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Tom Fox Shea

Work / Photography

Tom Fox Shea’s portrait of Utah shows a sleepy state with underlying tensions

“I think Utah has a unique atmosphere with its extraordinary landscapes and the highly religious overtones of the population,” says photographer Tom Fox Shea, whose work often depicts the still, sometimes eerie suburbia of his home state. Part of the tension brewing in Tom’s photographs stems from the current mood in Utah, where religious Mormons (who are primarily Republican with high moral standards and conservative views) are struggling with life under President Trump. “As you can imagine, it makes for a divisive atmosphere, not only within the religion itself, but on top of an already divided state,” Tom tells It’s Nice That. “I think I’m often looking for the juxtaposition of this mood, trying to highlight a sense of calm or if showing stress, it’s under a subdued surface.”

Tom, who was brought up Mormon himself, is entirely self-taught and first picked up an aptly named Canon Rebel camera just over 20 years ago. “Since then, I progressively fell further and further away from religion (though not spirituality) and concentrated much of my time to creative aspirations,” Tom explains. Heavily influenced by a very muted sense of struggle or conflict, Tom’s photos are filled with an almost oppressive quietness. “I think it’s the times we live in with the heavy political climate here in the US,” says Tom. “It seems to have cultivated a national emotion of unsettling despair and anger from all sides. It makes me want to shoot contrasting environments that feel subtly calming.”

This sense of stillness and spirituality is amplified by the use of light in Tom’s work. Often shooting at dusk or at night, Tom uses his solitary practice as a kind of therapy. “I was diagnosed with depression nearly 20 years ago and I’m quite introverted by nature,” he says. “The dark and evening hours, while giving me the feeling of abstruseness and quiet, also afford me a better opportunity to be alone or almost alone. I like the claustrophobic and placid feel of the dark.”

A lot of the time Tom will spot a shot, a certain angle or a subject matter in the day and then wait for evening to go back and check whether it’s as promising as he’d hoped. “More often than not it’s a bust, but every once in a while it pays off in a big way,” he says. “It can make me down-right giddy (if you’ll pardon the expression) at times when patience and intuition come together and work. There are those times at night when it seems as though the whole city is holed up in their homes, doing what ever it is they do and I’m out looking for that image, with the right amount of light and stillness that shows off that very feeling. It takes a higher patience for sure.”

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