by MiChelle Jones
"My wife is a writer and she says I need to do better on my titles," Daryl Thetford said. The Chattanooga-based photographer creates digital collages, scenes of a man standing in a red rowboat ("Man in a Boat Alone") or another man sitting in a chair ("Man in a Chair)."
But there is also "Trying Not To Try." In the scene, two men sit at opposite ends of a table, a ball balanced on the surface between them.
The collage is based on a book by the same title that discusses a game in which two people try to use alpha and theta waves to repel the ball.
"I thought it was an interesting metaphor and a funny metaphor about trying to access different states," Thetford said.
Backgrounds in his work seem to be moving streams of data and text that are almost dissolving before one's eyes.
"His work is visually striking, contemporary, full of visual energy," said Anne Brown, owner of The Arts Company.
"The World of Daryl Thetford," his first show at the gallery, remains on view through Aug. 8. Thetford will discuss his work during a gallery event at 5:30 Friday. That event is free, but reservations are required (firstname.lastname@example.org or call the gallery).
Thetford's color-drenched digital photo collages are each composed of bits of up to 100 photographs.
"I'm always gathering material, I'm always gathering color," Thetford said.
His massive archive contains close-ups of graffiti mixed with rust on rail cars, faded signage, old posters. Weathered patinas and intriguing textures catch his eye, though he now often leaves his camera home, especially when traveling.
"Otherwise I'm just constantly looking, and it can really ruin the trip," he said.
Work has 'strong voice'
He refers to himself as fairly obsessive — you'd almost have to be to create these collages — yet his image archive isn't meticulously labeled and organized.
"It's sadly much more primitive than that," Thetford said. Still, he knows how to find everything.
That comes in handy when putting together things such as "Branding Day at the Bird Ranch," a fun, brightly colored composition of a sunglass-wearing cowboy rounding up the flock of grackles at his feet while standing Marlboro Man-tall.
The cowboy was doing rope tricks in Fort Worth, Texas; Thetford replaced his face with that of a friend (he liked the campiness of the sunglasses). One of Thetford's own hands stands in for the the fast-moving cowboy's blurred one.
Thetford photographed the grackles in a park on that same Texas trip. He added Chinese characters on their feathers and, in fact, words run all through the background of the picture, some in English, some in Chinese.
Other text was sourced from paper stuck on a gas pump, part of a circus sign and writing from a chalkboard at a produce stand. The large stars in the collage's top half were plucked from an old sign.
"That image, like a lot of images, started out as: I'm going to make a simple image; it's going to be pared down; it's going to be a lot of negative space," Thetford said. "But really, that's not how my mind works a lot of the times."
As for what comes next, Thetford prefers to let his work evolve without too much interference from, well, him.
"Even though it's difficult for my controlling nature, I try to let the work have a strong voice," he said. "Where does it seem to be leading me. … It becomes a dialog with the artwork; to me that's the most important thing."
If You Go
What: "The World of Daryl Thetford," digital photo collages
Where: The Arts Company, 215 Fifth Ave. N.
When: through Aug. 8; conversation with the artist, 5:30-7 p.m. Friday
Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Contact: 615-254-2040 or theartscompany.com