Throughout his career, Thomas Joshua Cooper has been preoccupied with water as a focal point for his abiding fascination with the landscape, historical and cultural geography, cartography, and the problems of picture-making. Thomas Joshua Cooper: Refuge features more than 49 photographs, anchored by the 20 images Cooper made along the coastal and inland waterways and interior landscapes throughout the East End of Long Island’s North and South Forks, and Shelter Island. These pictures are framed by a precise selection of photographs made over the course of several years at sites along the Hudson River as it passes through Essex, Warren, Saratoga, Rensselaer, and Dutchess counties, and a select group from Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts, which Cooper includes to emphasize his notion of refuge, immigration and settlement. The images of the East End of Long Island were made during Cooper’s 10-day sojourn at the Parrish Art Museum in May 2016.
Of Cherokee descent on his father’s side, Cooper was born in San Francisco in 1946 and grew up on Indian reservations throughout the Western United States. The sites he selected for his images share specific importance to both Native Americans and immigrants. Each has been a significant socio-economic driver, nurturing important artist communities that arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The East End’s Conscience Point, the locus of Midday Sun (2016/2017), is where the first English colonists landed in 1640. Evening – Falling Light, Great Peconic Bay – Looking towards Robins Island (2016/2017), was made from a sacred site on the Shinnecock Reservation.
Cooper seeks out the edges of the world to make his images. His travels are equal parts extreme exploration and technical adroitness, as he pushes both his own physical limits and the technical capabilities of his medium. His photographs can involve arduous travel and considerable physical effort, and days, weeks, or months of preparation to achieve. Each location is the subject of a single negative taken with a Agfa Ansco 5 x 7″ plate field camera made in 1898 in Binghamton, New York. Cooper has been singularly devoted to this camera since 1968. Once an exposure is made in the field, the artist works in the dark room meticulously hand-printing and toning his photographs. The resulting pictures contain almost transcendental dark and sumptuous tones, granular in detail yet scaled in the scope of a grand vista.