My personal work seeks to render conspicuous certain themes which normally elude the mind’s eye. My preferred subjects include aspects of contemporary warfare and those activities of the modern State which are notable for their near invisibility, such as drones, electronic surveillance, nuclear testing, and Cold War ideology.
Photography—with it’s intuitive presumption of veracity—is the common medium of my projects, though I also use video and writing. Many of my projects often start with a nagging curiosity about a subject, and occasionally I am seized by an obsession to understand, document, and reveal that subject.
Underpinning my work is a belief that human activity becomes increasingly absurd and dangerous when it loses empathy. I agree with Albert Camus when he said,
“By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.”
Tomas van Houtryve is an artist, photographer and author who engages critical contemporary issues around the world.
Initially a student in philosophy, Tomas developed a passion for photography while enrolled in an overseas university program in Nepal. Immediately after graduation in 1999, he moved to Latin America. In 2002, he was the first photographer to cover the U.S. military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Tomas returned to Nepal in 2004 to document the Maoist rebellion and the overthrow of the monarchy. The resulting photos earned wide recognition including the Visa pour l’Image-Perpignan Young Photographer Award and the Bayeux Prize for War Correspondents.
In 2006 Tomas was named one of PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers. He was awarded an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in 2008, and in 2010 he was named the POY Photographer of the Year.
Tomas’ first monograph book, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism, was published in Spring 2012. The seven-year project documents life in the last countries where the Communist Party remains in power: North Korea, Cuba, China, Nepal, Vietnam, and Laos. The series won the 2012 POY World Understanding Award.
In 2013 Tomas began working on Blue Sky Days, a drone’s-eye view of America. Images from the project were first published in Harper’s as the largest photo portfolio in the magazine’s 164-year history. The series was awarded the 2015 ICP Infinity Award and honors from POY, World Press Photo, the Photographic Museum of Humanity, and the White House News Photographer’s Association.
Tomas has had solo exhibitions of his work in Paris, New York City, Barcelona and Italy. His work is included in multiple private collections in Europe, Asia and the United States and in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography Museum (ICP), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago (MoCP), and the Open Society Foundations. His works are often conceptual in nature. They interweave metaphor and reportage, occupying the fertile intersection between art and pure documentary.
Tomas is frequently invited for public speaking engagements. He has appeared on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, ARTE and France 5. He is a member of the VII Photo collective since 2010 and a multiple grantee of the Pulitzer Center since 2012.