on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Thomas Joshua Cooper

An Interview

Tim Parkin

Tim Parkin

Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.

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Last year, Colin McClean suggested that we should interview with Thomas Joshua Cooper, the Professor and founder of the Fine Art Photography Department at Glasgow School of Art, and with Colin's connections with the Department, he offered to help arrange it. A few phone calls (Thomas doesn't do computers, emails via third parties and a quick drive up to Glasgow and we were ushered up to Thomas' offices which consisted of a small room with a desk at one end, wallpapered with bookshelves and a large studio and darkroom at the other, decorated with test prints.

Some would call our 'interview' more of a ramble than a structured set of questions but we got the feeling that trying to herd Thomas down our own agenda might not be productive - and we had the advantage of time on our hands, which was a good job as we were there for nearly four hours.

The following consists of select extractions from our meander through photography and life stories. I present them in chronological order rather than trying to force an imaginary arc of ideas through them that had no basis in reality.

On Shooting, or Taking of Images

TJC: The idea of “taking” is anathema to me, just so I can put that in formally. Taking things, taking pictures, shooting, Jesus, what a vulgar, vulgar idea. When I was young, I was a shooter. In my family, guns were part of the deal: first rifle at six years old, for a shotgun, eight years old, first range rifle, 12 years old. You learn how to shoot things and it has a particular meaning for me. Just like taking things, you take something and all of a sudden whatever you’ve taken is gone. You shoot something and whatever you’ve shot is dead. But if you make something or you build something, what you do isn’t part of a vernacular of incipient violence and carelessness then there is the possibility that maybe something as weird as photography can have a real meaning. I mean it’s a joyful thing, this camera photographing thing.

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  • Mike Chisholm

    Wonderful interview with TJC. He’s a bit of a hero for me — I saw an exhibition of the “Gokstadt” work in the mid 80s, then did a 5-day workshop with him in 1990 at Duckspool (my first ever), and it was a life-changer for me. I’ve collected everything he’s published ever since.

    He seems to have mellowed… A TJC workshop was like an encounter group — tears, shouting and anger, as well as revelatory insights to be plucked from the unstoppable rambling. It was like being locked in a room with Walt Whitman and R.D. Laing…

    Amazing, too, to get him to confess inter alia to a regret about colour work, and to hear him talk self-deprecatingly about the way others must see him. TJC is an exemplar of, in Larkin’s words, how to surprise a hunger in oneself to be more serious, or (in McCoy Tyner’s words) for for one’s work to be “as serious as your life”.

    He seems to have liked you, too, which must have helped!


  • Thank you indeed for this interview.. TJC is in my eyes indeed one of the few “real characters” in photography today – he may be one of the last breed of true explorers, as he calls them, and his work and his insight into things is very inspirational…

  • Just brilliant. Thank you.

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