My personal work seeks to render conspicuous and intimate themes which normally elude the mind’s eye. My preferred subjects include aspects of contemporary warfare and activities of the modern State which are notable for their near invisibility, such as drones, electronic surveillance, nuclear testing, and Cold War ideology.
Underpinning my work is the belief that human activity becomes increasingly absurd and dangerous when it looses empathy. I agree with Albert Camus when he said,
“By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.”
Photography—with it’s intuitive presumption of veracity—is the common medium of my projects. My background in classical photojournalism informs my ethical values, though I no longer focus on news gathering. Rather, my projects often start with a nagging internal curiosity about an obscure subject, and occasionally I am seized by an obsession to understand, document and reveal that subject to a wider audience.
Internationally recognized as one of the leading photographers of his generation, Tomas van Houtryve documents critical contemporary issues around the world.
Initially a student in philosophy, Tomas discovered his interest for photography while enrolled in an overseas program in Nepal. Upon graduation in 1999 he was hired by the Associated Press and posted to Latin America. He was the first AP photographer to cover the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in 2002 he traveled to Kandahar to photograph families of the Guantánamo inmates.
Tomas left AP in 2003 to concentrate on large-scale personal projects, starting with the Maoist rebellion in Nepal. The resulting photos of the rebels’ rise to power 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 POYi Photographer of the Year.
Tomas’ first monograph book, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism, was published in Spring 2012. The seven-year-long project documents life in the last countries where the Communist Party remains in power: North Korea, Cuba, China, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos and Moldova. The series won the 2012 POYi World Understanding Award.
Solo exhibitions of Tomas’ work have been shown in Paris, New York City, Spain and Italy. Many of his photographs of intense political actions are, paradoxically, distinguished by their intimacy.
Tomas is frequently interviewed on radio and television and has appeared on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, ARTE and France 5. He is a member of VII Photo.