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This Veteran Photographer in Art Fair Philippines Wants You to Consider the Details

In the age of likes and swipes, top photographer Tom Epperson presents images that invite conversation and consideration.
IMAGE Tom Epperson

The age of influence has changed the game: Likes land on the bold and shiny. Shares happen around the cool. People gravitate toward what's popular, which can be what's noisy, what's quick, and maybe what's obvious. 

“Social media is the driving force right now, and influencers have a big effect on just about everything we do, eat, wear, travel, etcetera,” says photographer Tom Epperson. The American lensman, who has been covering the local scene, from portraits of boldfaced names to stills of iced-out flowers, since the '90s, recognizes how the mobile phone and the way people consume information through its lit-up screen have forever changed photography.

Since the '90s, American lensman Tom Epperson has captured the faces, the places, and the scenes of Manila. This week, he joins the image-focused Art Fair/Photo series of Art Fair Philippines.

IMAGE: Tom Epperson

With an iPhone, the business of taking images is pared down, immediate, and easy, but at the same time, in the hands of professional social media creatures, photos that are presented as off-the-cuff have the quality of slick perfection (a strange combination if you think about it). 


Images have also become slippery, ephemeral, fleeting. On Instagram, photos pour down in a cascade of squares, and all you need to do in order to see the next and the next and the next is to wiggle your thumb.  

More: Tom Epperson and the Unseen Portraits of Pepe Smith

Epperson says he has no set agenda in ec·lec·tic, his photography exhibit in this week's Art Fair Philippines, but the works he presents—a sprig of of tropical flowers in silhouette, the sky kissing the sea, a riverbed, a beat-up bag on the beach—speak of what we're not doing right now, which is taking time to consider everything. “If there is a story to be told, it is more about how we only tend to see the big picture and miss the smaller details,” he shares. 

Shot in Lubang in Mindoro, Oceanside in Southern California, Palawan, and also his home, the 12 images in the series were born organically. “I was just out for a walk with my son when we came across a riverbed,” he says of a particular still of withered bushes in half shadow. 

Shot in Southern California, "Riverbed 3" is one of 12 images in Epperson's ec·lec·tic series.

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IMAGE: Tom Epperson

This image, “Riverbed 3,” is his favorite. The photographer describes the curly mass of dead vines, separated into halves by light, as evocative of “conflict, tension, struggle, and a battle going on.” Epperson further likens the image to a cowboy shoot-out in a good ol' western, where “the bad guy wears black, the good white.” 

Together with other images in the set, “Riverbed 3” also brings Epperson back to the very first time he picked up a camera. He received his first at 11, and studied photography at 18.

Scenes of the every day such as "Handbag" remind people to be more aware of nature.

IMAGE: Tom Epperson

Elsewhere, in images set at the beach (a turquoise bag dead among the seaweeds), the underlying message points to nature. “My beach series is more about the environment, and being socially aware of what we are doing to the planet,” he says, “I hope people take time to be more appreciative of what they have and be more aware of the environment.”


The photographer notes how the stills in ec·lec·tic are both a departure and reminiscent of his style. The image of the horizon, with a pillar of white cloud floating against an overcast sky, is something he just started late last year, while the photograph of orchids, which is also inspired by Marimekko and Japanese woodblock prints, is more reminiscent of his work. 

"Orchid 2," which is inspired by Marimekko and Japanese woodblock prints, is most representative of his photography style.

IMAGE: Tom Epperson

Though Epperson provides context to his images and invites people to take a closer look at photographs, he shies away from offering advice on how to view them. The photographer prefers instead that the photos open up to you. (And you, of course, have to do your part and be receptive to whatever tugs at your heart.)

“Art affects people in different ways,” he points out. “I hope [people] see that there is art everywhere, and we just need to open our eyes, slow down, and look at the world around us.”


One last note: Epperson shares that all the images in ec·lec·tic have not been manipulated. “The image of the vertical cloud is exactly how I saw it in Palawan. No Photoshop whatsover,” he says.

In the age of likes and swipes, these are the real deal.  

'We tend to see the big picture and miss the smaller details,' says Epperson, who invites people to slow down and consider the things around them.

IMAGE: Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson's ec·lec·tic is part of Art Fair/Photo in Art Fair Philippines 2019. See his works starting today until Sunday at The Link, Glorietta, Makati City.

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Clifford Olanday
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