Tomas van Houtryve talks about "Blue Sky Days"
Anna Van Lenten, moderator
This talk is part of the gallery show Surveillance.01-USA, up at the Made in NY Media Center by IFP April 3-25. Click here for more information
Tomas Van Houtryve, “Blue Sky Days” (Video installation April 3-5 only; projections April 3-25)
In October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her house. At a briefing held in 2013 in Washington, DC, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of five lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”
Over the past decade, drones have become the preferred weapon of the United States military and the CIA for strikes overseas. Their use for surveillance and commercial purposes is also rapidly expanding at home and abroad.
Tomas van Houtryve attached his camera to a small drone and travelled across America to photograph the very sorts of gatherings that have become habitual targets for foreign air strikes—weddings, funerals, groups of people praying or exercising. He also flew his camera over settings in which drones are used to less lethal effect, such as prisons, oil fields, industrial feedlots, and stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border. The images captured from the drone’s perspective engage with the changing nature of war, privacy, and government transparency.
My personal work seeks to render conspicuous and intimate themes which normally elude the mind’s eye. My preferred subjects include aspects of contemporary warfare and activities of the modern State which are notable for their near invisibility, such as drones, nuclear testing, and Cold War ideology.
Underpinning my work is the belief that human activity becomes increasingly absurd and dangerous when it looses empathy. I agree with Albert Camus when he said, “By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.”
Photography—with it’s intuitive presumption of veracity—is the common medium of my projects. My background in classical photojournalism informs my ethical values, though I no longer focus on news gathering. Rather, my projects often start with a nagging internal curiosity about an obscure subject, and occasionally I am seized by an obsession to understand, document and reveal that subject to a wider audience.
Internationally recognized as one of the leading photographers of his generation, Tomas van Houtryve documents critical contemporary issues around the world. After leaving the Associated Press in 2003, van Houtryve began to concentrate on large-scale projects, starting with the Maoist rebellion in Nepal. These photos earned wide recognition including the Visa pour l'Image-Perpignan Young Photographer Award & the Bayeux Prize for War Correspondents. Tomas has since been named one of PDN's 30 Emerging Photographers and POYi Photographer of the Year, and awarded an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship. Tomas’s first monograph, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism, was published in Spring 2012; the series won the 2012 POYi World Understanding Award. Solo exhibitions of Tomas’s work have been shown in Paris, New York City, Spain, and Italy. His pictures and writing appear regularly in publications worldwide. Tomas is a member of the VII Photo Agency. http://www.tomasvanhoutryve.com/