Monday, 7 December 2009

Influences part 23: Thomas Allen

Yesterday a newspaper advert for National Book Tokens reminded me of the awesome trick photography of Thomas Allen, whose work influenced some research for my animated graduation film last year - so I've decided to promote his work on my blog.

Thomas Allen is an American photographer who, over the past decade, has developed a trademark portfolio of work by using modified pulp fiction books as his main subject.

As you'll see from the images featured in this blog post, Thomas Allen creates these highly intriguing photographs by using his mastery of composition and lighting in an otherwise simple process, as I will outline below...

- Starting off with standard pulp fiction novels (as popular in the 1950s), the artist searches for character illustrations that will serve his needs for effectively creating a single photograph to tell an intriguing new story.
- Having settled on particular characters and the composition for arranging the modified book/characters, the artist uses a scalpel to carefully cut free most of the illustrated character - although in many cases parts of the illustrated character will remain attached to the rest of the book cover so that the character can hinge and pop-up/out from the rest of the book (creating part of the 3D effect that you see in the final photographs).
- With the books modified and the characters popping-out, the artist arranges the book(s) in his desired composition, adjusts the lighting to create the desired aesthetic, and then sets-up his camera with a suitable depth-of-field (usually so that only a small section of the overall composition is in focus, while the rest of the image looks blurry) and then takes his photographs.
- The end result should now show the original book in a near-normal condition, except that the illustrated characters now seem to be alive and jumping out from the book itself (with the depth-of-field further enhancing this illusion).

The process that I've just described sounds really simple, and while it is not too complex to understand the basics of; from my experience of the technique last year, it does take a bit of time and persistence to get to grips with before you can start progressing it in your own way...
I reckon it took me about 2 hours to get used to my brothers digital SLR camera and to set-up a basic 3D-effect with modified books before I could even begin taking decent photos in the style of Thomas Allen. Even after those 2 hours of getting used to everything, I spent roughly a further 3 hours experimenting with everything and taking over 400 photos - only to end up with about 15 photos that I was genuinely happy with when viewed on the computer!

Allen's style has a really rare kind of aesthetic that many people appreciate as soon as they see it. In many ways I would compare it to the stereoscopic (3D glasses) effect that is currently sweeping through Hollywood cinema.
Allen's photography is simply a delightful little illusion that seems to appeal to everyone, in much the same way that everyone used to gasp with delight when an object leapt out from the cinema screen.
If you've not seen his work before, I hope you enjoy the small sample of work displayed here, and I'd urge you to look through the links listed below for more...

Related links:
- Thomas Allen's blog

- Thomas Allen's work at:

- Thomas Allen's work on The Foley Gallery website

- Robert Ayers in conversation with Thomas Allen

- Thomas Allen: Uncovered - Book of photographs for sale at

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