Dallas Thompson is an indigenous artist re-defining gender representation, personal relationships and mental health through beautifully strange and multi-layered portraits.
As an introduction, who are you and how would you describe yourself?
I’m Dallas. I’m indigenous and white—mixed. I am continually re-defining who I am in relation to my surroundings. I am also a huge baby who cries a lot. If you meet me chances are I’ll put out at least two books out of my bag within an hour. Reading is my safe place. Thinking about the future makes my brain fuzzy.
Where did you grow up and how did your environment influence you?
I grew up in New Berlin, Wisconsin - a suburb just outside of Milwaukee. My environment was small but fortuitous. Living in the suburbs was an easy life and gave me the freedom to explore a lot of different ideas through books. Access to books (and everything that comes before that) and parents willing to fund that interest is a privilege I never want to forget.
The first thing I recall from viewing your work are these incredibly vibrant, multi-colored photographs of people. What interested you in photography and what is your relationship between you and the subjects you photograph?
I was an art history major along with biomedical engineering. Learning about art led to me wanting to create it and photography was a medium I was already using from high school. The models are usually my friends or friends of friends who I meet for the first time on a shoot.
I like to build a working relationship with each person, so it's not about meeting someone once to take their photo, never see them again in real life, but have a photo of them saved on my computer. It feels like I’m stealing them. I’m trying to reconcile this as more and more people are starting to contact me for shoots. How do I navigate not being able to be friends with everyone I shoot? What does that mean for the photos I take and what they mean? I don’t have answers but I’m constantly searching for them.
What themes does your work revolve around? What topics interest you that you would like to explore further?
I would say gender representation, technology and mental health play dominant roles in my previous work. I want to explore surrealism and abstraction in the future, hopefully taking the poetry I like or write and making visuals for them.
You began an ongoing series of self-portraits in 2017. Can you tell us the story behind the series and the images?
Self-portraits were my way of taking my unusual photo ideas that I didn’t feel comfortable asking people to pose in. The series last year was heavily based around my time at home.
I knew that a lot of my relationships were toxic to my mental health but didn’t know how to navigate keeping myself safe and them happy. The photos stem from that anxiety. None of them include my head because I felt like I was running on auto-pilot, smoking a lot of weed all day just to forget that the people I was around weren’t pushing me to progress myself. I’d smoke all my friends up because it gave me something to do and wound up in debt because of it.
Specifically the photo of me as the slide— I imagined people in my life climbing over my back as a ladder and laughing as they went down the slide, hands in the air.
What’s in your forecast for 2018?
Some big plans that I’m excited about is to have a couple more gallery shows along with shooting some more official fashion campaigns for independent designers. As of right now, a couple of my friends and I are planning to move to Chicago in August.
On a more abstract level, I am focusing on not letting my influences to become static. If I only look to other photographers my work will become a part of vacuum which is scary to me.
Finding a balance between what I am reading, experiencing, etc, and letting them flow freely into my work is something I’m looking forward to explore.
What is something you’re currently obsessed with at the moment (outside of photography)?
POETRY! Some of my close friends and I have started a sort of poetry club where we try to write a poem everyday and share them with each other. The synthesis of writing and visual art is something I also want to achieve.
One book and one film recommendation.
Books: How Forests Think by Eduardo Kohn and Linked by Albert Laszlo-Barabasi
Movie: Blue by Derek Jarman
Favorite Instagram account of the moment?
@hanamendel and @chogiseok
this used to be us is currently looking for help in writing, interviews and curating. e-mail email@example.com!