Posted by Hunter McClimmans, CNF Reader for issue 4.2
After perusing Gandy Dancer 4.1, I was captivated by the work of the featured artist. These photos were thought provoking and, especially for “Untitled” featuring the GE sign, nostalgic. They made me want to get to know the photographer, Thomas John Magnus, a bit more. So I looked to his biography: a Geneseo junior, double major in biology and geography. However, the part reading “He got into photography at the end of this summer,” caught my eye. This summer. These are the first photos from a brand new photographer?! I was surprised and impressed all at once, and I needed to know more. So I asked, and this is what I received:
1. Gandy Dancer: How did you get started with photography?
Thomas John Magnus: I guess I got started when I took an art history course as a sophomore here at Geneseo. After that, I investigated a bit into modern art history on my own and then did some reading about color theory, the rule of thirds, and watched a bunch of interviews with photographers whose work I really liked. The first time I really wanted to photograph something was when I looked down a slide at Highland Park.
2. GD: What about the slide caught your eye?
TJM: At the time, I had no idea why it caught my eye. Looking back, I have three reasons. First, it is an interesting frame: although a slide obviously has dimension, these dimensions are entirely flattened within the photo and I probably found this effect strange back then. Second, the image is very reminiscent of the Pepsi logo, which probably had some nostalgic or sentimental value to me. For me, the person taking the photo, to have nostalgic feelings for an image of a children’s slide for reasons other than it being the usual object of children is also quite peculiar. Third, I really didn’t have any idea what could make a good picture back then aside from a cheap, slick visual trick and making my viewer confused for a second, and I knew the slide would accomplish those.
3. GD: Do you have a favorite camera?
TJM: I haven’t shot with many cameras but do love my Nikon D5300. I wish I had Instax Wide 300. They look really cool. Digital photography has made me grow a strange affection for my camera—it is almost like this machine is a pet or a co-worker of mine.
4. GD: So far, what are your favorite subjects?
TJM: I mostly take pictures of landscapes and still-lives, but I really like taking pictures of people. The human element is something that is very powerful in photography, and I hope to explore this more in the future.
5. GD: Before getting into photography, had you tried other art forms?
TJM: I drew as a child, and I was kinda-sorta good at writing in high school.
6. GD: You’ve said you were inspired by Christopher Anderson and Andre Kertesz. Can you tell me a bit about how they inspire you?
TJM: They’re all artists who have very unique styles, and a lot of them give excellent advice in their interviews or memoirs. They each inspire me for their own particular reasons. Christopher Anderson inspires me because he had no interest in photography until after college, and still went on to be a magnum photographer. Andre Kertesz inspires me because his photographs are many times both sober and surreal, which is a surprisingly difficult combination to accomplish in photography.
7. GD: Being so new to photography, were you surprised about not only being accepted, but being the featured artist?
TJM: I was surprised and honored. The recognition felt great.
8. GD: Do you see yourself continuing with photography? Even if it’s as a hobby?
TJM: I have no idea if I’ll pursue photography professionally. This is something I often think about. I will say that I think commercial, journalistic, and wedding photography can have serious artistic merit as well as be a way to make money.
9. GD: Seeing as I’m an English major, I have to know this: what is your all time favorite book?
TJM: Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut.
10. GD: What is your favorite band?
TJM: The Pixies. They’re the artist that got me into alternative rock and other genres like that back in high school. If I had to bring one album to a desert island, it’d no doubt be Doolittle. Currently I’ve been listening to more electronic music like Kaminsky or College. My tastes in everything-from visual art to music- have recently been far more futuristic.