Thomas Joshua Cooper

photo of Thomas Joshua Cooper

“There are no birds, bugs or animals on the Polar Ice Shelf. Nothing you can see. Just the wind and the sound of ice cracking.”—Thomas Joshua Cooper

Thomas Joshua Cooper has spent the last 20-plus years traversing the Atlantic Basin to “make his pictures.” His “atlas” project began in 1989 as a means of creating a photographic dialogue between the old world and the new. From his home in Scotland to the southern-most point of the African continent, to the edges of Antarctica and up to the top of South America, Cooper has chartered boats, planes, helicopters, and even rode a nuclear powered icebreaker to document important geographical and historical points. Cooper may be the first person ever to reach all of the extremities of the Atlantic Basin and may certainly be the last as up to 35 percent of the sites he has visited will no longer exist in 15 years due to rising sea levels.

In 2007, he ventured to the North Pole, where he took images of pure whiteness, wanting to “convey the experience of cold and white while removing any objects or points of reference.” Cooper traditionally eliminates the horizon from his camera frame as he wants to “remove ease and create an interior space” for the viewer. Later he spent 90 days on a 50-foot boat in the Antarctic visiting both known and unknown places on the map, along the way discovering an uncharted island that he subsequently was able to name after his wife, Catherine. And, while stationed on land at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, he worked in negative 41 degrees with a wind chill of 77 below to make his image The Polar Plateau: The South Pole, Antarctica, 2007-2008, 90°. Despite being equipped with special film for below freezing temperatures, Cooper’s photo bears witness to the extreme weather conditions by way of a random black jagged line where the negative cracked.

Since he began his career on April Fool’s Day in 1969, Cooper has used just one camera, an 1898 wooden field camera, that can be alternatively perilous to carry along high sea cliffs or a life saver, as when he was trapped in quicksand. From the start, he promised himself to only take pictures outdoors and to only make one exposure per photograph.

Born in San Francisco in 1946, he studied art, philosophy, and literature at Humboldt State University before completing his Masters of Art in Photography at the University of New Mexico in 1972. His first solo show was held in 1971, and since then, he has been the subject of over 95 solo exhibitions throughout the world. Cooper’s work has also been included in over 80 group exhibitions. Thomas Joshua Cooper has received numerous awards including a Photography Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978) and, most recently, a John Simon Guggenheim Award (2009).  In 2010, Cooper was the first recipient of the Lannan Visual Arts Award.

Cooper’s photographs can be found in over 50 public collections worldwide, including The Art Institute of Chicago; The J. Paul Getty Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth; Nimes Museum of Contemporary Art, France; The Polaroid Collection, Frankfurt; Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey; The Tate Gallery, London; and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Lannan Foundation holds the single largest collection of Thomas Cooper’s work. Cooper is the founding head of photography at the Glasgow School of Art.

Recently, Cooper has had exhibitions at PaceWildenstein, New York (solo) (2006-2007); Unosunove Arte Contemporanea, Rome, Italy (solo)(2007); Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo, Spain (2008); the Rubicon Gallery, Dublin, Ireland (2008-2009); the Travelling Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (2008-2009); Haunch of Venison, UK (solo)(2009); the Lillie Art Gallery, Milngavie, Scotland (2009); GMG Gallery, Moscow, Russia (2009); Bafa Foto, Geneva, Switzerland (2009); the Lannan Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico (solo)(2009); the Glasgow School of Art (solo) (2011) and the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (solo)(2014).

The Lannan Foundation made a grant to Radius Books in support of Cooper’s book, Thomas Joshua Cooper: Shoshone Falls and also to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in 2012 in support of the presentation of Cooper’s Shoshone Falls photographs.


Thomas Joshua Cooper around the Web

Glasgow School of Art

Artworks



Looking Back toward Ireland—The Mid-North Atlantic Ocean, Punta Prieta, the East‑Most Point of the Isle of Lanzarote and All the Canary Islands, Spain

Looking Back toward Ireland—The Mid-North Atlantic Ocean, Punta Prieta, the EastMost Point of the Isle of Lanzarote and All the Canary Islands, Spain

A possible landing site of St. Brendan, who has often been credited with the ancient European discovery of the Canary Islands, and who is one of the three patron saints of the Canary Islands. St. Brendan may have staged his supposed further trans-Atlantic crossing from a site such as this. He is known as St. Brendan the Navigatory/the Wanderer (St.

