Brandon Thibodeaux Dallas, USA
MOUND BAYOU, MS – DECEMBER 23: A flock of black birds swarm over a harvested field near Mound Bayou, Mississippi, on Thursday, December 23, 2010.
ALLIGATOR, MS – DECEMBER 12: A tree is decorated with Christmas lights outside of “Nuts” home in Alligator, MS, on Wednesday, December 12, 2012.
Brandon Thibodeaux (b. 1981) was raised in Beaumont, Texas. His photography career began at a small daily newspaper in southeast Texas while studying photography at Lamar University. He now resides in Dallas, where he freelances for clients like, MSNBC.com, Time.com, The New York Times, Shell Oil and The Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a member of the photography collective MJR, based in New York City. His work has been recognized by American Photo Magazine, PDN, and the Oxford American lists him as one of their 100 Under 100, New Superstars of Southern Art 2012. He is the 2013 recipient of Photolucida’s Critical Mass Top 50 Solo Show Award, and the 2014 recipient of the Michael P. Smith Fund For Documentary Photography Grant.
Brandon Thibodeaux was chosen by photographer Justin Maxon.
Laatikkomo’s interview with Brandon Thibodeaux September 21st, 2015.
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
BT: I grew up in Beaumont, Texas, along the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana border. I currently live in Dallas in the north of the state from which I work as a freelance photographer. I do travel quite a bit for work but have never managed to live anywhere else but Texas. Most of personal work comes from exploring my own backyard, the American South.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
BT: My earliest memory of photography is from a family road trip to Colorado when I was 11 or 12. I carried a small 35mm film camera around with me on the ski trip and couldn’t stop photographing the mountains that surrounded us as I’d never seen mountains before that trip.
L: How does racial tension in the American South affect your work and research as a “white” photographer?
BT: From the pseudoscience practices of photographing bare chested slaves in an effort to catalogue property and declare the African race a sub-human species, to contemporary acts of poverty porn that leave little dignity to their subjects, the photographic history of white practitioners focusing their lens upon the African American community is pitted with dehumanizing and exploitative moments.
I have been shooting rural African American communities in the South for over 6 years now and I shoulder an immense responsibility in how I depict them. My current body of work entitled When Morning Comes is meant to exalt those living with that legacy of racial tension. The residents of the region faced some of the worst of Jim Crow segregation and some of the fiercest struggles of the civil rights era, because of this I have maintained an acute awareness of my relationship to my subjects in terms of race.
Though this work is largely a collaboration between the people that I photograph and myself, the social unrest of the past year has intensified my self awareness and caused me to be far more cautious (almost prohibitively so) in making statements about the communities no matter how aligned we are with one another. If anything the current racial tension forces me to educate myself as much as possible and that to me is a positive outcome.
L: As a photojournalist, what makes a successful photograph? Do the same values apply to your own work as to your commissions?
BT: I believe a successful photograph to be one that conveys a message and stirs an emotional response in your audience. While I hesitate to label myself as being purely a photojournalist the same goal of informing the viewer exists in any work that I create.
L: Many of your commissions deal with politically charged issues. Are you (how are you) able to maintain a neutral perspective while photographing these subjects or does the experience somehow become intimate?
BT: My work always becomes intimate at some level. It is fair to say that my photojournalistic commissions are meant to bring about a neutral perspective by simply documenting an event or topic at face value, however, my personal work – particularly speaking about my work in Mississippi – could not have been created without developing an accepting intimacy with my subjects whereby I tend to leave behind as much as I take away.
L: In your personal text about this project shown in Laatikkomo “When Morning Comes” you talk about humanity, dignity and human spirit overcoming the hardships of poverty and cultural prejudice. As a photographer with a journalistic history, how do you avoid making stereotypes and clichés about the highly stigmatized Deep South?
BT: This is a great question and a concern that stands at the forefront of my production process. Most viewers when confronted with the subject of the Mississippi Delta immediately associate it with photographs of abject poverty and crime that tend to dehumanize their subjects. As mentioned earlier the work in When Morning Comes has taken some form of collaboration between my subjects and myself. And from the beginning I knew that this work would be more than a straightforward photojournalistic documentation of a region and people. For every good and beautiful story I have about the Mississippi Delta there exists an equally dark and sordid one, however, I would rather use symbolic images that hint toward this darker reality and act as antagonists against my more hopeful imagery than create a concrete and neatly packaged documentation of events that feeds into the preconceived notions of my viewer.
L: The current hot subject for journalists in Europe is the daily plight of refugees attempting to enter the EU. Along with this fever, it seems photographers, no matter how well intentioned, often get in the way of the social issue? How does a journalist remain like a fly on the wall without physically obstructing or influencing a political situation?
BT: The video of the female journalist kicking and tripping refugees as they ran across the border a few weeks ago immediately comes to mind. This of course is the most extreme example I could reference but it also shows the extent to which ones own personal agenda can trump their professional responsibility. To keep from physically obstructing a situation one must always be aware of their footprint and surroundings, that’s the easy part to explain. Journalists are not activists but by informing the public one must come to terms with the inescapable fact that your work will ultimately influence the viewer’s judgment on an issue. I do believe that photojournalism is subjective and the best the creator can do is try to depict the topic in its broadest point of view.
L: Could you list five or more words related to the work you are showing in Laatikkomo?
BT: Faith, Family, Community, Southern, Identity
Thank you so much Brandon!!