"A man's work is nothing but the long journey to recover, through the detours of art, the two or three simple and great images which first gained access to his heart."
"Nothing but" statements like Camus' are always attractive to me because they
offer answers, and, although I have mellowed over the years and learned to be
satisfied with mostly questions, I am still easily seduced by the fantasy of a
painless and easy, not to mention romantic, explanation of the journey through
life. Painless, that is, unless the "simple and great images" Camus alludes to are
themselves pain-full, and the access they gained to my heart was like that of a
On September 15, 1959, I witnessed the bloody aftermath of a bombing at my
elementary school, where a madman killed himself and five others by
detonating a powerful bomb on the school grounds. This was an extremely
upsetting event for me and my fellow six-grade students, but no consideration
was ever given to the treatment of our trauma. In fact, nothing much was even
said about it when we returned to school the next day. Those of us who
survived the blast and saw the bodies became part of a conspiracy of denial and
were condemned to having to recover (from) this "great image."
Recovering this image from my memory has necessarily brought me "closer" to
death, and has led me to examine our cultural attitude which denies death.
Historian Philippe Ariés describes this attitude as the "forbidden death."
Perhaps nowhere is this denial stronger than with regard to the social taboo of
My current project, the SUICIDE series, attempts to deal with this taboo
social-psychological content in an ironic way, looking at suicide from both
serious and humorous perspectives. The photographs consist of self-constructed
and directed tableaux in which I am seen committing suicide by a variety of
outrageous means. I attempt to further the believability of the scenarios
through use of the hyper-real information available from the 8" x 10" format,
together with their presentation as large, 32" x 42" black and white prints.
René Magritte said that we must not fear daylight just because it almost always
illuminates a miserable world, and so it is my intention to present the viewer
with several death and misery related issues -- the acknowledgment and denial
of death, the cohesion of the self, self-destructive behaviors and alienation
--against the backdrop of humor.
In this context, humor is more than a clever device to gain access to the darker
sides of ourselves. Humor contains a life-affirming, restorative power which
can also sustain us during our long journey through the detours of art and life,
regardless of what images we might unwittingly recover -- and then have to
- Bill Thomas
Bill Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org