Something very cold and disconnected. The locations are based on my childhood home, which was built too low and would frequently flood. I…created this connection between that, and my depression in the way that it felt vast and suffocating. The series is like most of my work in the way that it examines my own emotions, and creates metaphors to make it possible for others to connect with it and apply it to their own lives
In an email before this interview, you mentioned that some of the inspiration for Ghost Town was your battle with childhood depression. Could you tell us about that time in your life?
It was something that made growing up really hard for me. I felt stunted from it for such a long time, as if I was permanently damaged, and I feel like creating art is my own therapy for it. The depression was triggered by a list of negative experiences I had growing up, starting with my mom dying when I was a kid. It persisted for almost a decade, and I am so thankful to be past that.
What was the process of taking these photos like?
It”s funny, because most of the setups looks so basic from any other angle. I actually bought an above-ground pool at Walmart for like $90, and I would build sets in it and flood it in my backyard. I spent all summer laying out wallpaper, building walls, and hauling furniture. At one point, I actually built a wall that would fold up like an accordion and fit in my car, and I would take it and shoot at rivers and swamps.
Aesthetically, the Ghost Town photos are breathtaking. What inspired that look?
I wanted the images to look like my old childhood home in the way that I remember it. That meant creating sets that felt a bit dated. So a lot of floral wallpaper, and wood paneling, and plaid. I kept the outfits the same way. I would have huge piles of props in my backyard, and would piece everything together, and create a full cohesive set with it.
How long did it take to complete the project, from start to finish?
I started at the beginning of summer, and it was basically a race to finish it before it got too cold to get in the water. I ended up failing that goal and shot until October, when it was way too cold. I felt really guilty asking friends to get in the water by the end!
Are there any stories from the making of Ghost Town that you”d like to share?
I actually ended up shooting two of the images at a real flooded town in Utah. I was driving from Salt Lake City and passed this swamp with a sunken house and a few barns. I had to stop for it. I ended up wading through deep disgusting swamp water, and explored the inside of the house.
The water was up to my shoulders, and it was so cold! I had to put my camera on a tripod that was barely above the water, and went under the water to shoot an image. I was camping, so I knew I wouldn”t be able to shower, so I bathed with a gallon of water by the side of the road after I got out. I feel lucky to have not gotten a parasite or something! It was definitely worth it in the end.
What has the reaction been like to Ghost Town so far?
It”s been so good and I am so excited about it! It was actually my first time putting together a large cohesive series. I was overwhelmed with the response. I had a gallery show for the series here in Portland, and it was really exciting and scary? [It had] a really great turnout.
What”s next for you?
Right now, I have a bunch of small projects planned. I want to wait a bit before taking on something really big again. I found a huge abandoned town in the midwest while I was traveling. I want to spend a week living there, and shoot a small series of images trying to piece together the lives of the people who once lived there. Otherwise, I have no major plans. I will wait and see where it all takes me.
For more amazing work from Kyle Thompson, be sure to follow him on Facebook, Tumblr, Flickr. Don”t forget to visit to his website while you”re at it.