As someone who grew up surrounded by nature, landscape photographer TJ Thorne has found water photography, in particular, helps him reach a flow state experience during mental health struggles in life.
Finding Solace in Nature Photography
Thorne spent his childhood in rural Pennsylvania. His backyard was full of forested land which allowed him to be playful and free. He climbed trees, wandered trails, and played in creeks.
But, as he became older, the carefree nature of his younger years was soon swapped for numerous challenges. Among them were some that were more common and expected as part of adulthood, like going to work and paying bills, and others that brought him to his knees, like depression, anxiety, worry, stress, alcoholism, and self-loathing.
But it has been this wondrous and peaceful part of the natural world that helps Thorne bring some serenity back into his life, combined with photography. Back in 2012, Thorne noticed the playful light on water and started to photograph it, but it wasn’t until 2017 that it became a conscious practice and grew into a project, “Ebb and Flow.”
“The shooting of my water abstracts is driven by a need to fully immerse myself in the moment and get lost in my viewfinder,” Thorne tells PetaPixel. “Photography is primarily a tool for me to detach from the world and the stresses and struggles I face in order to find peace and solace. Disappearing into my viewfinder when photographing water is the epitome of this process.”
For Thorne, water is a versatile and ever-changing element that helps him reach a relaxed flow state. During this process, he deeply focuses on the behavior of the water and its visual attributes, like reflections or direct light.
“I don’t go looking for water to shoot, it’s a reactionary pursuit to where I just feel compelled to point my camera at something that called to me so that I can spend intimate time with that moment,” he explains.
“That time spent is where I get everything I am looking for. The photos are just visual byproducts of the experience.”
Hundred Abstracts of Nature’s Driving Force
Thorne’s oldest “Ebb and Flow” collection photo dates back to 2016, with the most recent one taken in 2021. He doesn’t like to think of the series as a “project” — “because a project implies parameters such as a beginning and ends with a particular goal in mind” — the collection is more of an exploration. It has no boundaries and allows Thorne to engage with water in new ways.
With the open-endless of a collection like “Ebb and Flow” comes a downside. Thorne had amassed tens of thousands of water abstracts, all representative of “soulful moments” he had spent intimately near the water with camera in hand.
“To sort through all of those to find the ones that are visually appealing was a daunting task,” Thorne recalls. Despite that, he culled his water abstracts down to the final 100 pieces, all of which are available to view and buy on his website.
With “Ebb and Flow” concluded, for now, Thorne continues to question his future creative direction.
“I have a few facets to my photography which I explore based on my emotional and mental needs, one of them being my “Figments of Place” collection which is a more experimentation and non-literal approach,” he explains.
“So beyond navigating my changing creative process, I plan to continue to explore both nature and water, deepen my relationship with both myself and the natural world, and find gratitude in the opportunity that I get to do so. We’ll see where the light takes me.”
Image credits: Photos by TJ Thorne.