Photographer Collaborates With Californian Winds to Create Wildfire-Inspired Images

The prevailing winds off California's northern coast were the collaborators in this ephemeral project.

Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson

Thomas Jackson

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic of the last year has brought many changes to the way we work and travel. From altering how we commute, work from home, and eat, the pandemic has made its mark on the lives of billions of people around the world.

But in the background of these broad, collective changes, the crisis of a changing climate still looms. Striving to capture the convergence of two crises – that of climate destabilization and a global pandemic – American photographer Thomas Jackson recently created this eye-catching photo series of colorful, cloud-like entities being lifted up by prevailing winds off the coast of California.

Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson
Thomas Jackson

A self-taught photographer known for his unique combination of landscape photography and inanimate objects – often suspended in mid-air – Jackson created this latest series by utilizing yards of vibrantly colored tulle fabrics.

Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson
Thomas Jackson

Alone, such objects may be uninteresting and forlorn, but when amassed together, there is a kind of emergent system that arises, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As Jackson explains:

"Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of human-made systems working in sync with nature, rather than in opposition to it. With this latest body of work, I’ve explored that theme in my own modest way by trying to create sculptures that respond to prevailing winds."
"In the past I’ve viewed the wind as a threat to my outdoor installations, which are often quite fragile, but in 2020 I embraced California’s strong offshore breezes as my artistic collaborator, the force that could transform lifeless scraps of fabric into fast-moving brush fires, rolling fog, murmurations or other natural phenomena. The wind can be difficult to work with — most of the shoots I attempted last year were failures — but if there’s a lesson I learned along the way it’s that when working with nature, flexibility is more important than strength." 
Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson
Thomas Jackson

The dramatic scenery of the Californian coast is enlivened by Jackson's temporary installations, made with airy fabrics that may be synthetic, but their durability allows them to be reused over and over for Jackson's shoots.

Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson
Thomas Jackson

Instead of hiring extra hands to help carry the heavy equipment used in previous sessions, during the past year Jackson has instead used pieces of driftwood found on-site to help anchor items down. Jackson says that he chooses to see these difficult times as an opportunity instead:

"For me personally, 2020 was proof of the adage that creativity thrives under constraints – a powerful incentive to simplify, and to come up with ways to do more with fewer resources. Unable to travel, for instance, I visited the same local locations again and again, finding new dimension in familiar landscapes. And rather than skipping from one sculptural object to another, I focused on a single material all year, nylon tulle. I chose tulle for its mutability –depending on how it’s arranged and how the wind catches it, it can morph from a solid to a liquid, to fire to billowing smoke."
Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson
Thomas Jackson

Indeed, these breezy objects look like ghostly clouds, smoke, or even an impending blaze of glowing colors, reminiscent of one of nature's most destructive forces. After all, Jackson's overarching inspiration for this ephemeral series is California's recurring wildfires, which have devastated millions of acres and appear to be part of a "new normal" for the region. Jackson says:

"The initial inspiration for the series was fire. As a California resident living in a vulnerable area, the threat of fire and the resulting pollution became a constant preoccupation. I saw the installations as a way to re-contextualize the growing threat human activity poses to Earth’s climate. Once I started shooting, however, the work took on a life of its own. Some of the installations ended up resembling fire, but others assumed more abstract, inscrutable forms."
Tulle photographic series by Thomas Jackson
Thomas Jackson 

Ultimately, Jackson says that he's realized that respecting nature's unpredictable whims was vital to the success of these images:

"On every shoot, Northern California’s offshore breezes were my collaborator, the force that transformed my installations from lifeless fabric into living things. As collaborations go it was a tumultuous one – but along the way, I learned a thing or two about the importance of staying on nature’s good side. When I built pieces that obstructed or defied the wind in any way, I’d go home unhappy, but when my constructions respected and responded to the wind, interesting things would occur."

To see more, visit Thomas Jackson and on Instagram.