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 a conceptual artist, photographer and author whose major works interweave investigative journalism, philosophy and metaphor. Van Houtryve makes images using a wide range of processes, ranging from 19th century wet plate collodion to thermal imaging and Augmented Reality. His projects challenge our notions of identity, memory and power, often by highlighting the slippage of wartime structures into everyday life.
Van Houtryve’s works are widely exhibited including at the International Center for Photography Museum, New York (2017), Museum für Fotografie, Berlin (2017), Galerija Vartai, Vilnius (2017), Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem (2016-2017), Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2016-2017), British Museum, London (2016), Anastasia Photo Gallery, New York (2016), Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen (2016), Nikola Rukaj Gallery, Toronto (2016), Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis (2016), East Wing Gallery, Dubai (2015), Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2015), Drents Museum, Assen (2015), Arts Santa Monica, Barcelona (2015) and other venues.
Van Houtryve’s projects have gained significant attention among cultural institutions and the press. In 2016, the International Center of Photography broke with decades of tradition and acquired Van Houtryve’s Traces of Exile video installation, making it the first video added to the ICP’s permanent collection of over 200,000 prints. In 2014, van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days series was published in Harper’s as the largest photo portfolio in the magazine’s 164-year history. James Estrin of the New York Times stated that “Blue Sky Days is one of the most important photo essays done in the last few years. It tackles issues that are very difficult to photograph but central to modern existence—privacy, government intrusion and modern antiseptic warfare.”
A selection of van Houtryve’s formal honors include the CatchLight / Pulitzer Fellowship (2017), Hasselblad Foundation Research and Development Award (2017), ICP Infinity Award (2015), World Press Photo, Second Prize (2015), Aaron Siskind Fellowship (2014), POY World Understanding Award (2012), POY Photographer of the Year (2010), Bayeux Prize for War Correspondents (2006), Visa pour l’Image Young Photographer Award (2006) and numerous others.
Van Houtryve’s first monograph book, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism, was published in 2012. The seven-year photographic project documents life in the last countries where the Communist Party remains in power: North Korea, Cuba, China, Nepal, Vietnam, and Laos.
Each year, van Houtryve devotes several weeks to educational outreach. In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, van Houtryve has given high school and college presentations in California, Colorado, District of Colombia, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and France. Van Houtryve is also regularly invited for paid speaking engagements. In 2015, at a private event where he spoke before chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, van Houtryve explained how he infiltrated a delegation to North Korea.
Van Houtryve has also made television appearances on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, ARTE and France 24. He is a member of VII Agency since 2010.