Tomas Van Houtryve


Tomas Van Houtryve is an artist, photographer and author who engages critical contemporary issues around the world.


Initially a student in philosophy, Tomas developed a passion for photography while enrolled in an overseas university program in Nepal. Immediately after graduation in 1999, he moved to Latin America. In 2002, he was the photographer to cover the military prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


Tomas returned to Nepal in 2004 to document the Maoist rebellion and the overthrow of the monarchy. The resulting photos earned wide recognition including the Visa pour l’Image-Perpignan Young Photographer Award and the Bayeux Prize for War Correspondents.


In 2006 Tomas was named one of PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers. He was awarded an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in 2008, and in 2010 he was named the POY Photographer of the Year.


Tomas’ first monograph book, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism, was published in Spring 2012. The seven-year project documents life in the last countries where the Communist Party remains in power: North Korea, Cuba, China, Nepal, Vietnam, and Laos. The series won the 2012 POY World Understanding Award.


In 2013, Tomas began working on Blue Sky Days, a drone’s-eye view of America. Images from the project were first published in Harper’s as the largest photo portfolio in the magazine’s 164-year history. The series was awarded the 2015 ICP Infinity Award and honors from POY, World Press Photo, the Photographic Museum of Humanity, and the White House News Photographer’s Association.


Tomas has had solo exhibitions of his work in Paris, New York City, Barcelona and Italy. His work is included in multiple private collections in Europe, Asia and the United States and in the permanent collections of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago (MoCP), and the Open Society Foundations. His works are often conceptual in nature. They interweave metaphor and reportage, occupying the fertile intersection between art and pure documentary.


Tomas is frequently invited for public speaking engagements. He has appeared on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, ARTE and France 5. He is a member of the VII Photo collective since 2010 and a multiple grantee of the Pulitzer Center since 2012.


October 4 – December 31, 2016

Blue Sky Days presents a visual record of the drone war through aerial imagery that elegantly weaves together documentary and fine art.


Starting in 2013, van Houtryve traveled across America to aerially photograph the kind of gatherings that have become habitual targets for drone strikes abroad — including weddings, funerals, and groups of people praying or exercising. He also flew his camera over settings where government surveillance drones have been used domestically.


In October 2012, a drone strike in northeast Pakistan killed a 67-year-old woman picking okra outside her home. At a U.S. Congressional hearing held in Washington in October 2013, the woman’s 13-year-old grandson, Zubair Rehman, spoke to a group of lawmakers. “I no longer love blue skies,” said Rehman, who was injured by shrapnel in the attack. “In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”


“By creating these images, I aim to draw attention to the changing nature of personal privacy, surveillance, and contemporary warfare. Underpinning my work is a belief that human activity becomes increasingly absurd and dangerous when it loses empathy,” van Houtryve says. “As more drones fill the sky, we should consider how this technology will be used and experienced. Will the sight of drones overhead eventually seem as ordinary as an airplane or bird? Or will people start wishing for gray skies like Zubair Rehman?”


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