Photography in focus at the Art Fair

By Michelle Anne P. Soliman
IT WAS few minutes past 2 p.m. and the afternoon sunlight illuminated the high ceiling in the partly glass-enclosed living room. Dressed in a light blue shirt and jeans, American photographer Tom Epperson sat in front (instead of behind, as he usually does) of the camera. For someone who admits to being camera shy, he comfortably introduced himself in one take.
Mr. Epperson recalled his first encounter with photography — when his parents gave him a “plastic Japanese camera” with “one shutter speed.”
“I always wanted to be a photographer when I was very young. But I was kind of talked out of it by a close friend of the family. And it went on for years,” he told BusinessWorld in an interview.
Prior to pursuing his passion for photography, he worked at a Sydney-based animation company. While there, he came across a magazine article about French-born photojournalist Catherine Leroy who covered the Vietnam War. Her story inspired Mr. Epperson to take a risk.
“I had read this article about a famous journalist who covered the Vietnam War. And reading that, I thought, ‘She gave up everything in her life to go over [there] and actually put her life on the line to become a photographer.’ And I thought, if she was willing to do this, what was stopping me?”
Mr. Epperson left a 14-year career in animation and became a photo assistant for two years, prior to settling in Manila in the 1990s where he established his own studio.
“I lost a lot of things going after photography, but I don’t regret one day of it.”
As a photographer, Mr. Epperson has done commercial work for notable brands such as Nike’s Manny Pacquiao campaign; but he has “always taken art shots.”
“I didn’t seriously think about it (fine art photography) as a way to generate money and to do it full time until I stopped doing advertising. Advertising really kind of robbed me of my soul… I couldn’t put my stamp on it. So, I thought I should go back to find other work and start shooting what I like. And hopefully other people would like it as well,” he said.
He has mounted six shows since 2005, including his Frozen series which was inspired by a trip to Mongolia’s frozen lakes.
Like a missing note in music, the mystery in a photograph speaks through what is not seen. “It’s not so much [about] what you play, it’s what you don’t play. It’s what you don’t include in a song. In a song, if there’s this part where everything kind of just drops out, it leaves this void,” explained Mr. Epperson, who also plays harmonica for a Filipino blues band, The Blue Rats.
“I would imagine [the same in] sculpting. It’s what they take away from whatever they are sculpting that makes the sculpture,” he added.
“It’s what I don’t include (in the picture) because then it makes the person looking at the image wonder,” he said, citing examples of shooting a portrait with a hidden face or a close up of an outstretched hand. “It makes you think.”
For Mr. Epperson, photographs are not only about aesthetics but also stories.
“I think a lot of people go out and just take beautiful pictures without a concept in mind,” he said. “[For a] fine art photographer, he sees it in a completely different way. They try to portray something to bring awareness to something, and you do that through both their imagery and then they’ll also have a story behind it as well.”
At the upcoming Art Fair Philippines, which runs from Feb. 22 to 24, Mr. Epperson will be showing his phototgraphs in a show called Works alongside fellow photographer Denise Weldon. He will showcase a series of 12 photographs, which he describes as “playful.”
“This work was not intended. I had no agenda,” he revealed.
The photographs consist of images shot in his studio, a beach in the Philippines, and a riverbed in the US.
“The beauty about it was that I have enough work that I could have put it in the show without having to think. I already had a series of work, and I could have put that up and shown it. But I did a road trip late last year to the [United States]… I just started taking photographs for fun. And I get back to the Philippines and have a look at the new images, and I thought, this would be really interesting to show instead of what I had already,” he said.
He added that the images are a diversion from his previous photographs.
“It isn’t very moody, it isn’t dark, it’s in color, which I’m really not known for. Most of my images are black and white,” he said. “Not one of them were ever meant to see the likes of a show. It’s a very eclectic body of work.”
(Works by Denise Weldon and Tom Epperson is located at Booth 4, Level 5, of Art Fair Philippines, which runs at The Link, Ayala Center, from Feb. 22–24.)