Mantra: “If you spend too much time behind a computer, it seems like the whole world has been photographed. But once you step outside, the world starts opening up in all its weird and varied glory.” — Alec Soth
First camera: Canon AE-1
Current favorite: Yashica Mat 124G
At times like this, we wish the term “artist’s artist” didn’t sound so cliché. But how can it not come to mind with Tom Hoying—one of the people responsible for the beautiful, loose weirdness at Skylab, the underrated downtown DIY space. Oh, and he’s an animator, too. Hoying is the quintessential Midwest art kid—plenty of access to plenty of artists, and you can see how much of it stuck.
But, it’s his “I almost drowned in the Blue River,” from a few years ago that stuck with us; an immediate and harrowing collection of life along the Ohio River, a mundanity captured with such careful eyes.
My mom grew up on a farm in southern Indiana with 10 siblings. I spent a great deal of my childhood visiting that farm and the surrounding area. In a lot of ways “I almost drowned in the Blue River” is a love letter to my family and the area where they live.
I made the bulk of this project in 2014 and I don’t think my perspective of the work has changed at all. However, someone could look at the project now and read it solely as “Trump’s America,” which to me is shallow and one-dimensional. I still have the same love and respect for my family and the communities I photographed. The recession in the late 2000s hit everyone hard—industrial America particularly so. I can’t speak for all of the rural Midwest, but the people I know are generous and loving and will always look out for one another and those in need. I hope that sentiment still rings true to viewers.
When I first showed this work I was standing in the gallery with my prints getting feedback from a few people and they all remarked about how it reminded them of where they came from, or somewhere close to them. For me, being able to connect with the subjects and subject matter in an intimate way, and then in turn sharing that experience with viewers who are able to connect and relate to the images in their own way is why I make photographs.
People often get hung up on the technical side of photography, spending lots of time and money on equipment. A camera is just a tool—a means to an end. Just like drawing, photography is another way of seeing. You can make a beautiful photo with a phone, and a really terrible one with a $10,000 camera. The person who’s holding the camera, their vision, and what drives them to make photos, is what’s really important.