Breanainn). (2002, printed 2014)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Scotia—The Swelling of the Sea—The North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Wrath, Sutherland, Scotland, the Northwest‑Most Point of Mainland Great Britain

Scotia—The Swelling of the Sea—The North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Wrath, Sutherland, Scotland, the NorthwestMost Point of Mainland Great Britain

The only British mainland site from which there is a direct and uninterrupted sea view north straight to the North Pole (2013, printed 2015)

The Geographer Ptolemy designated this particular point - 0 Longitude- the Ancient End of the World (2002)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Failure and Annihilation, Looking toward Scotland, Darién and Caledonia—Bahía Escocesa, Puerto Escocés, Guna Yala, Panama

Failure and Annihilation, Looking toward Scotland, Darién and Caledonia—Bahía Escocesa, Puerto Escocés, Guna Yala, Panama

Caledonia was the site of the "disaster of Darien scheme"- Scotland's only attempt at New World colonization. The colony at Darien failed and was lost in 1700. As a result, the country of Scotland lost over one quarter of its total GDP and nearly went bankrupt. One of the several dire consequences of this fact was to lead Scotland to have to agree, for financial reasons at least, to a formal union with England in the Act of Union of 1707. It has been suggested that the failure of Caledonia may have marked the "beginning of the end" of all forced European colonization. (2007, printed 2015)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Looking into the Polar Sunset—The Arctic Circle, Natchik Point, Naujaat

Looking into the Polar Sunset—The Arctic Circle, Natchik Point, Naujaat (Formerly Repulse Bay), the NorthMost Point of Hudson Bay, Nunavut, Canada (2013, printed 2016)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

An Indication Piece—The North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Sable, Cape Sable Island, Shelburne County

An Indication Piece—The North Atlantic Ocean, Cape Sable, Cape Sable Island, Shelburne County, the SouthMost Point of the Isle of Nova Scotia, Canada

The point from which over 1,000 ships have been lost at sea, including those caught in the so-called "Perfect Storm" in 1991. (1999, printed 2015)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Drowned Trees along the Mississippi, from the Source to the Sea—Hot Afternoon—Drowning Trees

Drowned Trees along the Mississippi, from the Source to the Sea—Hot Afternoon—Drowning Trees, the Confluence of the Dubois and the Lower Mississippi Rivers (East Bank), Madison County, Illinois, United States

Lewis and Clarke reputedly crossed the Mississippi River into the continental American West at this point in 1804. It is possibly their “Camp Wood” site. (2010, printed 2014)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Drowned Trees along the Mississippi, from the Source to the Sea—Last Goodbyes, Hidden Dangers

Drowned Trees along the Mississippi, from the Source to the Sea—Last Goodbyes, Hidden Dangers—Weeping Willows on the Trail of Tears, the East Bank of the Lower Mississippi River, Trail of Tears State Park, near Jackson, Cape Girardeau County, Mississippi, United States

Whilst making this picture, I unexpectedly sank into a camouflaged sinkhole. I was being sucked down quickly. Luckily my guide rescued me. The picture was successfully made. It was Friday the 13th! There were butterflies fluttering all about – perhaps “spirits” of my Cherokee ancestors were trying to help… I lost my wonderful Danner boots (almost impossible to imagine how) in that sinkhole. They were stripped of my feet. I was in just below my waist when finally rescued. Those boots had taken me to both Poles and back. (2010, printed 2014)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Remembering My Father’s Tribal Grandparents—The Little Blue, near Big Cabin Creek and the Neosho River, Mayes County, Oklahoma, United States

Remembering My Father’s Tribal Grandparents—The Little Blue, near Big Cabin Creek and the Neosho River, Mayes County, Oklahoma, United States 

(2003, printed 2004)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

An Indication Piece—E., N.E., The North Atlantic Ocean, Signal Hill, near St. John’s, the Isle of Newfoundland, Canada

An Indication Piece—E., N.E., The North Atlantic Ocean, Signal Hill, near St. John’s, the Isle of Newfoundland, Canada

The site where Guglielmo Marconi received his first transatlantic wireless cable message from his Poldhu Wireless Station in Cornwall, England. The message in Morse Code read the letter 's'. It’s the week of the spring equinox. (1998, printed 2015)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Hibernia—The North Atlantic Ocean, Malin Head, Donegal, the North‑Most Point of Ireland

Hibernia—The North Atlantic Ocean, Malin Head, Donegal, the NorthMost Point of Ireland (1986, printed 2002)

Recipient: Los Angeles County Museum of Art


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