Tag Archives: Academy of Art University

Introspective Landscapes Exhibition

Just a quick post to announce an upcoming gallery exhibition. Two of my iPhone photomontages were selected for the Academy of Art University MFA Photography Alumni exhibition opening May 5th.

I am thrilled to be a part of this exhibition along with some of my favorite former instructors and fellow students. The show will feature work by Marico Fayre, Shannon Ayres, Amanda Dahlgren, Eliot Crowley, Trace Nichols, Weston Fuller, Marc Ullom, Tamara Hubbard, and myself.


AAU Galleries at 625 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA


May 5-29, 2016

Gallery Hours:

Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm

Saturday, 10am-5pm

“An All Too Familiar Reflection” on Socialdocumentary.net

My thesis project for my M.F.A. at the Academy of Art University consisted of twenty photographs which were edited down from over three years of work. I spent those three years out on the streets of several California cities shooting portraits of homeless individuals. In addition to my still portraits, I have multiple hours of raw video and audio interviews that I plan to one day weave together for a documentary multimedia piece.

This project has been very near and dear to my heart for a plethora of reasons and will continue to be a part of my life’s work for the remainder of my photography career. The strength and dignity I found in each of the individuals I met on the streets, served to remind me that we are not so different from one another. We are each human, with our own set of issues and frailties. It is through interaction with others that we become defined by way of a quiet recognition of our souls. When we look deep into the eyes of another, we cannot help but see ourselves staring back.

My series titled “An All Too Familiar Reflection: Portraits of the Homeless” is currently being featured on Socialdocumentary.net. You can view it by clicking on the screenshot below:

To All the Teachers in my Life

Yesterday I drove into San Francisco to retrieve my thesis project materials from the University. I am now the official owner of three degrees. My B.A. granted at the tender age of 21; my M.A. when I was 39 and my M.F.A. earned just this month at the half-past age of 53.

Yes, I love to learn, but I kept coming back for more because of the many incredible teachers I have been blessed with throughout my life. The ones who recognized my potential even when I could not recognize it myself. The ones who showed me all the possibilities this life has to offer. The ones who encouraged me to continue even when I felt like the biggest failure ever.

It all started with my 8th grade Civics teacher, Mrs. Hermann, who taught me about our inalienable rights as citizens of this country. I will never forget the day she recited the Declaration of Independence from memory in her quaking elderly voice filled with a passion that echoes in my memory to this day. Mrs. Hermann opened my eyes to the freedoms and liberties our forefathers worked hard to obtain for all future generations. She helped me to understand for the first time in my life how each one of us was meant to live our lives from a place of equality. She instilled in me my feisty views on justice and politics.

Mr. Pratt, my high school band teacher, I am certain sensed my need to step outside my sheltered box of fears when he gave me the lead piccolo solo during the half time show at one homecoming football game. There I stood, this shivering bundle of nerves in front of packed bleachers. Though my stomach flip-flopped and my knees quaked, I delivered the solo with a precision I had no idea I could muster. This one tiny step fueled a fire inside of me and helped me to understand I was capable of doing so much more. He helped me to face my fears and do it anyways.

Mrs. Hendrix, my french teacher, saw right through my shy, withdrawn, external shell and when giving each student in my class a french name for the semester, chose to dub me Désirée or “desired one.” This of course caused me to blush but at the same time helped me to feel about ten feet tall on the inside. Though I never told her of my troubled home life, I think she sensed it and took great pains to take me under her wing over the next three years. She created an open door policy for me at her and her husband’s home, unofficially “adopting” me. This is where I began to understand what a healthy family was supposed to act and look like. She taught me what it means to be loved.

Mr. Arnold, who taught me poetry, advanced senior English, and semantics was also my cross country coach. This incredible Zen-like man opened my eyes to subjects I never before knew existed and encouraged me to train hard and excel in a sport that quite literally saved my life. He taught me how to manage my stress through healthy means.

Dr. Constance O’Connor, a fiery red-haired Irish woman a bit less than five feet tall, was able to take a big hammer to my external shell and draw me out during my first few years of college in a way that began a whirlwind of creativity, accomplishments and feats of bravery I had never expected of myself. She taught me how to reach for the stars, grab hold and shine despite my insecurities.

As I moved into adulthood and began to take on the “real” world with my new found confidence and the skill set my teachers had helped to instill, I would think often about these special human beings who played such a significant role in molding who I would become. I often wonder if they realize what an incredible impact they had on my life.

Since I am a perpetual student, I decided to pursue my M.F.A. four years ago in the field of my true passion, photography. After being accepted into the program at AAU, I soon discovered an endless stream of incredible teachers who began to impact my life and my art in ways that is difficult to put into words. Each of them uniquely special: Tracy Nichols, Adrienne Pao, Diane Choplin, Kristin Davis… all helped me to stretch and grow and strive and develop my art with a depth I had never imagined.

