Corbett Toomsen: Trophies
Corbett Toomsen challenges the tropes of on the road photography with his series Trophies. In this body of work, Toomsen collages and builds dioramas, recreating the standard snapshot photos taken on road trips or family vacations. The beauty of this project is the discoveries that Toomsen finds. His images act as first experiences, creating a unique opportunity to explore places anew, and also manipulate them to a specific ideal. Though these experiences are not real, I find the work to be a wonderful commentary on travel and the traditions of vacation photographs.
Corbett Toomsen is a multi-disciplinary artist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he earned an MFA in InterMedia Studio Art at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee in 2014.
Originally from Iowa, Toomsen has lived in Wisconsin for the past twenty years working as an architectural project manager and illustrator and as a published and exhibiting artist. Toomsen earned a BFA in Illustration from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2004, where he taught various courses as an Adjunct Faculty member upon graduation. His current work investigates the role of photography in forming expectations of travel experiences. Using mass media imagery and built environments in his studio to construct a fictitious journey through the American West, Toomsen borrows from the tradition of vernacular photography to record these experiences as snapshots.
We take snapshots of the moments in our lives, and these images have personal value. The cultural value of the snapshot is that, collectively, they serve as a genuine recording of society from within. Trophies is my contribution. However, with this work, the photographs do not intend to serve as a recording of society from within, but as a reflection of the ways photography contributes to our experiences today. They investigate the personal process of embarking on a journey through impersonal sources and represent an abbreviated sampling of a common cultural practice.
Years ago I went to Custer, South Dakota. I sought to witness a place so often represented in movies and American historical documentaries and textbooks and grew curious to see if the experience would match the image formed in the venues of history and popular culture. I hoped to see buffalo roaming the dusty, rolling hills of the high plains like I remembered seeing in so many images. Instead, I found them lying far off in a valley, meandering carelessly along the tall-grass ditches or clumsily crossing the roads, visibly branded and tagged and domesticated from a lifetime spent in full view of tourists. The photographs I took of the buffalo were representations of the actual experience but fell short of matching my expectation.
Imagery frames our expectations of things. But today, in an image-flooded world, the process of viewing imagery of places has also become a suitable replacement for the actual experience. Trophies is a series of constructed snapshots of a journey through the American West, specifically of places I have not visited. The project relies on mass-media imagery, both in print and digital formats. Days spent searching and gathering, one word at a time. And even more days driving on Google Street View, touring the back highways and National Parks fifty yards at a time – click, zoom! Stop!, click, zoom! Stop!, click, zoom! Stop! for hours on end – looking at the scenery the road and the sky. It inspired a search for documentaries about American history and National Parks and made me aware of the television programs I watch, sometimes photographing them to add to the archive. Each day I arrived in my studio and immediately left – consumed by the familiar imagery of places unfamiliar, gathering as I traveled.
A powerful aspect of travel photography is its inherent ability to urge one ‘to experience,’ firsthand, but more so it urges one to make his/her own copy. From the gathering I re-enact the days traveling, construct places along the journey that I did not experience, rather merely visited; surrounded by sand and rocks and water and paint, surrounded by the tools that carved mountains from plaster, and the tiny paper animals captured along the journey. I am surrounded by artificial trees and die cast metal buses and glue. With flashlights and rags in hand, I am surrounded by the constant whirl of the projector, hunting the ideal image, and the missed opportunities. Within the darkness of my studio, the model lit just right, I transcend, if only for an instance, from this space I occupy to that place locked in the viewfinder, documenting the journey as journeys are so often documented – as a trophy of my experience.
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