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Thom Rouse

Thom Rouse began his career as a portrait and wedding photographer in 1994. Based near Chicago, he now divides his time between commercial, fine art and commissioned fine art images with his clients as the central subject of his pieces. His conceptual fine art images utilize real world photographs blended and manipulated to create an alternative to real world perception. Thom also lectures and teaches workshops on topics ranging from Photoshop as an artist’s tool, Visual literacy, Style and lighting and posing for figure studies.

Thom holds the PPA Master of Photography degree, the Award of Excellence, the Master
of Electronic Imaging degree, Photographic Craftsman degree and is a Fellow in the
American Society of Photographers. Thom’s work has been exhibited throughout the
United States as well as Canada, China, Japan, Korea, and Europe.

From Thom:
My work is an exploration of the boundaries and shared territory between photo-real and virtual representation.

As a photographer I have become a collector of elements for finished works that are assembled in the computer. As a digital artist, I manipulate, embellish and composite images in the computer, however, in staying faithful to my background as a photographer, all principle elements are photographic in origin and not rendered in the computer. Environmental textures (both natural and man made) are photographed and redeployed as overlays for photographed objects -often but not exclusively figure studies.

The works are in some cases, pre-visualized or in roughly equal proportion, the result of discovery during the work process. In a number of cases the final work is the result of several pre-visualized exercises utilized as elements in a final composition. The substrate for the work is most often printed on metal or metallic paper. I have also begun to experiment with other substrates including wood, glass, fabric, and ceramic materials.

My current interest is centered on defining “process”. Painters, writers, musicians and actors all talk about “process”. Photographers rarely talk about process and when they do it’s often restricted to their technical process. I’m interested in not only technical process (f stops and shutter speeds) but in conceptual process – how we use concept to illustrate beauty, intimacy, love, arrogance, dignity, fear, and many other non physical characteristics that we cant see and can’t touch, but are communicated in a successful image. And finally, I’m interested on personal process; how our personal histories and memories shape our styles as image-makers. How can we make the images that are unique to ourselves?

How did you get started in the business? Who helped/guided/mentored you?
I was a late entrant to the field. Prior to the age of 40 I’d had no particular interest on photography, at least not any interest that exceeded my interest in many other things. I’m college educated with a degree in Behavioral Science obtained somewhat haphazardly over many years and several universities and colleges. The many jobs I’d held before becoming a photographer ranged from bus driver to middle management, from airport limo driver to management consultant, from technical writer to mailman. More precisely, I was an overly bright dilettante with a short attention span and generally underemployed.

In Late 1993 I bought an existing studio with a 29-year history. I quickly realized that I was in over my head and knew virtually nothing about photography. Being more than a little arrogant about myself as a quick study, I was overwhelmed at the depth and complexity of the craft. I could not so much as load film for the Minolta RBs that were the principle instrument of our business. Obviously -continuing education was required.

I am largely self-taught as a photographer. That said, I have attended a multitude of workshops and seminars along the way. None of us work in a vacuum and I have taken influence and inspiration first hand from many contemporary image-makers as well as a continuing study of nearly 40,000 years of human image making. What I practice and what I teach is that if you look at enough art, at enough great images – your brain will literally change and you will be a better image maker. In the words of the painter Chuck Close “Once you know what art looks like you can figure out hoe to make some of it.”


I am not an early adopter, nor am I particularly fascinated by equipment and technology. I remember some of the early digital images that looked almost but not quite entirely unlike photographs. But digital imaging advanced more quickly than any of us could have imagined. My entry into digital photography and the postproduction opportunities offered by Photoshop was a new beginning. For me, the transition from the constraints of film to the latitude and seemingly endless horizons of digital defined the difference between photography and image making. Digital was a whole new medium in which I could take inspiration not only from Rembrandt, Renoir and Sargent, but from Dali, Picasso, and Magritte as well. I quickly found myself drawn down the rabbit hole of the computer, much as I had been by long nights in the B/W darkroom. The ability to select, manipulate and composite images was immediately compelling to me and continues to be so.

How many After Dark Events have you attended and what’s your favorite moment?
Alas -  I have not yet attended an After Dark event and I look forward to it with great anticipation.  I love the concept as an intense and interactive alternative to lecture style education.

Why is education important to you? How long have you been teaching? What made you get into teaching? What do you get out of being a mentor?
Now more than ever, continuing education is essential whether you’re a newbie or in mid career. None of us can create in a vacuum – we all need exposure to new techniques, new ideas, and new styles.

I have been teaching and speaking for about 6 years at PPA affiliates and eventually at IUSA. In recent years I’ve been holding private small group workshops very much like AD in concept – but in much smaller situations.

I love to teach because I crave the affiliation with other image-makers and I personally learn so much from teaching – often from the newest newbie in the room. My style is not to teach the gospel, or tell anyone the right way to make an image, but to share my process with hopes that others will find elements of my approach useful in expanding their own way of making images. My goal in teaching is to assist individuals in making the images that only they can make.

What are the top 5 skills you’ll be teaching at After Dark?

  • Exposure to art history acquiring visual literacy
  • Defining style and thoughts on how style is achieved
  • Establishing a process inventory as a map of style
  • Lighting, posing, (and non posing) with figures, fabrics and vintage dresses. I.e. “Portraiture in Celebration of the Feminine Image”
  • Photoshop as an artistic tool

Contact Info:
Thom Rouse

Fun Facts:

  • I shoot Canon – but I am not obsessed with equipment – usually a couple of strip lights and a lg. soft box or umbrella for fill.

  • I sold my studio and work solely on location and in other studios (friends or rentals)

  • My marketing tag line is “Portraiture in Celebration of the Feminine Image”
    (Which is to say, my primary commercial effort is images of women)

  • My tag line as a teacher has recently coined by a student -  “Totally Quirky Thom”   – (meant with respect and affection – but may not be the nest thing to use with those I haven’t met)

Majority of Business:

  • Fine Art
  • Commissioned Fine Art Images
  • Commercial