But there is one teacher who was able to touch me to the core like no other during my life thus far. Tamara Hubbard. She had the uncanny ability to formulate questions that caused me great angst, left me with a lack of sleep and a literal ache in my brain due to all the pondering in search of my answers. She helped me to reach a depth and connection with my work that no one has ever been able to encourage before. She taught me that it is okay to swim for awhile in that uncertain space in order to discover the truth of one’s own soul.

I am sure this is not the last of my life’s learning. There is so much more to know. But I want each and every teacher who has blessed my life with their patience, their knowledge, their care and selfless concern to know just how important you have been to me. I thank you from a space of great humility for your ability to see my potential and for caring enough to nurture that potential with your gentle guidance. You each mean the world to me and will until I finally depart this lovely planet.

Seeing the Homeless


"Sweets" ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

Photo: “Sweets” in a woman’s shelter, Sacramento, CA.

There has been a long-held illusion that the documentary and photojournalism styles of photography are objective in nature.  Traditionally, the goal is to document a particular slice of life or occurrence just as it is, unmediated, allowing true conditions to speak for themselves, while keeping one’s own emotions and philosophies out of the equation.  Photography has a certain level of “realism” connected to it and is often confused with objective truth.  Yet in reality, all photographers use subjective choices whenever they create an image.  These subjective technical decisions may be second nature to a seasoned professional, however the choices that they make when it comes to light, angle, line, composition and texture divorce them from that mythical level of objectivity.  Their subjective decisions become the driving force behind the impact that their photos ultimately have on the viewer.

Tia, Joe & Snickums

"Tia, Joe & Snickums" ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

I personally believe it is close to impossible, unless one is a cold and unfeeling Sociopath by nature, to leave life experience, emotions and belief systems out of the equation when composing a photo.  Photography, as all art, is a subjective medium that lends itself to a cadre of interpretations from its viewers.  The original intent of me as photographer may be to document the scene as it happens before me, however, the moment I decide to click the shutter is based on a subjective decision that all is right within my viewfinder.

The focus of my M.F.A. studies at the Academy of Art University is Documentary photography.  The subject matter for my thesis project is the homeless.  When I first began my search for compelling subject matter and a sound concept that would pass the muster of the Midpoint Review Committee, I felt drawn to the homeless population in our area for the usual reasons.  The subjects would be visually interesting and the concept would be relevant in this time of economic struggle.

I, like most people, had my own set of preconceived notions about the homeless before I began my project.  I too fell prey to all the photos in the press that showed dirty drunks passed out in city doorways with their empty bottles of booze cast to the side.  But these images are one photographers subjective decision to shoot and present one side of the story.  Like a lot of people in our society I was guilty of forming my own set of  beliefs about these individuals on incomplete, biased information and buying into fear of the unknown.


"Harold" ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

There were two directions I could go with my project.  The first would be to photograph these people from a safe distance but this would only reinforce the prejudices that I wanted to break away from.  My second option would be to approach them with an open mind and attempt to get to know the people I was about to shoot.  After several contemplative conversations with self, I decided on the latter.  I felt driven to face my own fears and shake up my personal notions, while at the same time make an attempt to show the human side of these individuals to my viewers.

As I began to journey out into the city streets, I was at first admittedly timid and would only watch from a distance for a time.  I made a pact with self that I would never photograph a homeless person without a proper introduction, followed by conversation and then would ask their permission to take a photograph.  It was also important for me to know their names and where it was they came from.  When I finally gathered courage, the majority of the individuals I approached were extremely gracious and thankful that I actually took the time to sit and talk with them.  They were happy to tell me their stories and then allow me to take their photographs.


"Sara" ©Tracy J. Thomas, 2010.

The biggest surprise in all of this for me has been the stories they tell of their lives and their journey out onto the streets.  I have met formerly successful business women, an attorney, an individual with a doctorate degree, veterans of several wars, an artist and a photographer.  They have been African-American, Caucasian, Native American, Hispanic, Asian and Pacific Islander.  I also met individuals who had struggled with alcohol and drug abuse for most of their lives and several who suffered from untreated mental illness.  I met women with nowhere to turn after fleeing abusive husbands and teenagers who lived under bridges after being kicked out of their parents homes.  The majority had dreams and desires for their lives just like the rest of us but faced hurdles that sidetracked them from their goals.  Most of them felt stuck and uncertain of their future.

My thesis project will continue to evolve over my remaining three semesters at the Academy.  My goal is to remain open during the process and to experience positive change and growth for the duration.  My hope is to have an impact on the way that others begin to view the homeless.