Etheric Bodies presents a collection of recent photographic work by Ōtepoti-based artist Thomas Lord.
An intimate interplay of unseen textures and evocative narratives unveiling hidden stories residing within natural and domestic realms.
Extended bio with discussion of work:
Thomas Lord: Etheric Bodies
Thomas Lord was born and grew up in Ōtepoti, Dunedin, graduating from Otago Boys High School in 2003. He studied art at OBHS, also attending night classes in photography and printing at Bayfield High School. It was his family, however, who provided him with his most significant introduction to art, in particular his grandfather, the Australian painter Frank Pash. Lord reports, “Art was a subject that I took in high school; however I was drawn to it through my family connections at an earlier age. I also credit my grandfather Frank Pash who was a well-regarded, full-time painter based in Perth. Although he passed when I was young, we always had his work in the house and some of my earliest memories were of him painting while visiting each Christmas.”
In 2007 he spent time on the Isle of Gigha, one of the Hebrides located off the coast of Scotland. He returned to Dunedin the following year, completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts at the Otago Polytechnic | Te Pūkenga, after which he taught English for two years (2012-2014) in the prefecture of Yamanashi. The time in Japan would prove critical to his development as an artist. Lord subsequently worked as a commercial photographer. After an especially fruitful period from 2017-2020, he “dropped a lot of client-based work” to concentrate on his responsibilities at the Dunedin School of Art as a technical teacher, and then a lecturer (2018–present), which permitted him to spend more time with his family. His experiences as the parent of a young child (he lives with his wife Kat and daughter, Naomi) would have a marked effect on his vision as an artist, a process he describes in an article he wrote for Scope in 2021, “screams like home: A PHOTOBOOK PROJECT.” The project described in the article resulted in a set of photographs taken during a trip to Japan in 2020, focusing rural villages of Yamanashi, the prefecture in which he had been, in earlier years, employed as an English teacher. He describes the process whereby the sites where chosen and compiled as “a collaboration of sorts, the product of ‘[a] period of giving up control to work closely with Naomi––whereas my practice before had been one of intention and solitude.” Naomi would often take the lead, with her photographer father following in her footsteps. The result of this collaboration was a book screams like home (2020), shortlisted for the 2022 Aotearoa Photobook Award.
While Lord makes use of digital technology in his client-based projects, in his personal work, he employs traditional analogue techniques and cameras, often large format, usually a Linhof Kardan Monorail or a Mamiya RB67. He explains that “my wet plate is done on a half-plate wooden camera. My film choice is usually Iford Delta 100….I mainly use a 4x5 sheet film camera however some of these works were made with a 6x7 medium format camera. I also dabble with wet plate photography and have recently acquired a camera that dates back to 1860. I process my film at home and at work in my free time.”
The works Etheric Bodies 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,  included in Lord’s current exhibition at Olga Gallery, underline the influence of his family and his exploration of the camera as a particular mechanical process designed to record human experience––what one might call the phenomenological dimension of photography. These images explore a collection of objects retrieved on family walks by his daughter Naomi “during the years when” she “was between two and five.” Lord recounts:
These were her companions during our outings, clutched close and cradled with care, their significance tangible in her grip as we headed back home. But a subtle shift unfolded between those landscapes and home. Slowly, the magic these artefacts held for her seemed to fade, save for a few exceptional keepsakes that still sparked that previous excitement. The rest, often left behind in the car, found their way on a garage shelf. After a while I noticed that when entering the garage at night I could sense a glow outside my periphery coming from the shelf with the objects…it was more that than just an acknowledgement that they were there…I could feel something quite visceral in that area of the room.
These objects then became the subject of the Etheric Bodies series, in which the photographer through the camera attempts to explore the attraction that these same objects continue to have for him even when discarded on a shelf in the garage. He admits, “I am also contemplating whether there is a connection to the way process is more important and brings more joy to me than the final image and to how collecting these objects in the field and spending time with them in the environment seemed to be more nourishing than taking them home and away from their original location.” Interestingly, then, these experiments, or what we might call “photographic” meditations, may be deemed essentially failures, in a certain sense. What Lord’s photographs offer is, then, not so much a representation of the object itself, but, perhaps, the trace of something that was once here, but is now absent. The photographer makes an image that he offers to the viewer, which alludes to the experience of that time in the past when the object was discovered amidst the excitement of the day––the fleeting moments of childhood for the parent who observes them.
Not coincidentally, the analogue photograph, both the processes whereby the camera records the object, and those whereby the photograph is produced as an object, is generated by a series of literal traces of something that was once there. Unlike the digital photograph, which might be more accurately described as a translation, the analogue photograph offers proof that something, a moment in time, that was once present is now absent, lost in the past, so to speak. The exploration of this dimension, inherent in the nature of the photograph, its relations to the inevitable loss of “time past” and even death, lies at the heart of the images offered in the exhibition Etheric Bodies.
"Etheric Bodies", Thomas Lord
Thomas Lord’s "Etheric Bodies" is a philosophical journey into the world of ephemera, as examined through the photographic process.
Lord’s images attempt to convey the feeling of the imperfect nature of memory, of the traces that remain of what were concrete, tangible moments. His photographs become shadows of extinct reality, testimony that something existed which no longer has anything more than a fleeting mental trace. In parallel with this, Lord examines the photographic process, and specifically the process of transferring moments of light on to sensitive material in traditional analogue photography. The vulnerability of the moment is expressed through the medium of monochromatic photograph. The nature of the medium, always at one remove from our solid, colourful world, adds to the sense of loss, as does the deliberate blurring of the image. Many of Lord’s photographs are deliberately mistily vague and indistinct, the photographic equivalent of colourfield painting, forcing viewers to seek out their own meaning.
In the "Etheric Bodies" series, the attempt to capture the ephemeral is made more explicit, in a series of images of objects discovered and retrieved on family walks. Like the stones and shells found during a day at the beach, the objects become dull and lose their magic once removed from their surroundings, becoming painful yet poignant reminders of loss.
Otago Daily Times, Art Seen, September 7 2023